North Hills Art Center: A Suburban Gem
North Hills Art Center: A Suburban Gem
Diane Pontoriero, President
A person looking for the arts in Pittsburgh is likely to find a play or a concert in the downtown cultural district or a gallery or a museum class in the Oakland university area. But residents of the city’s northern hills have a rare jewel in the North Hills Art Center (NHAC). For over sixty years, this institution has served the community, inspiring creativity in children and adults through expert instruction in a full gamut of media. Board of Directors President, Diane Pontoriero says, “Our mission is to bring what the arts do for us to everyone in the community.”
Every day, students come to the center for classes and workshops in a variety of disciplines, taught by a staff of over a dozen part-time instructors. The students transform glass, fiber, oils, watercolor, and clay into personal expressions of life experiences. Each year, four juried shows feature the work of students, with a percentage of the sales designated for an area non-profit organization. Crisis Center North and A Caring Place are among several that have benefited. In addition to financial help, the center works directly with a variety of groups, offering workshops that bring the healing power of art to adults and children in crisis. NHAC’s mission includes significant support for artists as well as the community. The center offers open studio time for members and has a gallery space that is always filled with the works of emerging artists. Pontoriero says that the center boasts a high return rate among students, creating a cohesive and supportive community that draws students from several surrounding counties and states.
In addition to her work on the Board of Directors, Pontoriero is also the Pottery Studio Supervisor. A native of northwestern Pennsylvania, she returned to Pittsburgh by way of New Orleans and Boston in 1989 when her geologist husband found work here. Trained in Landscape Architecture at the Pennsylvania State University, Pontoriero re-channeled her creative talents into teaching. With young children and her husband’s heavy travel schedule, she completed a Masters of Art Education degree at Carlow University and found employment in the Pittsburgh Diocese school system. During her two decades of teaching art, she found time to take classes at NHAC in a variety of media but gravitated toward pottery. By the time she retired from teaching in 2019, she was an accomplished potter and an integral part of the NHAC community. She stepped into the role of Pottery Studio Supervisor when a staff member moved on. As a new retiree, she increased her involvement with the center. She served as Board Secretary before becoming President.
Pontoriero is enthused by her work in pottery. Under her leadership, the program has grown, in both offerings and students. She says, “Something happened during the pandemic that got everyone interested in ceramics. It might have been that cable show (Pottery Throw-Down), but whatever it was, our numbers have exploded.” She says that the center could fill three times the number of classes offered now if space were available. Currently, there are 15 to 18 classes in pottery each session. Pontoriero has expanded the curriculum with special project workshops that provide an easy way for newcomers to explore. The holiday season offerings included a Gingerbread House workshop, and a Pottery for the Kitchen workshop is currently on the schedule.
The highlight of NHAC’s pottery program is the Summer Solstice Raku Fundraiser. Students, instructors, family, and friends gather at the center to enjoy music and refreshments while the raku kiln is stoked for the 6:00 p.m. firing. The festivities continue into the night as, with great anticipation, every 20 to 30 minutes, pieces are pulled from the kiln and placed in the buckets for reduction. For Pontoriero, it is a special moment to look back on the hundreds of students, both in the schools and at the center, with whom she has shared her love of the arts.
Pontoriero maintains a studio at her home where she paints and makes pottery. Her work is often inspired by nature, both flora and fauna. She exhibits at Firebox Art Studios in Carnegie, and she has a new upcoming show with ceramic pieces and paintings inspired by her walks at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. Also this spring, Pontoriero will turn her attention once again to young students as she serves as Juror for Standard Clay’s annual High School Student Exhibition at ClayPlace@Standard.
Learn more about North Hill Art Center at www.northhillsartcenter.org.
Visit Pontoriero’s upcoming show: