Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection was an exhibit in the Della Penna-Fernberger Galleries at the James A. Michener Art Museum from July 11, 2015 - November 1, 2015.
Molten steel, billowing smoke, soot-covered miners, and the jagged geometry of mills and factories covering vast tracts of land—these are not the usual subjects for artists, but as seen on the canvases in Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection, they can be transformed into objects of sublime beauty. The exhibition, organized by the Michener’s Senior Curator of Exhibitions Kirsten M. Jensen, is drawn from the Steidle Collection at the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery at The Pennsylvania State University, and was assembled by Edward Steidle, Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, to demonstrate visually to his students various industrial processes and the critical role of mineral industries in Pennsylvania. The founding piece given to the college in 1918 by the artist John Willard Raught, and the bulk of the collection was assembled during the Great Depression—a time when Americans needed reassurance about their country’s economic stability. Rather than turn a critical eye toward Pennsylvania’s industry, most of the paintings in the exhibition instead celebrate the state’s industrial power and its proud workers, who rise from the canvas like modern heroes, draped in the tools of their trade.
While there are a few familiar names in the exhibition, such as Aaron Gorson and Rockwell Kent, many of the artists—a significant number of whom are women, and most of whom were native Pennsylvanians—will be revelations. “So much of Pennsylvania’s original industries have long since disappeared,” notes Dr. Jensen, “that these paintings are significant historically in providing viewers a unique window into the past. Equally compelling, however, is their stunning visual appeal and dramatic impact, and the collective statement they make about Pennsylvania’s artistic, as well as industrial, heritage.”