Poli Vesture was a Catholic statue factory founded by the Poli brothers after they came to Pittsburgh, PA from Italy in the early 1900s. It was a prosperous business during the years when the human hand was always involved in the creative process. By the 1980s, and throughout the last years of its existence, Poli Vesture was no longer casting statues, but selling from existing inventory and repairing damaged statues sent to them by individuals and churches. When I stumbled across the business in 1990, it was little more than a storage facility.
Over many decades artisans used the ordinary: plaster, water, horse hair and straw to make molds of the carefully sculpted religious statues they had created. The statues were stored on warehouse shelves and in boxes in various stages of assembly. Everything was covered with layers of dust and grime from the formerly filthy air that enveloped Pittsburgh during the many years steel was produced in the area.
I found Poli Vesture in 1990 while of a trip to visit my friend Ellen Seeling after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the next few years, even though Ellen had moved to Maine to teach theater arts at Bates College, I returned to make more photographs. This work is dedicated to Ellen’s memory. She was a light in my life and in the lives of all the students who had the good fortune to study with her.