Land ho! New art installation brings a lighthouse to Troy Hill
Photo: The entrance to a lighthouse built as part of a new art installation, called ‘Darkhouse Lighthouse’ in Troy Hill sits in the basement of a dilapidated row house. Photo by Lauren Stauffer
By Sean P. Ray | Managing Editor
Sailors in the Pittsburgh area can breathe easy, as a newly installed lighthouse in Troy Hill will help to ensure no ships crash upon rocks during a foggy day.
Of course, it may be a few million years before any boats have the chance to sail the waters of a sunken Pittsburgh.
The idea of building something several millennia in preparation for when it will actually be used is one of the central themes of a new art installation called “Darkhouse Lighthouse,” located at 1913 Tours St. in Troy Hill.
As the name implies, the exhibit does indeed feature a full-sized lighthouse, with a working, rotating light beacon on top, and a well-furnished room for future lighthouse keepers to stay in. However, despite what some may think, spotting the lighthouse is currently pretty difficult.
That’s because the lighthouse was constructed directly in the middle of a dilapidated row house which was damaged by a fire many years ago. From the outside, just about the only parts of the lighthouse that are visible are a weather vane located on the roof and a cone-shaped marker in the backyard.
The installation is the brainchild of married artists Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis, and is the third entry in a series of permanent artwork commissioned by Troy Hill Art Houses. The series began in 2013 with the opening of a work titled “La Hütte Royal.” A fourth and final house is planned tentatively for spring of 2024.
Clayton and Lewis have several other artistic features in Pittsburgh, including an art gallery that is always closed called “Galley Closed,” and “Historic Sight,” an 8-foot-tall bronze plaque detailing a building’s history all the way to 600 million years ago and extending into the future.
Lewis explained that a major aspect of “Darkhouse Lighthouse” is different perceptions of time. While building a lighthouse 382 miles away from the nearest ocean may seem absurd, Clayton said the area where the lighthouse stands was once an ocean 600 million years ago and may become so again millions of years from now.
“The lighthouse is here in anticipation of the ocean coming back,” Lewis said.
While visitors can certainly climb up the lighthouse and look out its windows, most of what they’re going to see is the interior of the house around it. That is the “Darkhouse” part of the installation’s title.
Repairs were made to make sure the structure was stable after the fire, but some of the damage has been left or recreations made to reference the fire. The back of the home, for example, is covered in black siding to resemble scorched wood.
The four rooms that visitors can look into from the lighthouse’s second floor are each made to resemble different weather conditions. One has fog filling it, while another has a breeze blowing through it. These rooms will further look different depending on what time of day visitors see it, as windows to the outside provide a different lighting experience.
“It’s designed to be able to be viewed multiple times,” Clayton said.
The artist pair looked at many examples of lighthouses in constructing their own, though it is not based on any single lighthouse in particular. The interior is filled with many archaic tools and devices, such as a typewriter, to contribute to the differing perceptions of time theme.
“There’s a feeling of recent history, human’s relationship to the sea, and the ancient history when the ocean was here and the future when it comes back,” said Clayton.
The rotating light beacon on top actually works, and is specifically a fourth order Fresnel lens. If it weren’t surrounded by an attic, the beacon could potentially be seen for miles depending on weather conditions, the artists said. For now, however, the beams pass over wooden walls.
The oceanic theme further extends to the backyard of the home, where an orange, conical marker is situated. The marker is made to be a sister-marker to a similar one located in Cornwall, England, which is Clayton’s hometown.
The grass of the backyard is Little Bluestem, a native species to Pennsylvania which, when it is mature, has a bluish-green coloration resembling ocean water.
Walking through “Darkhouse Lighthouse” is a one-way trip, as visitors cannot return to previous rooms once they’ve moved on. As such, they are encouraged to spend as much time as they want in each part.
Admission to “Darkhouse Lighthouse” is free, but reservations need to be made ahead of time. Visits can be scheduled by going to troyhillarthouses.com/darkhouselighthouse.