Amara, Julia and Jonathan

Lure of the Mine

The Lure of the Mine exhibition grew out of a collaboration between the EMS Museum & Art Gallery and the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State (CPA). The exhibit mirrored the theme of the oratorio, Anthracite Fields, composed by Julia Wolfe.

The piece was performed on the Penn State University Park campus as a CPA event. Paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and historic mining artifacts from the collections were exhibited in the EMS Museum’s Art and Mineral Gallery. Photos and documents from a 1944 United Mine Workers survey of miner’s homes (courtesy The Eberly Special Collections Library at Penn State) were also shown. A 1942 U.S. Office of War Information photography project chronicled coal mining’s contribution to the war effort (courtesy Library of Congress).

Visitors to the exhibition were provided with a visual perspective of what was, and is, involved in the extraction and processing of Pennsylvania coal, particularly anthracite coal. The exhibition also provided the backdrop for gallery talks by composer Julia Wolfe and coal scientist Jonathan Mathews, professor of energy and mineral engineering, as well as gallery conversations between Wolfe and Mathews, and Mathews and Amara Solari, assistant professor of art history and anthropology. The exhibit title, The Lure of the Mine, was derived from lyrics written by Merle Travis for “Dark as a Dungeon,” a song about the working conditions experienced by underground coal miners.

Anthracite is a very pure grade of coal that has been subjected to greater pressure and heat by burial than other types of coal (bituminous or lignite). The anthracite coal deposits in Pennsylvania are primarily located in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Bituminous coal is mined from twenty-one counties in Pennsylvania located in the southwest region of the commonwealth. Paintings and works on paper from the Steidle Collection of American Industrial included in The Lure of the Mine exhibition depict the mining and production of coal, the transportation and use of coal, and coal miners and their communities in both the anthracite and bituminous regions of Pennsylvania. Coal mining has been instrumental in the industrial development of Pennsylvania since the 19th century. Anthracite and bituminous coal continue to be mined in Pennsylvania today.