Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wonder of Work

Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) was a noted Philadelphia-born artist and illustrator, friend and biographer of artist James Whistler. Pennell was perhaps best known for his Pictures of the Wonder of Work: Reproductions of a series of drawings, etchings, lithographs, made by him about the world, 1881-1915, with impressions and notes by the artist, published in 1916.

He traveled to Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Duluth, Sheffield England, Venice, Germany, Belgium, and to Butte and Anaconda, documenting industry and construction. Herewith are his etchings and comments about our neck of the woods.

Butte, Montana, on its mountain top

Butte is the most pictorial place in America—therefore no one stops at it—and most people pass it in the night, or do not take the trouble to look out of the car windows as they go by. But there it is. On the mountain side spring up the huge shafts. The top is crowned not with trees but with chimneys. Low black villages of miners’ houses straggle toward the foot of the mountain. The barren plain is covered with gray, slimy masses of refuse which crawl down to it—glaciers of work—from the hills. The plain is seared and scored and cracked with tiny canyons, all their lines leading to the mountain. If you have the luck to reach the town early in the morning you will find it half revealed, half concealed in smoke and mist and steam, through which the strange shafts struggle up to the light, while all round the horizon the snow peaks silently shimmer above the noisy, hidden town. If you have the still better fortune to reach it late in the evening you will see an Alpine glow that the Alps have never seen. In the middle of the day the mountains disappear and there is nothing but glare and glitter, union men and loafers about.

Anaconda, Montana

I have seen many volcanoes, a few in eruption—that was terrible—but this great smelter at Anaconda always, while I was there, pouring from its great stack high on the mountain its endless cloud pall of heavy, drifting, falling smoke, was more wonderful—for this volcano is man’s work and one of the Wonders of Work. Dead and gray and bare are the nearby hills, glorious the snow-covered peaks far off, but incredible is this endless rolling, changing pillar of cloud, always there, yet always different—and that country covered with great lakes, waterless, glittering, great lava beds of refuse stretching away in every direction down the mountain sides into the valleys, swallowing up every vestige of life, yet beautiful with the beauty of death—a death, a plague which day by day spreads farther and farther over the land—silently overwhelming, all-devouring—a silent place of smoke and fire.


  1. This is fantastic! Pennell's portrayal of Butte in 1915 is a prequel to Robert Frank's 1956 portrayal in "The Americans". Consider Pennell's and Frank's images together. The industrial city on steroids of Pennnel makes the foreboding image "View from Hotel Window" seem even more forlorn. Wow!

    1. I really appreciate this comparison, Robert. For those who don't have access to Robert Frank's 1956 photo from the Finlen window, you can see it on Mark Hufstetler's blog, here: http://www.dailymontana.com/2009/12/americans.html