The Two Shovels

Gerrit Beneker (American, 1882 – 1934)
Oil on canvas
Frame : 40 3/4 x 31 in. (1 m x 78.74 cm)
Credit Line
Hope College Collection
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The invention of steam engines and other fuel-powered machines in the 18th and 19th centuries radically changed humankind’s relationship with the natural environment, allowing us to extract more resources from more places than ever before. This 1912 painting by Grand Rapids native Gerrit Beneker depicts a mechanical shovel working beside a man with a hand shovel in an open-pit strip mine. Unlike traditional underground mining, strip mining involves removing layers of earth and rock from the surface of a mining site to expose the targeted metals or minerals for easier collection. This technique requires a greater investment of time and money at the outset of the mining operation, but can vastly increase the yield. Because strip mining destroys much of the natural habitat around the mining site, it is also far more environmentally destructive than traditional mining. The enormity of the environmental damage depicted in this image is softened by its cheerful pastel color scheme.

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