Shaun Slifer

detail, Winchester Model 1873 carbine, found on Blair Mountain, collection of Elmer Stone

West Virginia Mine Wars Museum
Matewan, Mingo County, WV
exhibition designer/curator
2014 - current

Southern West Virginia is in the heart of historic Appalachian coal country, now the locus of mountaintop removal strip mining. April of 1912 saw the first of many violent conflicts between mine owners, private police, and striking miners and families, as a unionization effort in the region sparked a broader struggle for essential human rights and dignity. This era of confrontations would later be called the “Mine Wars”, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed rebellion on U.S. soil since the American Civil War.

In the fall of 2013, a group of area residents, including local avocational archaeologist Kenny King, UMWA union coal miners, academic historians, and community activists, formed the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. They formed a nonprofit and secured a building in Matewan (site of the 1920 Battle of Matewan, and subject of John Sayles’ eponymous 1987 film) in which to build a permanent museum with didactic exhibitions.

I'm honored to be working as the Exhibition Designer/Coordinator/Curator with this amazing team. In the winter/spring of 2014-15, I coordinated and executed the overall exhibition design, including graphic design and the acquisition/cataloging of artifacts, replicas and loans. We opened the museum to the public on May 16, 2015, during the annual Heritage Day festival in Matewan.

The museum's main page is here, including information about how to find us, and when we're open (which varies seasonally). You can see a full walk-through of the interior of the museum here.

In 2016, the museum’s board and myself were awarded honorary membership in the United Mine Workers (UMWA) union Local 1440 for our work. We received the Creating Humanities Communities grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2017.

We have also received funding and support from the West Virginia Council for the Humanities, the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, Turn This Town Around/West Virginia Focus, the United Mine Workers Local 1440 (District 17), and a very successful crowd-funding campaign.

From the Museum's Mission Statement:
"The museum will preserve and interpret artifacts and historical records of the local communities affected by the Mine Wars, exploring historical events from multiple perspectives through the lives of ordinary people. The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is dedicated to educating the public about the events of the Mine Wars era, including the history of the United Mine Workers of America in the local area; the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike of 1912-1913; the 1920 Matewan Massacre; and the 1921 Miners March leading to Battle of Blair Mountain. Finally, it aims to educate youth, promote heritage tourism, and foster local economic development."