“Pittsburgh is a big enough city to explore endlessly, but small enough for a community artist and advocate to make an impact.”
It’s hard to know where to start to describe Saige Baxter. Any given workday may find her bending steel with a welding torch, helping elementary school students express themselves through art or stretching pizza dough with traditional Napolitano techniques passed down through generations. It's a life that reflects Pittsburgh’s multiplicity of opportunities, she says. “I am able to see different areas of the city and interact with a variety of people, artists and citizens, but they all have a way of connecting back to each other.”
Saige grew up in Mount Lebanon, a walkable community in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. Family is central to her life and has a major impact on who Saige is and how she engages, “My mom instilled in me and my sisters to be independent, work hard, take pride in what we do and explore all opportunities possible,” she says.
While at Seton Hill University
, just 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, she spent a semester studying art and art history abroad in Florence, Italy and – informally -- the art of food. Going overseas, she says, was essential to being able to see her own life in a larger context. “I think it’s important for everyone to explore outside their bubble. You’ll be amazed at how it will make you appreciate where you’re from.”
Saige finds Pittsburgh a place where she can pursue art, connect to community and still be close to family. Upon graduation, Saige jumped into the region’s growing and ever-changing art scene. She loves the connectivity between younger and older generations across gallery crawls, art societies and public projects. Her sculpting experience led to her becoming a welding mentor for the Mobile Sculpture Workshop
, a summer outreach program that teaches high school student apprentices welding, metal fabrication and creativity. “I travel weekly to events and festivals and work on community sculpture with our students. The program exposes students to a new skill and potential career that they’d likely never have an opportunity to experience otherwise.”
Together the apprentices create an annual large-scale sculpture for public display, recently a large rocking horse for Springhill and currently, an archway for the African Healing Garden in Larimer
, expected to be in place by November 2017. “Public sculpture can be incredibly unifying. The community response and excitement – that young people are creating the pieces and beautifying the communal space --has been extremely positive.”
During the school year, Saige is the after-school creative artist at the Propel School
in Hazelwood, empowering 60 imaginative scholars in grades K-7 to tell their stories through sculpture and other forms of artistic expression. Together, they are constructing a public art project for their Hazelwood community garden.
Saige also works at her alma mater as a studio technician for the Seton Hill Art Center
, affectionately known as the SHAC. She helps to maintain the studios and serves as a consultant to professors and students on their various projects, which are shared with the public in the SHAC’s galleries.
Her fourth part-time job is as a pizzaiola (pizza maker) at the Mount Lebanon restaurant of the same name. After living in Italy, speaking the language and growing up in a big Italian family, Saige attests to Il Pizzaiolo
’s authenticity. “This is a perfect outlet for me. Pizza making is really an art form and a craft that is highly paid and well-respected in Italy. It’s amazing to be a part of bringing it to life here in Pittsburgh.” While working as a server, Saige trained for months to learn how to “slap” (stretch) the Neapolitan dough crafted from 200 year old yeast, and to master the stone oven. A female Pizzaiola is uncommon in Italy, Saige says, so she’s become accustomed to some raised eyebrows from native-born patrons.
An unpaid labor of love is STAMPED, an outreach program Saige created to connect artists with the community – and each other – around social issues to make positive change, focusing on collaboration rather than competition. The most recent project titled “Crossing the Line,” brought together four artists in Homewood at The Shop, part barber shop, part community events space. “Artists discussed how people from diverse backgrounds can better engage across communities in a meaningful way. The artists addressed when they should take on social responsibility and how to effectively support community efforts.”
In her very limited spare time, Saige enjoys exploring the city on long runs, and in 2016 completed the Pittsburgh Marathon, her first. She also enjoys trying new restaurants, some favorites being Tako, Smallman Galley, Pusadee’s Garden and Jade Grill and of course attending art events throughout the city and seeing the revival of historical Pittsburgh places. “The Carrie Furnaces are a perfect example of a once decrepit place that is now a national historic landmark that hosts events with art, music, food -- even weddings.”
"Living in Pittsburgh pushes me to discover the amazing opportunities awaiting in my own community."