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Albert Bierstadt, Farallon Island, 1887, Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family, 73.13

The Open Museum

Carnegie Museum of Art welcomes the public, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or political preference. This openness builds on the ethos of Andrew Carnegie, who created Carnegie Institute (of which CMOA is a part) for the working class. In dedicating its library, he said, “Pittsburghers knew I was one of themselves…This Institute is built by a Pittsburgher with Pittsburgh money, for Pittsburgh.”1  Yet this strong local focus has always been paired with a desire to engage the wider world. It is not a coincidence that our signature exhibition—initiated by our founder—is the Carnegie International. Cognizant of our institutional origins, of the histories of so many important artists, and of the spirit of our democracy, we welcome recent arrivals.

Black-and-white photograph of Andrew Carnegie
B. L. H. Dabbs, Andrew Carnegie, 1896, Gift of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, 84.41.89

It is striking to recall that the proud Pittsburgher Andrew Carnegie was himself an immigrant. Carnegie emigrated from Scotland in 1848 at age 12, traveling in steerage with his parents and brother. In the United States, he became one of the wealthiest people in the world, but he didn’t become a citizen until 1885, when he was almost 50, which became something of a scandal. It’s unclear why he waited—he may have mistakenly thought that his father had become a citizen when Andrew was a minor, which would have made him a citizen as well, or it just may not have been top of mind for a poor boy struggling to help his family. In any case, this oversight became an embarrassment for him; for a long time, ignoring it was preferable to calling attention to the matter.

Lustrous brown ceramic vase with yellow floral decoration
Kataro Shirayamadani, decorator, Rookwood Pottery, manufacturer, Vase, 1900, Gift of the Women’s Committee, 81.36

The immigrant story weaves through CMOA’s collection. The museum owns a minimum of 1,651 works by 300 artists who immigrated to the United States. (Our records don’t always show an artist’s birth place, so this number is probably much higher.) This includes luminaries such as English-born Thomas Sully, who painted Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams; the great landscape painters Albert Bierstadt (from Germany) and Thomas Moran (England); self-taught Pittsburgh-based artist John Kane (Scotland); Kataro Shirayamandani, who created an exquisite Rookwood vase in CMOA’s collection (Japan); Philadelphia blacksmith Samuel Yellin (Russia); industrial designer Raymond Loewy (France); and major figures of the New York School such as Willem de Kooning (The Netherlands), Louise Nevelson (Ukraine), and Mark Rothko (Latvia). Among our works from 1980 onward are pieces by US artists born in China, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Iran, South Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam. All of them have enriched people’s lives with their work and helped make the United States central to the international art world.

And what of Andrew Carnegie, who, between 1883 and 1929, built 2,509 libraries around the world, 1,689 of them in the United States? Today, the man who founded Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and our own Carnegie Institute might be considered an illegal alien—no visa, no green card—living here under false pretenses.2 

Many of us—perhaps most of us—have family histories rooted in immigration. We know how hard our predecessors worked to fit in and contribute to their new home. Immigrants often exemplify the best of our country, in the arts as well as the humanities, sciences, and business. They provide the labor that fuels industry. We are eager to have them visit CMOA, and hope they make it a habit.

Inside the Museum is Carnegie Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky’s blog about the local and global impacts of the museum and the art world.


  1. Quoted in Robert J. Gangewere, Palace of Culture: Andrew Carnegie’s Museums and Library in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), 3.
  2. It is unlikely that Carnegie and his family required documentation of any kind to enter the United States. The federal government did not assume control of the immigration process until the Immigration Act of 1891.
  • melpacker

    “Carnegie Museum of Art welcomes the public, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or political preference.” This is the first sentence in the article above titled “The Open Museum”. We should al note that the “regardless” does NOT include “economic status”, for, in fact, the Carnegie has become incredibly expensive for the average working class family, and so it becomes a museum that is mostly for those of us with some privilege. As I recall, when I came to Pittsburgh and made it my home in 1965, the admission policy was a small set amount but it also was made clear that the museum was free if personal finances made it impossible to pay that fee. This continued, I believe, for some years even as the set admission price rose considerably. Recently, as a member, I went thru the admission area and asked very specifically if the policy of “free” to those incapable of paying the now rather high fee was still in effect. Instead of assuring me that yes, the Carnegie does care about admitting those unable to pay the fee, I was told that there is a RAD day once in a while and folks can come then for free. This is a sad day when we have limited our museums to only those who can afford the relatively high entrance fee as it speaks of a lack of concern for building future memberships and also a general disdain for allowing those who are without financial privilege to enjoy what should be a museum for all the people, all the time. A day here and a day there doesn’t quite cut it if we wish to make the Carnegie a museum for ALL the people. And finally, I appreciate the wonderful words above about immigrants, but the Carnegie cannot be serious about welcoming immigrants to its halls if, again, the “free” policy is not available and made known to those seeking entrance. If you think that most immigrants can afford the current entrance fee, you are only counting the immigrant population that works in the medical/university/tech world. Believe me, there are thousands of others who are barely scraping by but who would love to bring their children to the Carnegie as THEIR schedule permits, not just on the “free” days currently made available. And please, do not tell me the Carnegie has no choice given its economic condition for, in fact, you do. You could simply restore the “free” policy and make it known at the entrance area and understand that the loss of today will likely result in gains tomorrow as those children and parents become more stable financially and recall that the museum is one institution worth supporting in every way.

  • Frank Kurtik

    And the immigrant story connects to the name associated with your directorship. Henry J. Heinz, II, honored in the very title of your position, was the great-grandson of German immigrants. Familiarly known as “Jack” (the nickname bestowed by his grandfather, founder of the eponymous food empire), his great-grandfather left the family’s ancestral village of Kallstadt in the Rhineland-Palatinate for America in 1840. In Europe, Johann Heinrich Heinz was a subject of the King of Bavaria; here, known simply as Henry Heinz, he became a resident of Birmingham, since subsumed into the city’s South Side. Jack’s great-grandmother, nee Anna Margaretta Schmitt, hailed from the Grand Duchy of Hesse. Family records do not show why they independently came to Pittsburgh, but the two young immigrants ended up in the “Smoky City,” bustling with opportunity for foreigners. They married and started a family that made and continues to make great contributions to Pittsburgh.