National Research Center for Coal and Energy
at West Virginia University cordially invites you to our

2005 NRCCE Holiday Open House
Celebrating Energy & the Environment

Featuring the unveiling of movie set panels donated by Columbia Pictures
depicting West Virginia's energy industries
created for the film Spider-Man 2
from the original 1940's mural in WVU's White Hall by artist Robert Lepper.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

3:00 – 3:30 p.m. Unveiling, NRCCE 1st Floor Lobby

3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Open House, NRCCE Assembly Room


Free and Open to the Public

RSVPs appreciated by Monday, December 12


(304) 293-2867 x5407 Inquiries


Directions and parking instructions

"West Virginia Coal, Gas, and Water Were and Are Her Strength"

The Story Behind the Mural for The Mineral Industries Building at West Virginia University painted by Robert Lepper, 1941-1942

by Stevie Herendeen, WVU senior art history major

The Machine Age of the 1920's and 1930's provided inspiration for American art. As American culture struggled to come to terms with industry and the machine, artists of this time became interested in the mechanics of making art and its relationship to engineering and science. In the wake of the depression, federally sponsored art programs, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or Treasury Department Art Projects (TDAP), were established to ease unemployment and boost morale by commissioning murals for public buildings. As public art began to sprout up across the country, private commissions also increased.

In 1941, West Virginia University and the architectural firm Tucker and Silling commissioned Robert Lepper, artist and professor of Industrial Design at Carnegie Institute of Technology, to create a mural for the newly constructed Mineral Industries Building, now known as White Hall, on the downtown campus near Willey St. After researching the economic implications of training engineers and the movement of large corporations into the state, Lepper changed his plans for the painting from a rural scene to one portraying the industrial activity of West Virginia. His painting echoes his declaration that, “ West Virginia coal, gas, and water were and are her strength.” (from a letter to Ms. Sally McClain, 1967)

Linking the mechanical to the living, and thus integrating the regional machine age to the nation, Lepper depicted the transformation of natural gas and coal into energy and the goods of coal and energy-related industries such as steel and glass. He portrays the extraction of the resources culminating in the consumer goods and products produced by the chemical, steel, and glass industry, all embraced by West Virginia's bucolic mountains and countryside. Lepper believed that his mural functioned as an educational aid for the young engineering students. Although the original mural still exists and may be viewed in room 21 of White Hall, engineering classes have since moved to Evansdale.

In 2004, the work received national exposure and appreciation. Columbia Pictures along with an art-consulting firm, Film Art, came across Lepper's mural when searching for a WPA style work of art to use for a set in the blockbuster film, Spider-Man 2. The mural was photographed and recreated by a scenic painting company in Los Angeles, CA. The replica panels, representing a cropped version of the original, were donated to West Virginia University in September, 2005 and will be permanently displayed in the lobby of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy for the enjoyment of all who visit the center.

The National Research Center for Coal and Energy is dedicated to advancing innovations for energy and the environment. The center conducts a variety of research and educational programs to help secure the nation's energy needs, protect the environment, and promote economic development. The leaders of the NRCCE hope that Robert Lepper's original work and the replica presented in the NRCCE lobby continue to provide inspiration for aspiring engineers and all those who agree that the state's coal, gas, and water will continue to be West Virginia's strength.