Pittsburgh is full of fantastic museums, and visitors could spend days to weeks wandering from place to place looking at dinosaurs, remains of ancient civilizations, traditional and contemporary art, sports heroes, city and regional history, historic and modern photography and more.
But there are some museums that specialize in certain areas, or specific artists, that make them even more unique. While most everyone has heard of the Warhol, Pittsburgh’s tribute to all things Andy, not everyone is aware of the joy that is Randyland, or the innovation that can be found at The Mattress Factory.
“The Mattress Factory is super unique; it’s art you can get into,” explained Marketing Associate Derek January. “While all of the art isn’t necessarily interactive, it’s all very experimental and immersive. There’s no other museum in Pittsburgh or on the East Coast like it.”
As an artists’ residency and experimental lab based on the Northside, The Mattress Factory provides the opportunity for selected artists to come to the city to create room-sized art. “We provide the materials, space and exhibition help to assist them as they create these on-site installations,” said January, adding that most artists conceptualize their pieces once they see the space.
The museum’s latest exhibition, Factory Installed 2021, features new work by Meir Tati of Israel; Luftwerk, a duo based out of Chicago; Andrea Stanislav of New York; Jeffrey Augustine Songco of Grand Rapids, MI, and Sarawut Chutiwongpeti of Thailand. In addition to revolving installations created by artists in residence, the Mattress Factory is also is home to installations by Greer Lankton, James Turrell, Winifred Lutz, Yayoi Kusama and more. To learn more, visit www.mattress.org.
Randyland, also located on the Northside, is a colorful, crazy treasure trove of unique items created and curated by Pittsburgh artists Randy Gilson. On most days he can be found hanging out in the courtyard chatting with visitors from all over the world who come to see his eclectic mix of floating lawn chairs, mannequin heads, welcome signs in numerous languages, butterflies, mirrors and more. This outdoor museum, which is free, is a favorite place to take friends from out of town as well as a haven for those who just need a little more happiness in their day. www.Randy.Land
Two other museums on the Northside are favorites of those who love a good collection—or obsession.
Bicycle Heaven is nirvana for those who travel on two wheels (or even four), and who want to see everything from historic Howdy Doody bikes to cycles made famous in films (think Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure), to extremely rare and expensive rides that cost more than a new car. Filled with more than 6,000 different types of bicycles on display, this warehouse/museum/bike shop is the brainchild of Craig Morrow, who started collecting bikes at his home in Bellevue and soon realized that it would take at least three floors of a warehouse to fit his collection. Bicycle Heaven also now rents bikes for visitors to ride on local trails, so it’s a great stop when looking for a place to visit on a beautiful day. www.bicycleheaven.org
Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff, located in the same Preble Avenue warehouse, houses a wealth of rock-n-roll history. Owned by Jack Hunt, otherwise known as Johnny Angel of Johnny Angel & the Halos fame, the collection pays tribute to groups from the 50s, 60s and 70s, many of whom Angel shared the stage with while performing. The collection includes everything from local radio station memorabilia to James Brown’s autograph, to a signed t-shirt from Jimmy Merchant that came right off his back, to an original Temptations movie script. And if you wish you had some of that hip stuff on your walls, you don’t have to go home empty-handed; the museum also includes a store with some of the coolest pop culture stuff around. www.jaginchystuff.com
Speaking of collections, two museums north of the city are also must-stops when looking for unique finds. Pinball Perfection, located in West View, has more than 300 pinball machines amassed over more than 40 years, and the Maridon Museum, located in Butler, features an astonishing collection of Asian art, coupled with German Meissen pottery.
“Each of our machines has a story about where it came from; we get them at auctions, from people’s houses, through salvage operations, and from vendors, operators and distributors,” said Dan ‘Pin Dan’ Hosek. “My goal from the beginning was to open a museum to the public and have them lined up like back in the day when every little town had an arcade.”
Hosek, who also repairs the machines, has been playing since he was a kid in Millvale. “I used to play standing on a crate at the Grant Bar when my family was there for dinner,” he said. “Eventually, I got my hands on a couple and started to fix them, and I realized that all of the mechanical games I grew up with were ending up in the dump as technology moved on. People would ask if I wanted them before they took them apart for scrap, so for years, I’ve been grabbing them up.”
Not only do people get to see a wealth of pinball history, including one of only two Empire Strikes Back games in the U.S. that still run, but also Laurel & Hardy games, KISS machines, and all of the other Star Wars and Star Trek games.
“We get a lot of ‘geeky’ guys whose vacations consist of traveling to cities to play pinball, as well as a lot of travelers who have looked us up on Travelocity or who are in the area on tours,” said Hosek.
Visitors can not only play the games, but can even arrange for whole parties to enjoy pinball-themed events. Hosek also hosts live music nights, and there are special weeknight and weekend deals for those who want to spend more time reliving their pinball wizard glory days. www.pinballperfection.com
About 30 minutes north of the city is the Maridon Museum, which houses the collections of Mary Hulton Phillips, a lifelong resident of Butler, PA.
“As far as we are aware, we are the only museum in Pennsylvania that features Asian culture mixed with German Meissen porcelain,” explained Executive Director Roxann Booser. “Our founder, who was a major philanthropist, had a wonderful love of Asian art and wanted to create a museum in Butler so that she could share it with people in the place that she loved.”
Surprisingly, Hulton Phillips amassed the collection of more than 800 objects despite never traveling herself. The permanent collection includes items ranging from jade and ivory sculptures to tapestries, landscape paintings, scrolls, and artifacts, as well as objects that date back to the Neolithic Period. Approximately 300 pieces of Meissen porcelain are also included in the museum’s collection, many of which date back to the early 18th century.
“Some of the more unique pieces include an ivory egret with opal eyes and bronze legs; it’s an exquisite piece because it’s so lifelike—it’s beautifully carved,” said Booser of the permanent collection. “We also have two very large sculptures that astonish people when they come in; an ivory sculpture of Guanyin, and a mirrored set of jade peacocks, each of which weighs about 750 pounds.”
The museum also offers educational events, as well as hosts a book club and meditation classes. To learn more, visit www.maridon.org.
While all of the museums have dates and hours posted on their websites, it’s advisable to call before visiting as dates and times are continually changing as a result of COVID precautions.