Bituminous Coal Storage Pile, ca. 1920
Joseph Stella (American, born Italy, 18771946)
Charcoal on paper; 20 x 26 in. (50.8 x 66 cm)
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1950 (50.31.4)
Between 1908 and 1924, Stella completed several commissions for the magazine The Survey, including a pictorial essay of six illustrations for an issue titled "Giant Power" (March 1, 1924). For this project, Stella visited a coal processing plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and portrayed the successive stages in the creation of coal byproducts. Here, in a shallow pictorial space, Stella depicts the imposing silhouette of a mountain of coal, drawn in appropriately dense black charcoal, and the comparatively delicate steelwork conveyor that straddles it. The forms are simplified but monumental, implying the power of industry, yet the shadowy atmosphere hints at a sinister, oppressive underside to that power.