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Exhibition of Industrial Imagery from the John P. Eckblad Collection Announced
Unknown, French, nineteenth century. "View of the Beaujonc Coal Mine near Liège", 1812. Engraving, hand-colored. 16 x 22 inches. Collection of John P. Eckblad.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY.- The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College will present a special exhibition, At the Heart of Progress: Coal, Iron, and Steam since 1750 - Industrial Imagery from the John P. Eckblad Collection, on view from Friday, January 22 through Sunday, March 21, 2010. The exhibition will feature a selection of 76 works—including prints and posters, as well as a children’s toy—from the collection of Dr. John P. Eckblad of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Paris, France, who has one of the most extensive private collections of prints and posters associated with industry and labor.

The exhibition opening on Friday, January 22, will feature a symposium at 5:30pm with Vassar College faculty from divergent disciplines, who will speak on works in the exhibition from their specialized viewpoints (Taylor Hall, room 203). A reception in the Art Center will follow. Admission to both the exhibition and opening is free and open to the public.

Organized and circulated by the Ackland Art Museum of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with funding provided by the William Hayes Ackland Trust, At the Heart of Progress is curated by Timothy Riggs, Ackland Curator of Collections. Following the exhibition at the Art Center, the exhibition will travel to the Palmer Museum of Art at The Pennsylvania State University in October 2010.

The exhibition focuses on seven primary themes, including mining, iron and steel making, smokestack landscapes, and images of labor and life. Some of the artists, whose works explore the world of coal production and consumption who are featured in the exhibition are Camille Pissarro, Theophile Steinlen, Constantin Meunier, Joseph Pennell, C. R. W. Nevinson, and Craig McPherson, as well as a wealth of commercial and documentary imagery.

At the Heart of Progress surveys “the Faustian bargain between humanity and carbon. Though the trinity of coal, iron, and steam supports industrial civilization, the enormous benefits are counterbalanced by equally enormous tolls,” noted Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. She pointed out that the some of the tensions depicted in the works include the “pitting of capitalist pride against social unrest and the groundbreaking industrial development against the profound human and environmental consequences.”

“Unique in its scope and focus, the Eckblad Collection is important for both its aesthetic and historic value,” said Ackland Director Emily Kass. The collection’s wide artistic range includes 18th- and 19th-century English and French landscapes, and post-impressionist images from the golden age of French printmaking in the 1890s.

Representative of this is Philip James de Loutherbourg’s dramatic scenic view of industry that was issued in print form as part of a series titled The Romantic and Picturesque Scenery of England and Wales, dated shortly after 1800. Loutherbourg collaborated with engraver William Pickett to produce this hand-colored aquatint, Iron Works, Colebrookdale. Both a painter and a designer of theater sets, Phagan noted that Loutherbourg was known for his spectacular effects of light, while in this print the “actual process of iron working is invisible; we see only smoke, flame, and chimneys that suggest castle towers.”

In contrast, in America in the early 20th century, Louis Lozowick depicted mechanical power in a very different way. Phagan remarked that, in his “Edison Plant the image itself seems to be machine-made. Lozowick’s style, nicknamed ‘Precisionism,’ idealizes the machine as an academic artist might idealize the human body. Instead of smoke belching from their tops, the stacks are surrounded by halos of white.”

“History paintings . . . documenting the remnants of our Industrial Age,” is the way in which contemporary artist Craig McPherson describes his own work.

His print Clairton from 1997 looks backward in several ways, noted Phagan, even through his chosen medium, mezzotint, a laborious pre-industrial craft that was used extensively in the 18th century to reproduce paintings. She said that his subject of a mill that processes coal into coke is the very same process that had helped to start the Industrial Revolution in Coalbrookdale two centuries earlier and the view, the “volcanic aspect of industry at night and the depiction of a vast plant that fills the plate,” is also reflective of an earlier age.

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center | At the Heart of Progress | Timothy Riggs |

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