The Amish, Andy Warhol and Frank Lloyd Wright: Pennsylvania

The route up from West Virginia brings us to Pittsburgh, PA. Pennsylvania has a broad and varied history, from Philadelphia’s legacy of the American Revolution, to the industry of Allentown, or the Josh Ritter song that inspired Harrisburg. Come to think of it, you’ve also got Billy Joel’s Allentown. Together they don’t paint a terribly cheery image of the state. Thank God Youngstown is Ohio’s problem or everyone would just kill themselves.

(I hadn’t seen the video to Allentown until now. The ‘80s were incredibly tough on the manufacturing industry and music videos.)

I realised I wasn’t going to have time to see all of these great places, so I had to make a judgement call. Philadelphia was nearly the winner, but for the past several years I’ve been watching an extensive documentary series about Philadelphia’s steady climate and that, I felt, gave me enough insight. In the end, I opted for Pittsburgh to go visit the Andy Warhol Museum. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed, so you’ll just have to take this on faith. Actually, there was something I would have loved to have a picture of, as I can’t seem to find it on the ‘net: I’m visiting shortly after Margaret Thatcher’s death and in tribute (I’m guessing), the Museum brought out a lovely send up painting that Warhol did of her. Instead the internet can only offer the silkscreen that has been one of Warhol’s most enduring legacies:

Margaret Thatcher - Andy Warhol(Source)

The Museum runs workshops taking you through the silkscreen process and letting you make your own. This might well be the only audience participation thing I’ve encountered on my trip that a grown man travelling on his own could join in with child-like glee without looking weird. Sadly, the workshops aren’t on until the afternoon, and by then I’ll be running around with child-like glee at something I’ve been waiting since I was a child to see. But let’s stick with Warhol:

The Museum spans seven-storeys and guide books mention it as being the largest museum dedicated to a single artist. It’s easy to understand why as Warhol’s influence and activities, from his paintings to his films to his connections with The Velvet Underground, are all explored in adequate space. Warhol exists as much outside his work as from it, with his oft-quoted aphorism that everyone in the future will be famous for 15 minutes demonstrating his acute insights into culture, decades before we’d have the endless avalanche of reality TV shows, YouTube stars and, er, bloggers. His production techniques have also permeated: he dumped the lone, struggling artist vibe for a mass-produced workshop feel, something gleefully taken up by the likes of Damien Hirst. Which does, I think, sum up some underlying feeling I had going through the museum:

I enjoyed Warhol in the end for his irreverence, sharp insight and humour, but boy does he end up excusing a whole lot of wankery later on. Not his fault, of course, but an unfortunate aspect of his legacy. The top floor has some of his works intermingled with contemporary artists including noted serial shark-murderer Damien Hirst and it did make Warhol’s work harder to enjoy.

So with that slightly formaldehyde taste in my mouth, I’m heading out of Pittsburgh, to go see something that’s been on my list to see for a decade or so:


This beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright house is situated in rural Pennsylvania, about 45 miles outside of Pittsburgh, and sits above a section of Bear Run where the water, due to a change in elevation, falls. A fallingwaterwaterfall, if you will. Now unfortunately, like the Warhol museum, photos aren’t allowed on the tour of Fallingwater. (I’m starting to worry that Pennsylvanian’s are scared of cameras – more on this later). The house was designed for a Pittsburgh businessman named Edgar Kaufmann Sr who wanted it as a place to enjoy the country away from the bustle of the city. Pointing out that I had made the same journey, for the same purpose, did not make the tour guides let me live there for the day, as expected.

The design and construction of the house makes me think that, although I think it’s a beautiful property, I wouldn’t have liked to have been involved in the process. Kaufman originally wanted the house to be built with a view of the waterfall (roughly where the above photo is taken) rather than on top of the falls. Frank Lloyd Wright said no. Kaufmann presumably then asked who, precisely, was hiring whom to do what. Frank Lloyd Wright presumably replied, “Yo mama”.

The result was the house was built above the waterfall, heavily mixed into the nature that surrounds it. Boulders found on site were used in the expansive living room/kitchen as part of the hearth; from the living room there are steps down to the stream itself, running below the room.


Elsewhere, a rise in the rock is integrated to allow a driveway to pass behind the main house, beneath a corridor leading to a guest area.


After the building was given to the public, the carport was turned into a presentation area for visitors to learn more about the house and the preservation area it’s within.


Speaking of preservation, the house over the years has developed a number of issues. Turns out building a house directly over a waterfall can lead to some issues with moisture, and mould and leaks have been persistent issues. In addition, the cantilevered balconies that give Fallingwater some of its most striking visual presence were found to be sagging almost immediately after construction. Eventually, this required temporary girders to be installed before finally being resolved in 2002. Man, though, it’d still be worth the headaches to live here:


Technically this is me finished in PA for the time being, as I head down into Virginia. But last time, I promised you Amish. So instead we time travel to a week in the future when I briefly head into Pennsylvania from the east, passing by the brilliantly strange town name of “King of Prussia, PA”. I’m on my way to Lancaster, which like its English namesake, has a high proportion of people living in the 1700s.

There’s some nice land around here, with grassy fields covering gentle slopes, interrupted by winding rivers. It’s territory you want to enjoy at a slower pace and it takes me a minute or so to realise that I am, indeed, going a lot slower than normal. Something is holding up traffic. Not stopping it, like a traffic light or road works, just slowing it to a gentle pace, like the pace of someone at a brisk stroll or… a horse. A pickup truck swings out and overtakes the obstruction: horse-drawn carriage. Oh yes. The camera’s ready, I’m about to capture my first Amish and then I stop. He’s happily going about his business, harvesting his grain, partying like it’s 1699. He would probably find this drive-by shooting as unpleasant as the other kind. I leave the camera alone and pass him with a little wave.

Which makes Pennsylvania one of the least photographed states on my trip, rivalled perhaps only by Delaware, but you’ll understand that one later. For now, we leave Pennsylvania and head south into Virginia, where we’ll see nature being used to man’s whim in a more musical way.


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