Matewan, Mingo County, West Virginia
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 beginning of a series of violent conflicts between coal mine operators, the private police that they employed, 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 and guerilla warfare would later be called the “West Virginia Mine Wars”, culminating in the summer of 1921 at the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed insurrection 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 founded a nonprofit and started renting a building in Matewan (site of the 1920 Battle of Matewan, and subject of John Sayles’ and Maggie Renzi’s eponymous 1987 film) in which to build a permanent museum with multimedia educational exhibitions. As the Creative Director, I’m honored to have designed all of our exhibitions since the museum was founded.
In the winter/spring of 2014-15, I coordinated and executed the overall exhibition design in our original building, including our graphic design and the initial acquisition/cataloging of all of our artifacts, replicas and loans. We opened the museum to the public on May 16, 2015, during the annual Heritage Day festival in Matewan. In October of 2019, we shut the doors of our first building and moved across Mate Street into a larger, permanent home in a building now owned and maintained by Matewan’s UMWA Local 1440. Throughout 2020 I worked on the full redesign and expansion of the museum. I completed this work at the beginning of September 2020, and we are now open to the public (although currently, due to COVID, by appointment only). The museum’s main website includes information about how to find us, an online store for museum merch, teacher’s resources, and more! As of early 2021, I’m working on expanding our collections catalog in order to launch online exhibits and new resources for public research.
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.”
People's History: Museum