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Coal Breaker Communities

Faded Memories

Sue Hand's

Coal Breaker Communities

The anthracite coal of Northeastern Pennsylvania was the fuel that fired America’s Industrial Revolution. Coal breakers were the coal processing plants for anthracite for crushing, sorting, sizing, and weighing coal for market. Some breakers were built when coal was discovered near an already settled town such as Plymouth or Nanticoke.  Other breakers were built in a wide open space where coal had been discovered and a settlement, like Wanamie, grew up around the breaker.


For many years, anthracite has served as my artistic muse.  From 2000 through 2007, I produced a series of 300 hexagonal canvases, most of which are part of a collection beautifully housed in King’s on the Square, Wilkes-Barre. The research for that series tore me apart mentally and emotionally since the history of coal mining is punctuated with sometimes brutal and often heart-wrenching events. 


For nearly a decade, my obsession with anthracite and my artwork inspired by its culture seemed to go underground like the convoluted veins of black diamonds.  However, it has recently emerged again in this series of surrealistic aquarelle acrylic paintings on paper produced with many layers of glazes.


The work of the miners was the main theme in the dramatic story of the coal industry, but many others also lived and worked near the collieries.  There were shopkeepers, tavern owners, squib factory workers, carpenters, mule keepers, lokie drivers, railroad workers, labor leaders and activists, priests and pastors and even a few wealthy coal company owners. And of course there were family members as well, a diverse community of male and female, young and old, rich and poor.  


All the anthracite breakers in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties are gone now and so are most of those who worked and lived in the anthracite coalfields.  I have painted this series in their honor: “Coal Breaker Communities – Faded Memories.”

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