Teenie Harris Photographs: Cars

April 30, 2015January 18, 2016


As a young man, I grew up around Hawthorne’s Esso, a service station on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District that my father owned from 1946 to 1963. Teenie was a regular customer, often arriving in a Cadillac or LaSalle that would cause me to salivate. I first became familiar with my father’s business while helping him each day after school. By the time I graduated from Schenley High in 1952, I was working full time as a mechanic. Six years later I became station manager. 

—From the curator’s statement, Kenneth Hawthorne 

Charles “Teenie” Harris photographed several decades of life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and was known for his love of beautiful women, big dogs, and big cars. Teenie Harris Photographs: Cars presents 25 photographs selected from Carnegie Museum of Art’s Teenie Harris Archive, which contains well over 2,000 images of automobiles from the 1930s to 1970s.

The exhibition emphasizes not only the beauty and elegance of these iconic cars—Cadillacs, Dusenbergs, Hudsons, and Buicks—but also the roles that they played in Pittsburgh’s segregated African American communities. Harris photographed the micro economy of the Hill District’s repair shops, service stations, and dealerships, as well as black celebrities interacting with cars, such as Willie Mays representing Buick, or Nat King Cole riding in a black-owned Owl Cab when other Pittsburgh taxi services refused black riders. Harris captured them on showroom floors, in driveways, on the street, and at parties, always as part of daily life.

Teenie Harris Photographs: Cars is organized by Kenneth L. Hawthorne (b. 1934), who once serviced cars for Teenie and his brother Woogie. Teenie followed Hawthorne’s automotive career from Esso station owner to a vice president of Gulf Oil in Pittsburgh.

This is the fourth in a series of small exhibitions drawn from the Teenie Harris Archive on view in the museum’s lobby gallery.

Read selections from the Teenie Harris Essay Series:
How Redlining Blocked Car Ownership in Black Pittsburgh
Dreaming of Cadillacs in Times of Violence and Disregard
Lanes to Freedom: Ridin' Around with No Particular Place to Go 

Support for Teenie Harris Photographs: Cars is provided by Dollar Bank and The Fellows of Carnegie Museum of Art. Media support provided by WAMO 100.1 FM. General operating support for Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by The Heinz Endowments and Allegheny Regional Asset District. Carnegie Museum of Art receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.