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

January 24 - May 17, 2009


In 2009 the Ackland Art Museum at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill presented 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. The exhibition was on view at the museum January 24 - May 17, 2009. It included approximately seventy-five pieces selected from the collection of Dr. John P. Eckblad. The exhibition included 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. At the Heart of Progress was part of the Ackland's fiftieth anniversary celebration, with other installations in the Museum honoring the importance of collectors and collecting. (right: James E. Allen, American, 1894-1964, Teeming Ingots, 1935, etching, 22 x 16 inches)

The exhibition is presently on view at the Palmer Museum of Art from October 19, 2010 - January 23, 2011.

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."



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 thirty 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 coauthored Visions of City and Country: Prints and Photographs of Nineteenth-Century France, and has contributed to many more catalogues and publications.



At the Heart of Progress is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue featuring twenty-nine full color illustrations. It includes an introduction by Ackland Director Emily Kass, a collector's statement from John P. Eckblad, and critical essays by Curator Timothy Riggs. It is distributed through UNC Press, www.uncpress.unc.edu, or 800.848.6224.


Object label text

To view the object label text from the exhibition please click here.


Introductory wall text

To view the introductory wall text from the exhibition please click here.


Additional images

(above: Louis Lozowick, American, 1892-1973, Edison Plant, 1929, lithograph, 22 x 16 inches)


(above: Elizabeth Olds, American, 1896-1991, "Bootleg" Mine, Pennsylvania, 1937, lithograph, 16 x 22 inches)


(above: E. M. Ashe, American, 1867-1941, After the Welcome Home, a Job, 1919, color lithograph, 34 x 47 inches)

The Ackland Art Museum

The Ackland Art Museum is located at the corner of South Columbia and East Franklin Streets on the historic campus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As an academic unit of the university, the Ackland serves broad local, state, and national constituencies. The Ackland Collection consists of more than 15,000 works of art, featuring significant collections of European masterworks, twentieth-century and contemporary art, North Carolina's premier collections of Asian art and works of art on paper (drawings, prints, and photographs), as well as African art and North Carolina pottery and folk art.

For hours and fees please see the museum's website.

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