Barbara Luderowski. Photo: Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Barbara Luderowski (1930–2018)

Artist Barbara Luderowski, the founder of the Mattress Factory museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, died on May 30, reports M. Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She was—according to Tom Sokolowski, the former head of the city’s Andy Warhol Museum—a woman of “tenacity, stubbornness, [and] zeal” with an astonishing work ethic.

Luderowski was born in New York and raised in Connecticut. Her mother participated in the arts, and her father was an architect. She studied at Carnegie Mellon University for a little while (it was called Carnegie Tech when she was there), then the Art Students League of New York, and finally, the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. She ended up wedding the school’s design teacher and went on to work at an architectural firm and as a designer at General Motors, making her own art all the while.

After the death of Luderowski’s husband in 1972, she approached the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation about a project. Though the foundation was not enthusiastic about her idea, they took her on a tour of the city’s North Side, which she saw as ripe with possibility. Luderowski eventually sold her Michigan home and moved in to a condemned building in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood of Pittsburgh with her young daughter, who was ten at the time. She refurbished the property on her own. The project sparked in her a desire to revitalize additional properties.

A few years later, Luderowski bought a former mattress warehouse at 500 Sampsonia Way. She wanted to make it a center for artists and thinkers. It eventually became her live/work space, as well as a building that housed studios for artists, a food co-op, and a theater. In 1977, Luderowski turned it into a nonprofit educational center with a directorial board, and the Mattress Factory was born. The museum staged its first exhibition only five years later.

Since then, the Mattress Factory has bought and fixed up eight other properties within the vicinity, supported the work of more than six hundred artists in residence, and hosted exhibitions by Janine Antoni, Jessica Stockholder, Cady Noland, Charles Ray, William Anastasi, and Vito Acconci, among many others. The museum welcomes about 28,400 visitors annually and serves a community of 47,700 patrons via memberships, educational initiatives, and other programs.

“Barbara had this vision about creating an international art space inside what was an old mattress factory,” said Tom Murphy, a former mayor of Pittsburgh. “None of us ever imagined a place like the Mattress Factory would receive international visibility. . . . When I became mayor, Barbara was relentless in pushing [the city]. She was an incredible force toward revitalization of the North Side. She was incredibly abrasive but you took it the right way. Barbara wanted to get things done.”

Luderowski, renowned for her fierce manner, hated being asked about retirement. But in 2002, she did share her funeral plans with a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “I want to be cremated. I want my ashes dispersed on Roden Crater, which is as good of a place as any. Or over the ocean, which is as good a place as any. I don’t want any gooey, sentimental memorial service. Then I want some huge celebration as a fundraiser for the Mattress Factory with a big ticket. It will be for my friends and my enemies, who will like to celebrate my termination.”