Cartoons and comics relocate

Cartoonist Rob Rogers and former Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff cut the ribbon, signifying the opening of the new ToonSeum location. (credit: Michael Kahn | Copy Manager) Cartoonist Rob Rogers and former Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff cut the ribbon, signifying the opening of the new ToonSeum location. (credit: Michael Kahn | Copy Manager)

Shortly after 10 a.m. last Saturday, the ToonSeum, Pittsburgh’s cartoon museum, opened the doors of its new location in the Cultural District, Downtown. About 25 visitors, mostly teenage boys, stood outside the entrance waiting for the ribbon to be cut and the new space to be unveiled. Joe Wos, executive director of the ToonSeum, spoke to the group before the event about the evolution of the museum from occupying a wing of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side to moving into its own space.

After Wos’ speech, ToonSeum president and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers (CFA ‘84) introduced former Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff to perform the ribbon cutting. The dynamic between the two entertained the group, as Rogers had spent much of Masloff’s time in office caricaturing the mayor. The ceremony was soon complete, and the ToonSeum staff welcomed visitors into their new home.

The opening exhibit of the new ToonSeum appeals to both new cartoonists and those with decades of memories. This exhibit, Enchanted Drawings: A Century of Animation, even has something to offer visitors who are not comic enthusiasts. The collection includes such varied works as concept art for the Batmobile and pencil drawings of Dora the Explorer. Walking through the museum is like taking a trip through the development of some of the most beloved and iconic images in popular media. Also included is an animation desk from Disney’s early Hyperion Studio, above which hangs a drawing of Donald Duck.

Soon after the grand opening on Saturday, a more varied crowd started to filter through the 1000-square-foot museum. Patrons had the opportunity to talk to Masloff and Rogers, both of whom stayed to talk about the museum and sign Rogers’ new book — No Cartoon Left Behind. Some visitors remarked that they had come to know Masloff through the drawings of Rogers. Across the room, Wos drew personalized cartoons for visitors.

While its new space is a significant improvement over the old location, the museum still tries to fit a lot of content into a small space. With the visitors, press, and special guests that were present for the grand opening, the exhibit hall felt cramped at times, but on a normal day patrons will have plenty of room to admire the cartoons on the walls and the personal atmosphere.

According to its website, the ToonSeum is one of only three museums in the United States focusing on the cartoon arts — the other two are in New York City and San Francisco. While it was originally supported by its home in the Children’s Museum, its move is being financed largely by the Grable Foundation.

In recent months, the ToonSeum has collaborated with other cultural institutions in the city. During the G-20 summit in September, it co-sponsored the Drawn to the Summit exhibition at The Andy Warhol Museum (see “An artistic look at the G20,” from the Sept. 21, 2009 edition of The Tartan).

While the ToonSeum will not attract the crowds of visitors that the Carnegie Museums do, it still hopes to find its niche in Pittsburgh’s unique culture. The new location in the Cultural District means that passersby will be able to walk in and learn about a century of animation. Amateur and professional cartoonists alike will have a location to meet others and refine their craft. Like any small art museum, the ToonSeum will succeed with a small and dedicated group. In this case, however, anybody can walk through the museum and develop an appreciation for the art of animation.