Featured Image: Breaker Boys by Lewis Hine
Easton (March 15, 2023) – Opening April 1, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (DLNHC) is illuminating the often coal-dusted faces of anthracite coal miners and their families with its 2023 National Canal Museum special exhibition, “Coal Country Portraits.”
“Coal Country Portraits” celebrates the hardworking men, women, and children who helped extract the anthracite coal that powered America’s industrial growth. Centered on George Harvan’s black-and-white photography of anthracite miners and their families, the exhibition offers a window into the gritty reality of miners’ working conditions. Harvan’s portraits are complemented by works by photographer Lewis Hine and artist Frank “WYSO” Wysochansky as well as artifacts evoking the daily life of miners.
The discovery of anthracite coal in northeastern Pennsylvania in 1791 spurred the American Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Anthracite coal was the primary fuel used in America through the early 1900s and its production drew tens of thousands of Americans and newly arrived immigrants to live and work amongst the mines of Carbon and Luzerne Counties and the other anthracite regions of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Living and working conditions were hard and often dangerous. These led, however, to very tight-knit communities that continue to define the coal regions today.
“When anthracite mining began in the 19th century, it required new technologies, experts from abroad, and enormous financial investments. But money and technology would have been worthless without miners—the men and boys with the courage and determination to go deep underground and hack the coal from its ancient seams”, said Martha Capwell Fox, DLNHC Historian. “We remember and celebrate them, along with their families, with this exhibition.”
The core of the exhibition are photographs from the George Harvan Collection held by the DLNHC in the National Canal Museum archives. From Lansford, PA, George Harvan (1921-2002) was a nationally recognized newspaper and freelance photographer. From the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, much of his work focused on documenting coal mining operations both above and below ground. Harvan’s black and white photographs will be juxtaposed with the colorful and more abstract works of Frank “WYSO” Wysochansky (1915-1994), an artist from Blakeslee, PA. Both sons of miners, these men’s creative works are clearly influenced by their intimate knowledge of mining communities. Also on display will be photographs taken in the anthracite region by Lewis Hine in the early 1900s. Hine’s work, particularly of young boys working in the mines and coal breakers, led to the development of child labor laws in our country.
“Coal Country Portraits” will be on display April 1 through December 17, 2023. The National Canal Museum opens Saturdays and Sundays, 11:30am-4:30, during April and May. Beginning June 7, the museum will be open Wednesday through Sunday with rides offered on the mule-drawn Josiah White II canal boat.
Museum admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors (65 and above), $6 for children (3-15), and free for children under three. As a member of Blue Star Museums and Museums for All, the National Canal Museum provides free admission to active-duty service members and their families and to families receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits). Admission is free to DLNHC members.
For more information about the “Coal Country Portraits” exhibition, please visit the National Canal Museum website, www.canals.org.
Support for the exhibition was received from the County of Northampton’s Hotel Tax Program and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that preserves the historic pathway that carried coal and iron from Wilkes-Barre to Bristol. Through signature programs like the D&L Trail, National Canal Museum, and Get Your Tail on the Trail, DLNHC connects people to nature, culture, communities, recreation, and our enduring industrial heritage.
For additional information about the National Canal Museum, please visit www.canals.org. Additional information about DLNHC is available by phoning 610-923-3548 x221 or by visiting www.delawareandlehigh.org.
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