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May 26, 2014

Warhol Museum donates benches to Windber’s Grand Midway Hotel

WINDBER — Two stylistic fixtures from the largest museum ever dedicated to one artist have found their way to a small, locally owned artists’ commune. The recipient is thrilled to get such a prestigious nod.

Two benches formerly found in the lobby of Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum were donated on May 19 to Windber’s Grand Midway Hotel. Hotel owner Blair Murphy said the benches’ shape and the brushed steel panels hiding the wooden frame beneath make them look like “space canoes.”

“As opposed to a collector with possessions, I’m thinking of it more like: We are an artistic experiment and it’s an honor that we got recognized by an organization that’s more established,” Murphy said. “It could have been two teacups and I would have felt good about it.”

He said the Grand Midway – which is steeped in artwork and odd curios from floor to ceiling – and all the artists, authors, filmmakers and other creative types who pass through its live-in canvas have, from the beginning, tried to emulate Warhol’s New York City studio, “The Factory,” which was based on a similar collaborative motif.

One of Murphy’s friends works with Pittsburgh museums. Murphy said he had put in calls about possible donations from the museum, but many fell through, scooped up by larger organizations. Then, another opportunity arose.

“It was ... stay by the phone – there’s gonna be a little window of opportunity and if it opens up, you have to rush out immediately and pick this stuff up,” Murphy said. He said he was in Pittsburgh by 8 a.m. on May 19 to bring the benches back to Windber.

Each weighs a couple hundred pounds, he estimated.

They were hard enough to move between rooms at the hotel, and driving them to Windber was an “adventure” in and of itself, he mused.

The Andy Warhol Museum celebrated its 20-year anniversary on May 17 with a black tie gala, art auction and more.

“It does say something for us, though, that we’re between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and trying to continually work relationships with other artists in those two bigger meccas. And something of significance came from there here, to little Windber,” he said.

“It’s pretty cool.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @JustinDennis.

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