2017-11-29 / Front Page

Drawings Of Hell Gate Bridge Construction Unearthed For Centennial Celebration

Historic Prints Housed At The Library Of Congress
By Jason D. Antos

Joseph Pennell's illustration of the Hell Gate Bridge under construction in 1915. ALL IMAGES COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESSJoseph Pennell's illustration of the Hell Gate Bridge under construction in 1915. ALL IMAGES COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESSAs we come to a close on the centennial celebration of the Hell Gate Bridge, the Gazette explores the drawings of a noted illustrator who actually sketched the Hell Gate during its construction from a vantage point in Astoria Park.

American artist, printmaker, illustrator and author Another scenic Pennell sketching of the bridge's construction from Astoria Park in 1915.Another scenic Pennell sketching of the bridge's construction from Astoria Park in 1915.Joseph Pennell’s several drawings of the bridge during construction are in the collection of the Library of Congress made from different vantage points. 

These beautiful drawings are a unique historic record, which shows the bustle of people and horse drawn wagons along Shore Boulevard in 1915 while Gustav Lindenthal's engineering masterpiece slowly takes form. 

According to the Library of Congress, in order to get from drawings to a finished etching, the artist must complete several steps.

"First, a metal plate is coated with a waxy substance known as ground. Next, the artist Ralph M. Pearson's drawing of the Hell Gate under construction in 1916.Ralph M. Pearson's drawing of the Hell Gate under construction in 1916.scratches the design through the ground and into the plate with a pointed etching needle. The plate is soaked in an acid bath, and since the ground is acid-resistant, the acid etches only the bare lines incised by the artist’s needle. After the acid bath, the plate is washed, then inked. The printmaker places paper over the plate and runs both through a press, transferring the ink-filled lines onto the paper, and creating a finished impression like the one below," wrote Kristi Finefield who works as a Reference Librarian in the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress.

Joseph Pennell circa 1923. Joseph Pennell circa 1923. The Pennell collection at the Library of Congress doesn't stop with just the Hell Gate Bridge. The archive includes thousands of etchings, lithographs, drawings, watercolors, etching plates and books by this noted figure of the art world.

Another etching of the Hell Gate's construction by artist Ralph M. Pearson was also discovered amongst the archive. This one is dated from 1916.

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