Exhibition: At the Heart of Progress: Coal, Iron and Steam since 1750

At the the Bowes Museum, County Durham,  from 17 September until 15 January

The exhibition explores the remarkable art collection of John P. Eckbladon, which was assembled over the last three and-a-half decades on the subject of work and industry – focussing on heavy industry – the trinity of coal, iron, and steam. Between the 1750s and the 1950s that trinity, beginning as an exotic addition to human life, progressed to an all-encompassing framework for civilization. It did not begin the industrial revolution but it drastically changed the scale and pace of industrial development, transforming the economy, the appearance, and the culture of Europe and America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Eckblad Collection records the ways that many different artists – and different kinds of artists – have looked at industry and labour over a period of more than two centuries. The works show various aspects of the culture of progress: coal mining, the manufacture and use of iron and steel, and the life of the worker. On the most basic level, the print techniques themselves trace the history of an industrial revolution in the multiplication of pictures.

The first artists to depict the workings of industry were documentarians who might well have used cameras if photography had been invented. As industry matured, in the later nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, an increasing number of “fine-art” painters, sculptors, and printmakers came to see it as a valid subject for them. The exhibition shows many of these different approaches to the subject.

Eckblad, an American, specifically wants to bring his unique collection to the North-East to re-connect with the area that first inspired him to collect and to reach out to the population that had, or still has, involvement with the heavy industry his collection depicts. Some of the works show sites in the region as well as other English sites.

This is an important collection of significant works with a specific theme that has relevance to the region. It can enhance people’s understanding of the development of the industrialised world we live in and of the changes in technology and work practices, through a variety of artistic styles and imagery.

Programme of events


Date 17 Sept Time 10.00 – 12.30 and 1.30 – 4.00 Cost £5.00 per session
Learn to make lino-cut prints with professional French print artist Pascale Hémery. Booking required.

Lecture & Lunch
Date 20 Sept Time 11.00 Cost Friends of The Bowes Museum £16.00, non-Friends £17.50
Collector John P. Eckblad will give an illustrated talk about his print collection and the passion behind it. Followed by a two-course lunch. Booking essential.

Gallery Talk(s) – days and times to be announced. Free with entry ticket.

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