Lead Designer w/ West Virginia Mine Wars Museum + community collaborators in Marmet & Clothier, West Virginia
public sculptural monuments + interpretive historical panels
“We’re developing a series of community-created public monuments within the rural Appalachian landscape that memorialize a history that was explicitly removed from educational curricula and that rarely appeared in history books. Why was this dramatic story suppressed? Because it was critical lived example of the power of cross-racial, multi-ethnic solidarity.”
Throughout 2022, I worked as lead designer with a team of educators, organizers, union leaders, and community members to co-create two large-scale public monuments to the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. These monuments were created through several months of community meetings led by the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in two distinct locations — Marmet, West Virginia and Clothier, West Virginia — towns which bookend the 50-mile route that armed unionist coal miners marched in the summer of 1921 until they met and clashed with anti-union, coal company-funded forces on Blair Mountain and the surrounding ridge lines.
Prior to the Courage in the Hollers project, only one public monument existed to commemorate these critical historic events, a single state-sanctioned historical marker at the base of Blair Mountain. Our intensive six-month process engaged members in each community to put their voices and ideas at the forefront of this project. We co-created two figurative monuments in each location: residents involved in our process posed as characters involved in the battle, and their silhouettes were then cut from COR-TEN weathering steel to create the final pieces. We created three interpretive panels per location which provide historically accurate details about the overall battle, as well as rare photographs and imagery and new research specific to each community.
You can dig into the whole arc of our community process in this visual narrative slide deck that I created for Monument Lab.
Both monuments and the interpretive historical markers were unveiled at large public dedication ceremonies on Labor Day weekend 2022, led by the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) leadership. We are developing plans to continue the Courage project into several more communities along route to Blair Mountain in 2023-2025.
Courage in the Hollers is a proud member of Monument Lab’s 2022 Re:Generation cohort, which included nine other public memory projects across the country. Monument Lab provided the primary funding and significant support for this project, with additional funding for the interpretive signage from West Virginia Humanities Council.
Courage Team members were Mackenzie New-Walker (Team Leader), Kyle Warmack, Bobby Starnes, Terry Steele, Kirstyn Ooten, Brian Lacy, and Erin Bates. We worked with pubic artist Ben Grubb on steel fabrication and installation of the monuments, and historians Lou Martin & Rachel Donaldson contributed significant support for the research and creation of our interpretive panels.
cake created by Clothier community member and teacher, Myla Davis, for the September 3, 2022 monument dedication ceremony. Photo by Dylan Vidovich
Landscape & Site-Specific, People's History: Museum