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“Art has the ability to speak across the barriers of time and circumstance, yet it can only communicate in the here and now. Lessons can be learned. Eyes can be opened, as if for the first time. The past, present, and future become illuminated. The art [found in the Coal and Coke Heritage Center Collection] bears true witness to an era and an area. The time is right for recognition of the many talented artists who have found inspiration in our shared heritage.”

         Patrick Daugherty, Director, Frank L. Melega Art Museum

Featured Artists Betty Coldren, John Tomasko, Alex Varnak

Betty Coldren, 1918-2003

Although Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Forman Coldren was born in Tulsa, Okla., she lived most of her life in Fayette County, Pa., and graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “I’ve been inspired by the coal and coke drama,” she said when interviewed in 1994, “and I’ve tried to capture it in my paintings.” Along with being an accomplished interior decorator, Betty exhibited her work throughout western Pennsylvania.

Wynn Company Store Leith Coke Ovens
Wynn Company Store, 1979, watercolor Leith Coke Ovens, 1950, watercolor

John Tomasko, 1923-

The son of a coal miner, John Tomasko grew up in Filbert, Pa. He drove a delivery truck for the local Union Supply Company Store before working underground in the Filbert Mine for six months. He claimed the physical exercise of mining prepared him for the rigors of serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I had no fear of working in the mine,” said John, “and that followed me into combat during WWII.”

As Morning Guilds the Sky
As Morning Guilds the Sky, 2008, oil

Alex Varnak, 1918-2003

Expressions of art flourished in grade school for Alexander Varnak, where he decorated the blackboards with holiday decorations in Crucible, Pa. After spending four years working underground with his father in the mine, Alex went on to formally study art and worked as the historical illustrator for the Chicago Tribune. He taught art for seventeen years to area high school students. After retiring, Alex devoted his time painting his two favorite interests: local golf courses and major league baseball stadiums.

Women in Sorrow Mining Town
Women in Sorrow, no date, oil Mining Town, circa 1960, oil


Coal Miner