About the Scalp Level Artists
On the train from Pittsburgh to Johnstown, a slightly-built man with a large nose and a full beard puffed contentedly on his pipe as he gazed out the windows at the deep green forest of pine, hemlock, maple and oak. Large stone outcroppings appeared between thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel, and the sunlight filtered gently down to the forest floor. He looked forward to another wonderful summer of relaxing with friends, fishing, and painting the beautiful woodland landscape of Scalp Level in western Pennsylvania.

The man was George Hetzel, an accomplished Pittsburgh artist and a teacher at the Pittsburgh School of Design for Women. After first seeing the Scalp Level area in 1866, he strongly encouraged his colleagues at the School of Design, as well as his other artist friends, and his daughter Lila and her friends, to accompany him each summer to this enchanting area of mountain streams and deep green hills. Hauling canvases, painting supplies, and fishing tackle on the train, and then by rented wagon, to the area where Paint Creek and Little Paint Creek meet, they rented cottages or boarded with local inhabitants for several months each year. The small sketches and studies they produced “en plein air”---on site and directly from nature--- would later be enlarged into handsome finished paintings showcasing the beauty of this pristine natural area.

George Hetzel’s art school years in Dusseldorf, Germany (1847-48) had awakened his interest in landscape painting, and like the Hudson River School painters, to whom they are often compared, the Scalp Level painters used dramatic lighting and deep shadow to convey the almost religious quality of the untouched landscape. In the last third of the 19th century, Pittsburgh and other cities were becoming more heavily industrialized, and artists sought to remind the public of what was being lost. In addition to Hetzel, Pittsburgh artists such as Clarence Johns, Jasper Lawman, Trevor McClurg, brothers Alfred S. Wall and William C. Wall, Charles Linford, Joseph Woodwell, and later A.F. King, Martin B. Leisser, Horatio S. Stevenson, Lila B. Hetzel, George Layng, Olive Turney, A. Bryan Wall, Bessie Wall, John Wesley Beatty, E. A. Poole, Laura Rinehart, Agnes Way, and Annie Henderson returned to the area repeatedly to record the forests, fields, streams, and farms that would later be replaced or by logging, mining, or other industries. By the early 1900s, as thousands of immigrant workers moved to the area to work in the mills and the mines, these industries transformed the landscape and left an environmental impact that is still being felt today.

The paintings themselves, reminders of those sunlit summer days, remain as a valued legacy in western Pennsylvania museums, where visitors can glimpse the idyllic world of the Scalp Level painters.

Figure 1, Left:
Giants in the Forest of the Babcock Lumber Co.
Photograph courtesy of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Strasburg, PA.
Benjamin F. G. Kline, Jr. Collection.

Figure 1, Right:
George Hetzel (1826-1899). Landscape (Trees), 1889.
Oil on canvas, 30 1/4" x 20 1/8".
Gift of Mrs. Paul B. Ernst
Collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (78.10.15)
* Click here for more information about this painting

Figure 2, Left:
Powell Stackhouse. Paint Creek, Scalp Level - near Johnstown. 8-24-'85.
Photo Courtesy of Archives, Johnstown Area Heritage Association, Johnstown, PA.

Figure 2, Right:
George Hetzel (1826-1899). Mountain Stream, 1888. Oil on canvas, 21" x 35".
Collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (88.37)
* Click here for more information about this painting


Suggestions for Further Reading:
  • Chew, Paul A. George Hetzel and the Scalp Level Tradition. Greensburg, PA: Westmoreland Museum of Art, 1994 (exhibition catalog).
  • Chew, Paul A. Masterworks of George Hetzel: A Centennial Exhibition at the Johnstown Flood Museum, Johnstown, PA: Johnstown Flood Museum, 1999(exhibition catalog).
  • Chew, Paul A. "George Hetzel: A Centennial Exhibition" American Art Review 11:5 (September/October 1999) pp. 192-197.
  • Colvin, Nancy. "The Scalp Level Artists" Carnegie Magazine LVII/5 (September-October 1984) pp. 14-20.
  • O'Toole, Judith Hansen. "Painters of The Scalp Level School Revisited" American Art Review 21: 1 (January/February 2009) pp. 116-125, 144.
  • Thomas, Mary. "Profile Rises for Landscapes from Scalp Level School" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 2, 2008.
Important Retrospective Exhibitions:
  • "Scenic Views: Painters of the Scalp Level School Revisted" Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, PA. November 9, 2008 to February 1, 2009.
  • "Masterworks of George Hetzel" Johnstown Flood Museum, Johnstown, PA. July 3 to September 30, 1999.
  • "The Painters of Scalp Level" Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, PA. March 30 to June 2, 1996.
  • "George Hetzel Retrospective and The Scalp Level Artists Exhibition" Westmoreland Museum of Art, Greensburg, PA. March 26 to May 8, 1994.

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