The Coxey Building Ruins

The Coxey Building Ruins, one of the centerpieces of Ariel-Foundation Park, were originally built to be a steel-casting plant. The building’s namesake, Jacob Coxey, made waves when he built the huge factory complex in the early 1900s, but it never became the booming steel plant he envisioned. Instead, after Coxey’s brief and failed attempt at steel casting, the building became the home of the Mount Vernon branch of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. At its peak, the PPG factory was one of the area’s major employers, with entire families, including many Belgian immigrants, working to shape and cut glass together.

Proximity to readily available natural gas and fine sand made the factory the perfect place for glassmaking, and it was here that a new process of glassmaking, called the Pennvernon process, was invented. This process, in which glassmakers pulled ribbons of molten glass through rollers up to three stories high, dominated glassmaking globally from its invention in 1925 until the 1970s. In the 1950s, a new and more efficient process of glassmaking, called “Float Glass,” was invented and eventually replaced the Pennvernon process as the dominant way of making glass. Unable to adapt to this new glassmaking process, the factory was forced to close in 1976. What remains of the 89,250-square foot building today are a few crumbling walls and three elevator shafts, but the legacy of the industry it represents is alive and well in Ariel-Foundation Park.

Repurposed Materials

The ruins are just a part of the leftover materials that comprise Ariel-Foundation Park. The park itself is a restoration project, playing into the artistic ideal of taking the old and making it something new. This has been done through sculpting pieces of leftover buildings, recycling old waste from the glassmaking industry, and putting it all together in an engaging and interactive space.

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Nature, Culture, and Art

An important aspect artists must consider is materiality. The line between natural and artificial in the context of art is meaningful because it hugely influences the meaning one assigns to a piece. In some ways the difference can be described very clearly, for instance when "Land Art" came about in 1960s, and as Judith Collins explains, artists "turned to working outside [on] the land, rather than in their studio, partly as a reaction to the urban materialist Pop Art that was prevalent at the time." It is clear in this context that the use of nature and natural materials outside in art can be considered the polar opposite of the artificial materials that were used in some artists' studios.

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Modern Ruins

Whenever a group of people set out to pay homage to a part of their past, no matter how distant or disconnected, monuments and memorials tend to be strongly associated. Looking at almost every government across the world, we see that a well-thought-out monument has been the best way to show a true respect and care to the past. Looking at Ariel-Foundation Park through this lens, it is important to understand the full history of the site in order to create a thought-provoking, respectful monument. Such a monument allows the individual lives that were part of this site to be remembered by those who share a similar community and identity with the people whose lives were dedicated to glassmaking in Mount Vernon.

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Glass, Glaciers, and the Geography of the Midwest

lipari obsidienne 28529Glass is formed naturally under a number of circumstances. Rapidly cooling magma can produce obsidian, a black glassy rock with a high silica content similar to man-made glass. Glass is also formed when lightning strikes sand or soil causing the silica to melt. Some meteorite impacts even apply enough shock pressure to force silica in the ground into a glass.

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LEARN MORE   about the Ruins on the Ariel-Foundation Park main site!

Art Projects

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The information for this site was prepared by Kenyon College students Maria Brescia-Weiler, Catherine Carroll, Suzy Goldberg, Robert Jacobs, Ben Jenks, Teahelahn Keithrafferty, Ryan Muthiora, Jenny Panaguiton, Hannah Porter, and Kate Prince. Their sculptures, inspired by the site and this research, were exhibited at the Wright Center and Ariel-Foundation Park. Assistant Professor of Art Sandra Lee served as project advisor.