Cambria courthouse getting murals, paintings

EBENSBURG – County officials said work has begun to install two large murals and several smaller accompanying paintings at the entrance to the Cambria County Courthouse.

The mural designs, first unveiled at the county’s 210th birthday party March 26, depict two sides of Cambria County.

“My idea was not to do a collage, where everything is mixed together, and there’s a weird hierarchy that never really is easy to explain to people,” said artist and Loretto native Ron Donoughe, who was commissioned for the work.

“My idea was to do two simple, beautiful paintings that represent the two major areas – of northern Cambria County, farming, and southern Cambria County, the industrial Johnstown,” he said. “The idea was that it would be a good contrast to the two most important functions in the county.”

In a few months, the entrance to the courthouse will feature two large 18-by-8-foot murals: one depicting Franklin steel mills in Johnstown, adapted from a photo taken in the 1970s, and the other a field outside Loretto in autumn and “a scene I’ve painted many times over the years,” Donoughe said.

Underneath will be 18 smaller panels, nine 18-by-24 inch paintings on each side, to accompany the large murals.

Cambria County Historical Society President Dave Huber said he worked with Donoughe, who maintains a family home in Cambria County but works mainly in Pittsburgh, to narrow down how they would depict hundreds of years of county history in 18 paintings.

“You can’t pick out 18 scenes to fully display Cambria County history,” Huber said, so the two decided on ways to represent entire periods.

For example, Huber said, one of the smaller panels featuring the Kittanning Trail, which will hang underneath the Loretto farm scene, represents hundreds of years of history before Cambria County’s creation.

The trail was one of the county’s major pathways, and served as a prime hunting and trapping spot for the state’s earliest settlers.

Other features will include McGuire’s Settlement at Prince Gallitzin, Johnstown’s founder Joseph Johns and the Allegheny Portage Railroad, along with the Cambria Iron Works and its Kelly Converter – used to remove iron ore impurities to make steel -a scene representing the Underground Railroad and the county seal.

On the urban side, pictures will include the Mountain House in Cresson, the aftermath of the 1889 flood, a boat sailing on Lake Conemaugh, as well as the Schwab Estate in Loretto, a coal tipple and the Sunnehanna Country Club.

Huber said an accompanying pamphlet will be available once the project is completed to help explain the paintings’ significance.

On Thursday, Cambria County commissioners approved a $38,000 contract with Donoughe to complete the work, which President Judge Timothy Creany said would cost a total of $45,000 including supplies and other preparations at the courthouse, such as drywall

work to prevent water damage.

When the paintings go up, they’re “going to stay there,” Creany said.

Creany said the funding comes from courthouse renovation funds and not taxpayer dollars. Prison labor also will be used to move the project along, and work also will be taking place on weekends as well, he added.

Officials haven’t put a strict timeline on Donoughe’s work, since his en plein aire style, meaning “in the open air” in French, has him making several on-site visits to paint the scenes as they appear in front of him.

Donoughe said officials told him the murals will make the county courthouse unique and said he considers the work a “throwback to the times when” art

often was used in public spaces.

“It’s really just an honor for me, to have grown up in the county and to have been selected to do this,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.