Arts and Entertainment

'Women’s Work' exhibit opens in the EMS Museum & Art Gallery

Students visit the Women’s Work exhibit in the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery. Credit: Patricia Craig / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Steel towns. Mines. Factories. Places like these, once the lifeblood of the industrial economy in Pennsylvania, have since become artifacts of our state’s history. Now, images of these artifacts are on exhibit for visitors to the Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) Museum & Art Gallery to learn about the cultural significance of this period through the lens of women artists. 

The exhibit, "Women’s Work," features art created by women showcasing industry in Pennsylvania in addition to research conducted by Penn State women scientists

The exhibit presents Pennsylvania’s early- to mid-20th century industrial history recorded on canvas and paper by women artists. The artwork on display has been selected from the EMS Museum’s Steidle Collection of American industrial art. Nearly one quarter of the 130 artists represented in the Steidle Collection are women, a unique aspect of this collection.

“Women were not typically working in extractive industries around the time these paintings were created,” said Julianne Snider, managing director of the EMS Museum & Art Gallery. “So, women representing these industries in their art is unusual.” 

Beyond its aesthetic value, the exhibit can serve as a significant historical and educational resource, according to Snider. 

One painting, "Coal Picking Tables," shows an innovative method of sorting coal at Wildwood in Allegheny County, one of the nation’s first fully mechanized coal mines. Painted from a small photograph, this piece highlights details that would be difficult to discern in the original.

“Before videos and photography, a painting was a great way to provide a reproduction that highlighted important content,” said Jane Cook, director of the EMS Museum & Art Gallery. “We think of them now as artistic objects, but at the time they were simply graphical communications as part of an engineer’s education.”

Among the historical processes and places represented are factory neighborhoods, coal mining, and steel production. And, with the exception of a few pieces, all of the works feature Pennsylvania locations like Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Bethlehem where 20th-century industry supported entire communities.

In addition to artwork, the exhibit features research by Penn State women professors and students. One section, Mineral as the Medium, highlights minerals that have been used by humans throughout history to make pigments and art. Showcasing recognizable materials such as marble and lapis lazuli, as well as lesser-known minerals like diorite and porphyry, the exhibit reinforces humanity’s connection between geosciences and art history.  

Visit online for the EMS Museum & Art Gallery hours and location.

Last Updated April 15, 2021