Artfully Preserving and Refurbishing the Past

    Magarac Gallery & Gathering Place

    Magarac is a word beaming with the steel history of Pittsburgh. Local artist John Walter adopted this legendary name to embody an offshoot of his Iron Eden home-and-garden ironworks studio. Forged from Pittsburgh’s past, Magarac Gallery & Gathering Space (Magarac) brings to fruition John’s vision of creating an industrial-furniture line with many one-of-a-kind pieces that reflect the evolution of our Steel City. But the Magarac space on Liberty Avenue actually serves three functions: a gallery for this furniture line (everything in there is for sale); a mini Joe Magarac (see below) museum housing artwork, printed information, and nostalgic memorabilia; and a rental venue for parties and events.

    During the late 19th century, Joe Magarac rose to folklore fame in Pittsburgh’s mills and was to steel what Paul Bunyan was to lumber. Born in an ore mountain and made of solid steel, he stood seven feet tall with a torso like a smokestack and arms as thick as railroad ties. His eastern European-inspired name Magarac translates to “donkey” or “jackass”—but this was never used in a derogatory sense. Rather, it is the equivalent of “workhorse” and was highly respected nomenclature during that period. As legend has it, Joe was said to have worked 24/7 in the mills, scooping up molten metal, tasting it, and exhaling clouds of steam through his nostrils. He could even dump the steel into ingot molds with his bare hands, squeezing out ribbons of railings between his fingers!

    This urban legend of Joe Magarac was the impetus for John’s and his wife Jody’s inspiration when creating their line of iron-wrought furnishings as well as the gallery/venue space in which they are displayed. For years, John has been salvaging industrial steel from all over the Pittsburgh area, so beautifully weathered examples of metal, wood, and other materials from the city’s not-so-distant past are prevalent throughout his work. “Diamond plate, I-beams, and other industrial found objects are used in many of the pieces—all authentic and unique, like Magarac himself,” adds Jody. Through his sculpture and art, John both saves and glorifies our city’s working heritage and spirit.

    Magarac Gallery & Gathering Place

    According to Jody, the Magarac style is very masculine—using bridge parts, riveted steel, and reclaimed wood that are incorporated into utilitarian and livable art. Balancing pure strength with rough aesthetic beauty, this is somewhat contrary to Iron Eden’s well-known scrolling, organic, and garden-inspired designs. “With Magarac, we are looking to expose people to unique relics of Pittsburgh’s industrial past in a functional way through our custom furniture line as well as the gallery space,” she says. Bridge-picket shelves, rebar desks, boiler-tank coffee tables, riveted I-beam consoles, and reclaimed-wood benches are just some of the design examples available.

    Magarac is also a truly impressive and intimate gathering space available to rent and can accommodate groups of 65 to 95 people depending upon time of year and type of event. The gallery/venue has an industrial vibe, of course, which is warm and imaginative and is filled with handmade Magarac art, furniture, and accessories. Upon entering through Magarac’s façade of sculpted fiery doors, one feels as if he or she were entering through an old blast furnace into a distant world of forged steel and might—a vibrant characterization of Pittsburgh’s past. The space also smacks of a meticulously planned museum, complete with tin-tiled ceilings and mosaic-like stone floors, whose creative furnishings happen to be works of art.

    As a gathering and party venue, Magarac features a bar, many high-top tables, a flat-screen TV, catering kitchen, pool table, dart board, and more. “This one-of-a-kind space is perfect for corporate functions, family celebrations, holiday/birthday gatherings, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and small weddings/receptions,” notes Jody.

    The Walters hold frequent open house/happy hours at Magarac for those interested in checking out the space via party mode! To get on the invite list for upcoming events, go to their Facebook page (Magarac by Iron Eden) and sign up—or you can also email them at magaracpgh@gmail.com.

    Magarac Gallery & Gathering Place

    Magarac Gallery & Gathering Space by Iron Eden is located in the newly transformed, former Iron Eden gallery space at 4071 Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield. It is adjacent to the Bloomfield Bridge and is a very central location to many Pittsburgh neighborhoods and attractions. Visit joemagarac.com or call 412-654-7057 for more information.

    Christopher Cussat is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer who also hopes to become a local legend some day. Read more of his writing at cussat.com.