PHMC Highlights presents stories and information about PHMC programs, events, exhibits and activities.

Art of the State 2016

More than 500 guests visited The State Museum of Pennsylvania on June 26 to attend the opening of the 49th annual Art of the State. The juried exhibition, cosponsored by The State Museum and the nonprofit Jump Street, with WITF as a media sponsor, showcases 122 pieces from artists around the state. At the opening, 20 artists received awards in five categories: craft, painting, photography, sculpture and work on paper. The special William D. Davis Memorial Award for Drawing was also presented, and The State Museum selected a Purchase Award.

Artists spent the afternoon at the opening discussing their works with guests. Kevin Turner of Indiana County turned to his native southeast Mississippi for inspiration when creating his Solenopsis Cluster Form. The work won first prize for craft. “In that area, we have fire ants, or Solenopsis invicta. I typically craft pieces that combine more than one characteristic from a landscape that I experience. In this case, these pod-shaped forms are combined with vines,” Turner said. “I want people to come away with a sense of inquiry and beauty.”

Patricia Kennedy-Zafred of Murrysville, Westmoreland County, took home the Purchase Award. Her work, Descent into Darkness: The Boys of the Mines makes use of historic images that have been silkscreen printed on fabric. The photos, taken during the early 1900s, depict children working in coal mines. “I want people to look at this work of art and know that it touched them in some way or reminded them of something or someone. I want it to be a personal connection,” she said. Kennedy-Zafred appreciates that her work makes people stop and reflect, even for just a moment. “It may not be that they are related to a coal miner, but it may make them think about their children and how lucky they are things have changed.”

Carol Oldenburg of York, York County, also received a special honor, the Davis Award for drawing. Inspired by Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Oldenburg used a drawing technique called silverpoint for her work Harvest Moon to capture a pose of her daughter from a photograph she had taken. “It was gratifying to find that I still have the patience and light touch necessary to complete a successful silverpoint drawing,” she said. “It is a tedious, delicate and unforgiving process. It was a joy to rediscover this medium after so many years away from it.”


Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers

The discovery of two wooden crates of glass plate negatives found in a dark corner of a toolshed in Rochester, New York, more than 40 years ago led to the publication of a new book, Wood Hicks and Bark Peelers: A Visual History of Pennsylvania’s Railroad Lumbering Communities by Ronald E. Ostman and Harry Littell, published by Penn State Press in collaboration with the Lumber Heritage Region of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). Packed with photographs taken by William T. Clarke (1859–1930), the 252-page book highlights landscapes and people who were the backbone of north-central Pennsylvania logging operations in 1897–98.

In 1974, while browsing through a family toolshed, Lois Barden discovered the crates of Clarke negatives. She held on to her find, but it would be nearly 30 years later when she mentioned the historic negatives to her digital photography instructor, Harry Littell. After viewing the negatives, Littell knew an important discovery had been made. Working carefully to remove decades of caked-on dirt from the plates, Littell and Barden scanned the negatives, converting each into a digital file. Soon, Clarke’s expert eye came into focus as the scans revealed sharp details of scenes from loggers’ lives at the turn of the century.

Next, Barden and Littell turned to others for help with the historical research, enlisting the aid of Ostman, the Pennsylvania State Archives and other institutions. Linda A. Ries, former archivist at the State Archives, delved into the genealogical background of Clarke and determined that the photographer was a distant relative of Bob Barden, Lois’ husband. Ries also positively identified Barden’s plate negatives as Clarke’s work. As PHMC Scholars in Residence, Littell and Ostman spent time at the archives researching the life and work of Clarke.

In addition to piecing together Clarke’s enigmatic life, the book builds on the story of the 131 found negatives, interspersing several other Clarke logging photographs preserved by the State Archives. Readers will come away with a solid understanding of the loggers’ lives, especially of those who resided near the communities of Galeton, Potter County, and Port Allegany, McKean County.

The photographs and well-researched text work in tandem to explain not only the jobs held by these loggers, but also their family and community lives. The volume details the boom-to-bust days of the Black Forest and later discusses the north-central Pennsylvania region of today.

“I wish I could describe the emotions these images evoke . . . the faces so solemn and haunting . . . the bodies so rugged and fit . . .  some hillsides so completely ravaged, while other images show a nearly pristine environment,” Littell writes in the book’s prologue. “As we printed these remarkable photographs, we became more and more curious about the stories that connect the people in them to each other, and through time, to us.”


Sean Adkins is social media manager for PHMC. Look for his updates at Pennsylvania Trails of History on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.