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'Tamaqua - a portrait in white'

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS  Tamaqua Historical Society volunteer Jim Barron, left, and photographer Scott Herring pause Tuesday after hanging the first in a series of classic street scene images of 1987 Tamaqua.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Tamaqua Historical Society volunteer Jim Barron, left, and photographer Scott Herring pause Tuesday after hanging the first in a series of classic street scene images of 1987 Tamaqua.
Published February 02. 2013 09:02AM

A special collection of iconic Tamaqua scenes caught in color will be unveiled in the coming days, heralding the local arrival of 'The Hardcoal Chronicles,' the work of Tamaqua native Scott Herring.

The photos are expected to be in place at gallery space inside the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce office, West Broad Street, within the next two weeks.

However, the actual show won't officially open until June 13. It will be titled 'Tamaqua - a portrait in white,' showcasing a hand-picked selection of Herring's collection. It will be sponsored by the Tamaqua Historical Society and the Chamber, presented through the generosity of the artist.

The work illustrates a slice of life in Schuylkill County's largest borough as captured during a 1987 snowstorm.

For instance, one image depicts Deano Konstas, Tamaqua, fixing hamburgers and hot dogs inside the legendary Texas Lunch eatery.

Herring spent four decades capturing on film the legacy of the anthracite coal region and this special salute to his hometown will mark the launch of the 40th anniversary presentation of his work.

Last year, Herring, 53, traveled from his home in Red Oak, Texas, and donated one of his unique pictures to Tamaqua Save Our Station. It now hangs inside the depot.

That image, taken July, 1975, shows the Lehigh and New England train, which served the Greenwood Breaker at Lehigh Coal & Navigation's No. 14 Colliery, meeting the westbound Reading Railroad freight train at the 1874 Tamaqua train station.

The picture is a representative shot from a rich body of work that documents an era that has quickly faded.

Herring's priceless collection consists of almost 150,000 images that depict the mines, railroads, people and towns that not only forged a heritage and solidified a culture, but essentially built America.

A few thousand of those pictures showcase scenes in the Tamaqua and Panther Valley area.

Those images, he says, belong to the people whose pride, work ethic and rich heritage have made the project special and meaningful.

It is only by making the collection a valued public asset that the yeoman effort will have reached its goals, he says.

"The pictures have no value sitting in my files," says Herring, a Dutch Hill native.

Herring has strong Tamaqua roots. His grandmother was Dorothy Hassan of Pine Street, an early proponent of animal rights who worked side-by-side with Miss Ruth Steinert in creating the Tamaqua SPCA.

His grandfather, Quentin C. Hassan, operated Hassan's Cigar Store at the Five Points.

Herring is the sixth man in the past 150 years, and many say undoubtedly the final, to thoroughly document the coal regions of northeastern Pennsylvania. It is doubtful anyone can follow in his footsteps to the extent of his mission and accomplishments simply because the subject matter has been depleted; the assets and resources have largely disappeared.

Gone are the towering coal breakers, prolific strip mines and bootleg coal holes, and a once-burgeoning railroad industry that carried the black gold to market.

In fact, due to the loss of the legendary anthracite railroads - fully one-half of the cultural and industrial story - and the rapid disappearance of anthracite cultural landscape evidence, it has been sadly impossible since 1976 for there to be another true anthracite photographer to follow Herring in succession.

The Hardcoal Chronicles is the formal name of the body of work and has been in continuous use, along with the German name 'Starkkohlenfelder of Pennsylvania,' since January of 1975, 13 months after the first image was made.

References to Herring as 'The Last Anthracite Photographer' emerged in various elemental forms in the late 1970s, later formalized by Dominic Keating, president, Anthracite Heritage Museum and Iron Furnaces Associates, and Dan Perry of the Anthracite Museum Complex and Iron Furnaces, in the early 1990s.

The term was used during the lead-up to 'Through Cultural Eyes' - a Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective of The Hardcoal Chronicles exhibit beginning with initial lecture presentations on November 9, 1995, and later displayed continuously at the Anthracite Heritage Museum's Hennemuth Gallery. About 210 images were presented throughout four specially-constructed rooms until January 8, 1997. At that point, the Commonwealth insured and stored the presentation for over a decade.

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