featured specials

featured specials

    close menu

Documentary tells story of Pittsburgh artist Elizabeth Black during WWII

May 15, 2014

George Hazimanolis

Documentary tells story of Pittsburgh artist Elizabeth Black during WWII

PITTSBURGH – For the third time, a documentary written and produced by WQED’s David Solomon with photography and editing by Paul Ruggieri has been recognized with a national Gabriel Award.

Solomon will accept the 2014 Gabriel Award for Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 19. Presented by the Catholic Academy, The Gabriel is presented to films and programs throughout North America that uplift the human spirit by focusing on people who foster community, creativity, tolerance, justice and compassion.

The WQED documentary chronicled the life of Miss Black who abandoned a promising Pittsburgh art career to travel through Europe during World War II sketching soldiers, sailors and airmen in field camps. She did more than 1,000 portraits, which were sent home to worried parents, wives and other family members in the United States.

“Portraits” was narrated by WQED’s Michael Bartley, who along with Solomon, Ruggieri, Pierina Morelli and Iris Samson won the 2006 Gabriel for From Pittsburgh to Poland: Lessons of the Holocaust. In 2010, Solomon and Ruggieri received the Gabriel for Losing Lambert: A Journey Through Survival & Hope, a film about local parents who lost children to suicide.

Solomon attends Saint Maurice Parish in Forest Hills. Ruggieri is a member of the Church of Saint Paul in Greensburg. Bartley is a member of Saint Rosalia in Greenfield.

Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black will encore Thursday, May 22 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 25 at 3 p.m. on WQED-TV and is also available to watch online at

Elizabeth Black’s Legacy

In 2010, John Black and his wife Kay of Germantown, Tennessee received an unexpected surprise: his mother’s footlocker filled with the 100 photographs of her sketches, images of Miss Black standing before the easel as fascinated soldiers watched, scrap books, news clippings and other memorabilia. The trunk had been stored, unexamined, for decades in a family member’s garage in California. In 2011, John Black connected with WQED executive producer David Solomon, who began work on the documentary and a companion interactive outreach project.

Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black
explores Miss Black’s lost art career, features interviews with elderly veterans who encountered the artist on the battlefield, and captures memorable scenes of amazed and appreciative families finally receiving portraits that never arrived. Through social media, a separate interactive component of the project, Finding Elizabeth’s Soldiers is working to make sure the 100 portraits in the Black collection reach the families that might not have them. An online gallery of the drawings can be viewed at As the veterans’ images are identified and connected with families, WQED will mark the sketches accordingly on the site.

Elizabeth Black’s Art Career

Elizabeth Black was an up-and-coming artist in 1930s Pittsburgh. After recognition at Carrick and Peabody high schools, Miss Black won a scholarship to the city’s Ad-Art Studio School, took classes at Carnegie Tech and studied at the prestigious Art Students League of New York. Prominent Pittsburgh families including the Mellons, Craigs and Shaws commissioned her work for portraits of children and other family members.

Her crowning achievement in Pittsburgh was the selection of Miss Black in 1940 to paint 25 larger than life portraits of literary greats such as Longfellow, Dickinson, Thoreau and others. The portraits were permanently mounted at the Carnegie Library on the city’s North Side until they disappeared during a late 1960s renovation.

Elizabeth Black’s Service

At the height of World War II, Miss Black joined the American Red Cross and was assigned to the Clubmobile division. The retrofitted buses and trucks, staffed and driven by women, traveled to field camps throughout Europe providing donuts, coffee and a smiling face to war-weary troops. Hoping to be more than a hostess and utilize her talent Miss Black proposed a unique project to sketch soldiers and send the portraits to worried families in the United States. The American Red Cross accepted the plan, giving Miss Black special assignment status.

For nearly two years Miss Black sketched her way across Europe, choosing her subjects through a lottery and completing as many as a dozen portraits a day. Every soldier, sailor and airman signed their sketches, often including endearments to loved ones back home. They also autographed Miss Black’s journal, a fascinating collection of appreciative messages, poems and well wishes to the talented and charming Pittsburgh artist. Miss Black completed more than 1,000 sketches. The originals were sent to wives, mothers and other family members throughout the United States. At some point, Miss Black took quality photographs of about 100 sketches to keep a record of her work.

In Cherbourg, France, Miss Black met a naval commander from Tennessee who ironically shared her last name. She married Julian Black at the American Cathedral in Paris in 1945. After the war, the couple eventually settled in Waynesboro, Virginia. With her art career nearly dormant, Mrs. Black devoted her time to raising sons George and John while helping her husband start a business. After Julian Black’s passing and with her sons now grown, Mrs. Black moved to Berkeley, California and later Portland, Oregon. She resumed portrait work to a far lesser extent than her successful Pittsburgh years. In 1983, Elizabeth Black had a heart attack and died at 71.

WQED changes lives by creating and sharing outstanding public media that educates, entertains, and inspires. It is the parent company of WQED-TV (PBS); WQED: The Neighborhood Channel; WQED: The Create Channel; WQED Showcase; Classical WQED-FM 89.3/Pittsburgh; Classical WQEJ-FM 89.7/Johnstown; the Pittsburgh Concert Channel at WQED-HD2 (89.3-2FM) and online at; local and national television and radio productions; WQED Interactive ( and iQ: smartmedia, WQED’s Educational initiative (

| Corporate Announcements | website



WQED Pittsburgh
4802 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213


Key Contacts

George Hazimanolis
Senior Director of
Corporate Communications


Maria Pisano
Marketing Associate


Media Usage Policy