Westmoreland Museum of American Art
When Coal Was King: Paintings from the Steidle Collection
When Coa/ Was King, an exhibition of works from the Steidle Collection of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State, opens at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art (WMAA) on August 9 and continues through October 25, 1998. This exhibition of 46 paintings and in works on paper captures aspects of America at its industrial peak between the world wars and allows the viewer to examine the industrial heritage of this region. This will be the final exhibition prior to closing the WMAA for renovation on November 1, 1998.
According to Eric Schruers, a Ph.D in Art History who wrote his dissertation on the Steidle Collection, "Today the Steidle Collection serves as a time capsule that allows us to observe the relationships among the fine arts, industry, and education in America in the years before World War II. An interesting aspect of this collection is the positive attitude the works record concerning industry. More importantly, the images allow the viewer to examine and understand the attitudes toward industry that helped to shape American ideals prior to World War II. It was a time when technology and progress were seen as the tomes that would bring a higher understanding of living, an increase in material wealth, and the promise of a better future."
The exhibition, When Coal Was King: Paintings from the Steidle Collection, includes works such as Miners in a Lift, by Henry Varnum Poor (1887-1970), which magnifies the raccoon eyes of the miners as they ascend from the black depths of the underground; as well as the solemnness of the crow's-eye view in Alan Thompson's Company Row, Millvale, that depicts a funeral proceeding through the bleak landscape. These works provide a window into the communities and workplaces that affected the lives of thousands of people. The artists subjects range from an objective view of the anonymous homes as in Frances Wright's Through a Back Yard, Homestead to the up·close and personal image of Joe Petko, a miner from Brownsville, PA, fully equipped with the tools of his trade.
It is especially significant how the Steidle Collection parallels the ongoing WMAA exhibition Valley of Work: Scenes of Industry. This portion of the permanent collection is dedicated to works of art that depict Southwestern Pennsylvania's industrial heritage. The concentration of works in the Steidle Collection such as Aaron Harry Gorson's Bessemer Blow at Night, Piffsburgh; Michael J. Gallagher's Coal Hills, Scranton; Off Hand Glass Blowing, Glassport; or Rockwell Kent's Power...for the Wheels of Progress provides not only a glimpse of the scope of industry's reach throughout Pennsylvania and beyond, but the diversity of it as well.
The Steidle Collection was established in the 1930s by one of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences most influential early leaders, Edward Steidle, who was dean of the School of Mineral Industries from 1928 to 1953. Steidle's goal was to collect paintings illustrating the subjects taught in the school in order to enhance the existing collections of minerals and mineral industries artifacts in the school's museum. At that time, the collection was intended to draw attention to the vital role these industries played in the nation.
To coincide with When Coal Was King, there will be a display of mining artifacts in the cases on the second floor. On loan from both public and private collections including West Overton Museums, Scottdale; College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University; Windber Coal Heritage Center; Arthur Boyley Henry Jamison; Patricia McClelland, a Johnstown miner for 14 years, among others. These artifacts not only complement the paintings on view but illustrate many of the objects that the artists have shown in them as well.
From top to bottom: Edmund Ashe, Finishing the Heat,
Open Heart Furnace, Dequesne, oil on canvas, 34 x 30 inches; Roy Hilton,
Steel Works in Winter, Pittsburgh, oil on canvas, 29 x 34 inches;
Michael Gallagher, Last Shift, Scranton, c. 1937, lithograph, 8 1/2
x 11 inches, presented by the Federal Art Project, Works Progress Administration,
1942; Mary Martha Himler, Industry -- East Latrobe, 1936, oil on
masonite, 25 x 30 1/4 inches.
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For biographical information on artists referenced above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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