Ten short years ago, I had just moved to Pittsburgh. I got a job downtown. Back then I rode the bus to work each morning, getting off at a stop that took me down Smithfield Street. I’ll never forget the first time I crossed the street at Oliver Avenue and just as I reached the other side I looked down to see a secret message embedded into the street. Before that I’d never seen or heard of a Toynbee Tile. That day I kept walking toward work but everytime I happened past that message in the pavement I wondered who had put it there and what it meant. Five years later I was strolling around New York City and discovered another tile almost but not quite like the one on Smithfield Street. I was amazed that there was more than one tile. Little did I know that hundreds have been discovered in major cities all over North and South America. I wasn’t the only one who was intrigued…Since the early 80’s Toynbee Tiles have been discovered all over and lots of people’s interest has been piqued. Many tiles only remain in photos, their originals having been paved over or removed. The city of Chicago declared Toynbee Tiles graffiti and set forth to remove them from the city. Documentation of the tiles and investigations into what they may mean, and who created and installed them have been internet fodder for nearly two decades. Most recently a film, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles hit the film festivals. It documents a few Toynbee fanatic’s attempts to discover the identity of the Philadelphia artist. The Toynbee tiles continue to interest, but they’re far from the only art being created by secret or secretive artist. Check the library for some books about urban art with a message or just take a walk around town and soak up some of Pittsburgh’s own artistry.
-Brooke, CLP South Side