Local residents will soon have an opportunity to view the work of one of the most respected, well-known abstract expressionism artists of all time.

The work is that of Franz Kline, who grew up on Ninth Street in Lehighton and who graduated from Lehighton High School in 1931.

His work has been sold at the most prestigious auction galleries for millions of dollars per painting. His works have been viewed in the world's most prestigious museums.

The U.S. Postal Service has honored his work in a postage stamp.

His name has even been an answer on the TV show "Jeopardy."

"Franz Kline: Coal and Steel" will be presented at the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley from Oct. 7 to Jan. 13.

This is the first time a major exhibit of Kline's has appeared in a regional venue. The nearest in the past was a Philadelphia showing of his work at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1986.

The Allentown exhibition, curated by Dr. Robert S. Mattison, the Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Art History at Lafayette College, assembles over 50 works by the artist, many of which have rarely or never been viewed by the public.

Kline's early representational works show the coal regions of his childhood. They depict speeding trains powered by anthracite, bridges, and raw industrial scenes.

When Kline moved to New York City in 1938, his vision of the city was profoundly influenced by these early experiences. In New York he painted on the "edges" of the city, depicting empty squares, skeletal buildings, and the abandoned Third Avenue El.

The exhibition will be divided by themes: Pennsylvania, New York, The Studio, Experimental Abstractions, and Mature Abstractions.

The connections between Kline's early and later paintings will be explored for the first time in this important exhibition, which will feature its own illustrated catalog.

This is a very rare opportunity to see the work of a master artist who grew up locally.

As an example of what his work is fetching at auctions: 'Crow Dancer' was sold for $6.4 million, and 'Ninth Street,' an abstract of the street on which he was raised, brought $4.5 million at an auction.

There is one other local place to see a piece of art painted by Kline, although it isn't an abstract.

The large mural behind the bar in the banquet room of the Lehighton American Legion Post was done by Kline.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com