Michael J. Gallagher
Michael J. Gallagher 1898-1965

Michael John Gallagher was born in 1898. He grew up in a family of Irish coal miners in Scranton PA, but was not of robust health and was never employed in the mines. He joined up for WW1, shipped out - and contracted TB at boot camp. He was sent to a sanatorium to convalesce where he drew to amuse himself. A doctor was so impressed with his talent that he gave him all the art materials he needed and recommended he go to art school.

Gallagher recovered fully, went to New York City, worked as a bell hop and took etching classes with Stanley William Hayter at the Art Students League. In the early 1920's he moved to Philadelphia and attended the School of Industrial Arts. There he met Katherine McCollum - a fellow art student who came from Bloomsburg PA, just over the mountain from Scranton. They married and three children followed.

Gallagher never returned to Scranton and he made his way as a print illustrator whose principal medium was wood engraving. His engravings appeared in the New Yorker and other magazines for many years.

During the Depression of the 1930s, at a time of great hardship for the family, Gallagher was offered the job of technical director of the Philadelphia Printmaking branch of the Works Progress Administration art project. This was a financial lifeline and a creative boon, leading him to produce a striking series of dark and haunted images in wood-engravings and in a new technique he developed with Herbert Mesibov and Dox Thrash; The Carborundum process. His subject of choice was the coal mining life of his youth. Toiling miners below ground, miners trudging home at nightfall against a backdrop of breakers and slag heaps, mine explosions and brief cheerful respites in prints such as Saturday Evening, where lovers are out walking at sunset, create a vivid evocation of that now-vanished world.

The legacy of that brief shining moment of unprecedented arts funding in the USA which was the W.P.A. art project of the 1930s lives on in museums and libraries around the country. Works by Michael J. Gallagher are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Public Library, the Everhart Museum, Scranton, and Princeton University, Museum, New Jersey.
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