Edward Steidle believed art reflected life and experience. As Dean of the School of Mineral Industries (1928–1953), now the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) at Penn State, Steidle commissioned and collected artwork that depicted Pennsylvania’s extractive industries. He used the art as dynamic and aesthetic education tools to build awareness of the importance of minerals to human existence. By exhibiting art with specimens of earth materials and objects of technology, Steidle positioned the EMS Museum & Art Gallery to protect and project the history of science, technology, research, and teaching that takes place in the college. Steidle believed the EMS Museum & Art Gallery had “three related functions: the acquisition and preservation of specimens; the advancement of knowledge by studying the acquisitions; and the diffusion of knowledge.”
The Steidle Collection of American Industrial Art, a premier example of the industrial art genre, is a unique visual record of the history and geography of the extractive industries in late-19th to mid-20th century Pennsylvania. The collection, a remarkable intersection of art, industry, and education, continues to grow. Currently, it is comprised of more than 250 paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculptures representing the work of 130 artists, 29 of whom are women. Works from the Steidle Collection are regularly included in thematic exhibitions in the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery, in the EMS Library, and on Facebook @EMSMAAG, and are loaned to other museums. While the paintings can be appreciated for their high artistic merit, they represent industries that many of the EMS students will enter after graduation—energy and mineral engineering, material science, physical and human geography, geoscience, and meteorology.
To Steidle, the purpose of the museum and its collections was to broaden the education of his students beyond their technical subjects in order to give them an appreciation of the arts and culture and a better understanding of society beyond the industries where they would make their careers. The mission of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery continues to be to serve the college, university, and broader community as an informed educational and technical resource for science, art, and history of the earth and mineral sciences through the preservation, utilization, and promotion of our diverse collections.
Works collected by Steidle during the mid-20th century are chronicled in Wonders of Work and Labor: The Steidle Collection of American Industrial Art (Fahlman & Schruers, 2008).
—Julianne Snider, Managing Director, Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery, Penn State