Penn Township artist decorates yard with concrete sculptures

Drivers on Sleepy Hollow Road in Penn Township often slow down to stop when they see the concrete sculptures in Mark Milliron’s front yard.

Milliron, who has lived on the road for almost 40 years, has come to expect questions and curiosity about the humanoid figures, especially when working on a sculpture outside.

“I’m on the road, so a lot of people stop and talk,” he said.

Milliron has been making art for about 50 years. His yard is dotted with 28 concrete sculptures, and his home is decorated with 10 paintings and about 15 wooden sculptures.

Milliron was first drawn to art through painting, but sculpture came more naturally to him, he said. He finds the flat surface of the canvas limiting, he said, opting for the three-dimensional expression of sculpture.

Milliron had only a mental image as his guide when he sat down to make his first sculpture, a wooden figure of a woman playing a violin.

“I didn’t even have a model or anything on the workbench. I just imagined it in a diary,” he said. “I made the head on one side and the violin on the other. Then I felt, “Well, yeah, I like doing this.”

As he made more works, Milliron read books on sculpture, drawing inspiration from the work of other artists.

“Just so you can look at what everybody else has done — you’re not going to copy it, but you look at it and think, ‘Oh yeah, I could do something like that,'” he said.

About two years after making his first sculpture, Milliron enrolled in art classes at Seton Hill while working at Jeannette’s post office.

The late art professor Josefa Filkoski taught him the principles of sculptural design—including movement, repetition, balance, contrast, and exaggeration. He still follows them today, striving to design pieces that harmoniously combine different shapes, lines and angles.

“It was actually some of the best years of my life, working there with people who were interested in art,” Milliron said.

The legacy lives on

Filkoski became a Sister of Charity at Seton Hill in 1956. Three years later, she began working in the university’s art department. She worked there until 1999, when she died of a brain tumor.

Filkoski’s legacy as a teacher and sculptor lives on in Seton Hill and beyond, said art history professor Maureen Kochanek, 40, who became a close friend and colleague of Filkoski.

Filkoski taught three-dimensional art, metalwork and sculpture at the university, Kochanek said. She is known for her brightly colored pipe sculptures.

The sculptures can be found outside the Seton Hill Arts Center, at the entrance to the university campus, outside the Greensburg Arts Center in Hempfield, by the Fort Pitt Bridge leading into downtown Pittsburgh and even in New York City, Kochanek said.

Filkoski challenged her students, Kochanek said, but she gave each one individual attention to make sure they met their artistic goals.

“I think it’s a necessary thing to do for everyone — a traditional-age student or a non-traditional-age student,” Kochanek said of working with students one-on-one. “You want them to take personal and creative risks. This is scary.”

“eat it”

For Milliron, art is an outlet. Although he has since retired, Milliron delivered mail and worked as an employee at the Jeannette Post Office for 33 years. Sculpture allowed Milliron to tap into his creative energy.

“I think everyone wants to do something different than their profession,” he said.

Milliron focused on wood sculptures for about 20 years before switching to concrete. It takes six to eight weeks to make a concrete sculpture, he said, but a wooden piece will take him a year.

A wooden sculpture requires meticulous carving, shaping and sanding, Milliron said.

“In the end you have to gnaw it like a mouse,” he said.

Concrete sculptures are easier to shape and mold, he added.

Milliron does not have a favorite sculpture in his collection. He always has ideas for new pieces and hopes to expand into more abstract designs in the future, he said. He admired artists who had mastered exaggeration, the practice of distorting a well-known person or object to make them appear more extreme or dramatic.

“I probably would have been a lot more successful if I just went all out and forgot about everything but the exaggerations — whatever I do there, just break all the rules and just make it really weird,” he said. “But somehow I think that’s just in us: if you want to make a face, you want to make it as real as possible.”

Local artists like Milliron have a unique opportunity to make an impact in their community, Kochanek said.

“The idea is that if you plant art, beautiful things will grow,” she said.

Kochanek cited the work of You Are Here Gallery in Jeannette, which offers studio and exhibition space to local artists.

“They do community service and have workshops. They build benches for different businesses and just put beautiful things around Jeanette,” Kochanek said. “Like wow, isn’t that a great thing?”

Quincy Reese is a Tribune-Review contributor. Quincy can be reached by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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