April 27, 1971: Pittsburgh’s legendary art teacher
For 50 years, the urbane Joseph C. Fitzpatrick taught Saturday art classes in Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall, where he inspired generations of Pittsburgh children “to look, to see, to remember, to enjoy.”
Each “Tam O’ Shanter” class ended with that admonition and many students took it seriously. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, the silver haired, blue-eyed Irishman had no trouble commanding the attention of fifth, sixth and seventh grade students from public and private schools. He wore suits, an air of confidence and spoke with a firm voice.
His successful students included Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, Raymond Saunders, Mel Bochner, Jonathan Borofsky, Holly Brubach and Annie Dillard. Donald Miller, the Post-Gazette’s retired art and architecture critic, also was a graduate of his classes.
The son of a mine foreman and the youngest of 10 children, Fitzpatrick grew up in Williamstown, northeast of Harrisburg. As a child, he asked his older sisters to explain art to him. Their unclear answers led him to read about his favorite subject.
That was the start of a career filled with teaching, drawing, painting, sculpting and collecting. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from Edinboro State College in 1931. He received a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1934. In 1938, he took a grand tour of the art collections in Europe. Later in life he traveled to Africa and the Mideast and also tramped through the pyramids of Egypt.
For more than three decades, he taught art in Pittsburgh’s public schools, where he spent 33 years.
In the late 1950s, Fitzpatrick created a 13-week series called “World of Art.” for public television station WQED. The half-hour programs aired on WQED and 25 other public television stations. He was the painter, sculptor, researcher, narrator and script writer. The series explained art to the layman, beginning with paintings by cave men and continuing to the modern era.
He was named artist of the year in 1973. In 1988, 800 of his former students stood and applauded enthusiastically when he walked onto the Carnegie Music Hall stage once again. On that same occasion, he was honored with a champagne brunch held in Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture.
A bachelor, Fitzpatrick lived much of his life in a Victorian-era townhouse at 2707 Fifth Ave., where he gardened, listened to classical music and painted. He never owned a car so he walked or took taxis. He was 86 when he died in 1994 at a nursing home in Saint Mary’s, Elk County.
During a 1974 interview, he reminisced about his most famous student.
“I can remember getting Andy Warhol to do a lot of pencil portraits at a demonstration. He was good — he’s shocking people now but he always had talent.”
— Marylynne Pitz
Top picture: Fitzpatrick, art supervisor at the Carnegie Institute, with award-winning high school artists in 1971. (Kent Badger/The Pittsburgh Press)
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