One of the 10 famous 1940s paintings commissioned by the Bituminous Coal Institute is currently held at the Art Museum of West Virginia University.
"To Make Dream Homes Come True," can be viewed in the museum’s opening exhibition, and will be the topic of conversation in art historian Dr. Eric Schruers’ presentation, "Rockwell Kent’s Lost Bituminous Coal Series Rediscovered." The "Art Up Close!" event begins at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the Museum Education Center Grand Hall.
The large oil painting was created by Rockwell Kent, an American painter, printmaker, illustrator and writer. A transcendentalist and mystic in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kent found most of his artistic inspiration in the wilderness.
The Bituminous Coal Institute, along with the Benton and Bowles Advertising Agency, asked the popular 20th century realist to create a series of paintings for advertisements demonstrating the promise of coal as the energy source for post-war America.
With each painting in the series depicting a scene showing the benefits deriving from coal, Kent’s artwork was a glorification of the coal industry and the contributions it made to modern civilization.
"Every work in the series is a unique image. Each features the ‘spirit’ of coal, referred to as the ‘Coal Genie,’ hovering over some aspect of American life that was seen as benefitting from the industry," Schruers said. "There is nothing comparable to the series in American art at that time. It’s essentially a blend of social realism and perhaps surrealism."
In 1945, Kent painted "To Make Dream Homes Come True," which was number six in the series, and promoted coal for home heating. The masterpiece helped strengthen the reputation of the coal industry, appearing in magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.
In the painting, a figure resembling an ancient Greek God holds a lump of black coal glowing with a whitish light. The coal in the figure’s hand illuminates a future housing development.
After the series was completed, each painting was donated to a university noted at the time for its mineral industries programs. In 1948, WVU received "To Make Dream Homes Come True," although the painting was not always stationed in WVU’s campus.
Schruers is highly qualified in the field of art, currently serving as temporary assistant professor of art history at Fairmont State University and also as instructor of art history and gallery director of the Martha Gault Art Gallery at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.
"I received my MA and Ph.D. from Penn State and have been teaching art history at the university level since 1992," Schruers said. "I have taught every period of Western Art from Prehistoric to Contemporary, and many areas of World Art as well."
Schruers is co-author of the book, "Wonders of Works and Labor: The Steidle Collection of American Industrial Art" and has published widely in the area of industrial art, particularly in the relation of the coal industry.
"Art Up Close!" events present WVU faculty and guest artists from various disciplines discussing a single work of art, and is co-sponsored by the Art Museum of WVU and the Friends of the Museum, a membership group for people who enjoy the arts and social, educational and cultural activities revolving around art.
WVU students are encouraged to attend the presentation and visit the museum to view the rich historical painting pertaining greatly to West Virginia.
A question-and-answer session and light refreshments will follow the presentation.
For more information, contact the Art Museum of WVU at (304) 292-4359.