At the Heart of Progress: Coal, Iron, and Steam since 1750, Industrial Imagery from the John P. Eckblad Collection

January 24, 2009 - May 17, 2009

Miners underground

The Ackland continues the celebration of its fifitieth anniversary year this spring with a special exhibition drawn from one of the most extensive private collections of prints and posters associated with industry and labor. At the Heart of Progress: Coal, Iron, and Steam since 1750 – Industrial Imagery from the John P. Eckblad Collection includes approximately seventy-five pieces selected from the collection of Dr. John P. Eckblad. The exhibition includes works that explore the world of coal production and consumption, featuring such artists as 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.

Curated by Ackland Curator of Collections Timothy Riggs, At the Heart of Progress surveys the Faustian bargain between humanity and carbon. Though the trinity of coal, iron, and steam supports industrial civilization, its enormous benefits are counterbalanced by equally enormous tolls. These tensions are apparent in the works included in At the Heart of Progress, pitting capitalist pride against social unrest, groundbreaking industrial development against the profound human and environmental consequences.

The exhibition focuses on seven primary themes, including mining, iron and steel making, smokestack landscapes, and images of labor and life. In addition, At the Heart of Progress will include an installation in the Ackland’s Education Resource Center exploring the various industrial processes depicted in the images and the history of industry in North Carolina and elsewhere.

“Unique in its scope and focus, the Eckblad Collection is important for both its aesthetic and historic value,” said Ackland Director Emily Kass. “The Ackland is honored to have the opportunity to be the first to present a major exhibition of this extraordinary group of images.”

Dr. 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 coalmining 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, Dr. Eckblad 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 thirty-five years I’ve continued to search for similarly captivating views in life and art.”

Image: James E. Allen, American, 1894-1964; Teeming Ingots, 1935; etching, 15 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (38.42 x 32.07 cm); Lent by The John P. Eckblad Collection. L2008.69.33