Charles Loring Elliott, Portrait of Matthew Vassar, 1861

In the News

Faustian bargains between humanity and carbon in the next Art Center exhibition, "At the Heart of Progress: Coal, Iron, and Steam since 1750 – Industrial Imagery from the John P. Eckblad Collection," January 22 through March 21, 2010.

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 exhibition is generously supported at Vassar by the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Exhibition Fund. Accompanying the exhibition is a 52-page full-color catalogue with an essay by organizing curator Timothy Riggs.

About the Collector

John P. Eckblad amassed this singular collection over the last three and a half decades. Dr. Eckblad, who divides his time between Paris and Chapel Hill, spent much of his childhood in the coal-mining hills of western Pennsylvania and for decades worked as a management consultant to large petrochemical complexes in northeastern England and northern Europe. In his work, he was surrounded by landscapes marked by cooling towers, pipe bridges, cat crackers, methane fermenters, machine works, and nuclear power plants.

“Having had the privilege of working in heavy industry, my collection helps me recall the rhythms, colors, sounds, and feel of these places and times,” said Eckblad. “The memories have become a constant reference. For over 35 years I've continued to search for similarly captivating views in life and art.”

About the Exhibition Curator

The Ackland Museum’s Curator of Collections Timothy Riggs (PhD, Yale University) has worked at the Ackland Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1984. Formerly curator of prints and drawings at the Worcester Art Museum and researcher for the Print Council of America, Riggs has over 30 years of museum experience. In addition to the catalogue for At the Heart of Progress, Riggs authored the definitive text The Print Council Index to Oeuvre-Catalogues of Prints by European and American Artists, as well as several catalogues, including The Second Fifty Years: American Art, 1826-1876 and Three Sides to a Sheet of Paper: How Prints Communicate, Represent and Transform. He co-authored Visions of City and Country: Prints and Photographs of Nineteenth-Century France, and has contributed to many more catalogues and publications.


All programs are free and open to the public.

Exhibition Opening: Symposium on the Exhibition and Reception
January 22, 2010
Taylor Hall, room 203
The symposium will feature Vassar College faculty from divergent disciplines, who will speak on works in the exhibition from their specialized viewpoints. Participants will include James Challey (physics), Diane Harriford (sociology), Dan Peck (English), and Michael Hanagan (history).   A reception in the Art Center will follow.

About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 18,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th- century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.

Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The art center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For more information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, January 22, 2010


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