Pennell | Coal Mine, Longport

Joseph Pennell, Coal Mine, Longport

Keywords: Transition, Power

Joseph Pennell (American, 1857-1926)
Coal Mine, Longport (1909)
Etching, 8 x 10 ½"
Gift of June and Norman Kraeft, 1996.8.78
In his etchings of the industrial landscape, Pennell sought to record what he called “the wonder of work.” He discovered the powerful artistic appeal of industry during a visit to Pittsburgh in 1908, when the artist glimpsed one of Carnegie’s steel mills on a trolley ride. Pennell’s ensuing etchings of coal, oil, and steel production expressed a sense of awe through compositional devices like plunging perspective and dramatic lighting. His approach has been compared with the sublime vision of nineteenth century landscape artists. While they spiritualized Nature, Pennell romanticized human ingenuity.

Carbon Wasteland

This is more than a coal mine, as the title claims. Three human figures look out over an industrial wasteland, that, in the artist's day, may have been appreciated as a sign of progress. The tall smokestacks dominating the image had to be tall to better disperse the toxic exhaust and soot from the coal being burned. Invisible to everyone were the carbon emissions already warming the planet. Much of the land consists of spoil piles of waste rock and ash leaching acid and poison into streams. Cables, bridges, roadcuts, and trains are everywhere.