King Coal’s Sculptor (Mar, 1950)

King Coal’s Sculptor

By H. W. Kellick

A dirty hunk of coal is the last place where you’d look for beauty. But every day Charles Cunningham of Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, conjures beautiful animals, art objects or busts of famous people out of ugly lumps of anthracite.

To work this black magic, Cunningham goes down into the mine himself to pick out his own pieces of coal. Back in his home shop, he splits a big hunk with hammer and chisel to the size he wants for his new creation. Then he carefully chips and carves this piece into shape. Just how he gets the mirror-like surface that marks his masterpieces, though, is one magic rite he won’t reveal.

His unique carvings have won him world-wide fame. For our rough-riding President Teddy Roosevelt he made a special club of coal to symbolize his “Big Stick” policy. For Babe Ruth he carved a bat; for the Philadelphia Athletics, a set of baseballs; and for Notre Dame, a full-size football of solid anthracite to celebrate their gridiron glory. He also has made religious statuary for the late King of Italy.

Cunningham’s father, James, a coal miner, taught his son this unusual carving after he had turned his coal-whittling hobby into a full-time fine art. When he died, Charles became Old King Coal’s one and only sculptor. •

  1. Hirudinea says: May 16, 20122:57 pm

    Anthracite is a hard coal, and from the looks of the pictures seems to make very nice sculptures, wonder why they’re not more popular?

  2. Toronto says: May 16, 20126:55 pm

    A friend of my father’s carved coal like this.

    He also repaired pocket watches and did odd things with squirrels and taxidermy, so perhaps it was a marginal thing.

  3. Charlene says: May 17, 20127:13 am

    Maybe he had a subscription to Mechanix Illustrated.

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