Attributed to S.V. Brobst (American, fl. 1890-1900)
An homage to early mining (Mineral Specimens and Paintings of early Western Mining Towns) signed 'S.V. Brobst' (on letter lower left) and possibly dated 93 oil on panel 41 x 23in overall: 47 x 29in
By 1904, the population of the rough and tumble Western copper boom town, Butte, Montana had swollen to over 70,000, attracting a wide variety of entrepreneurs, craftsmen, shopkeepers, entertainers, clairvoyants and especially mining related workers and prospectors. A good number of which were named, pictured and described in a lengthy chapter titled, Sketches of the Men Who Are Making Butte What It Is, in the June 1901 edition of Western Resources, a monthly magazine devoted to mining, published in Denver, Colorado.
One particularly interesting person named and pictured, was one S. V. Brobst; "Mining Expert (Of The New School)", who had come to Butte from Chicago by way of Colorado. The article went on to speak glowingly of Mr. Brobst's knowledge of geology and his success at being able to judge the likelihood of large underground deposits of minerals, ores, etc., merely by surveying the surface topography. Included in the article, was a letter submitted by Mr. Brobst to the Miner, August 2, 1900, where he offered comments regarding his theories of geology as they related to mining. Theories that at best, can only be described as unorthodox.
But perhaps more importantly, the Western Resources article also went on to describe Mr. Brobst as a draftsman, designer and all around artist, an interest which he pursued as a sideline to his mining-related activities. Although one might be inclined to believe that this latter skill may have been more practical for his day-to-day living.
Borrowing liberally from the tromp l'oeil tradition, this painting that appears to be dated 1893 and signed S. V. Brobst, may well have been done by Mr. Brobst to promote his business interests. The illustrations are of legendary western boom towns, Sutters Mill, California, Leadville, Colorado and Butte Montana. Beneath them is a wide variety of precious metals, gems, ores, and stacks of gold and silver coins and tools of the mining trade. These would no doubt suggest to likely clients the rewards that could be obtained by hard work and the reliable consultation of one of Buttes' most prominent mining experts. Such a painting would not only impress these likely clients of Mr. Brobst's, but also whet the appetite of those seeking to profit from these activities. All the while, demonstrating his skills as an artist capable of clever promotional representations.
There are certainly any number of other reasons that this painting might have been commissioned. Possibly to commemorate the forming of the notorious labor union in Butte in 1893, The Western Federation of Miners, also known as "WFM" which proved to be a watershed moment in American labor history. Or possibly to grace the walls of one of the important mining companies or perhaps to decorate one of the assayers offices, etc.
Although the memory of S. V. Brobst has faded into the obscure pages of American history, this painting stands as his testament to that critical time, when the United States steamrolled ahead into the industrial revolution.
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