Wednesday, December 17, 2014

History From Below @ Sidewall




For a couple weeks in November, I hammered out a four by eight foot version of my "Teach History From Below" print (from Justseeds' Liberating Learning Portfolio) for the Sidewall project here in Pittsburgh. Sidewall is basically a giant frame on the side of a residence in the Bloomfield neighborhood, right on a high-traffic street. Artists paint "murals" on stock 4x8' sheets of plywood, and the paintings switch anew every month. It's a great use of private housing space for public art, and you can find out more about the project here.

I used an opaque projector, an elegant little piece of old engineering, to throw the original image as big as I could on the plywood. Exterior grade housepaint from a hardware store was mixed to approximate the original colors of ink from the Risograph prints. Almost the entire image was painted with a 1" angled paintbrush and an old fan brush. Detail was kept in the abstract - I don't claim to be much of a painter!
Here's a little write-up about this piece on the Sidewall site (where you can also see past murals). It'll be up until the first week of January. Meanwhile, you can see more in-process images of the mural on the Justseeds blog here, and you can buy a copy of this image as a smaller, Risograph print here. It's not nearly as large as this thing, so you probably won't have trouble finding a spot for it in your house.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Inside the (Organized) Studio...


Workspace: Shaun Slifer - being a sort of virtual studio tour of our garage/studio/workspace/urban cabin, put together by pal Icky from the Justseeds family. I wrote up some details about the space I work in, what it took to get there, and what we still want to do with it. Read more over here at the Justseeds blog...


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Open House at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan, WV


Since this past spring, I've been honored to be working with a group of folks down in Southern West Virginia to launch an exciting people's history project: The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. We're working on a building right in the middle of Matewan, WV (subject of John Sayles’ eponymous 1987 film), and on November 8 we had our first community open house! We invited folks from the area to come down, check out what we're doing, tell stories and commune, provide direct input on our goals, and (importantly) eat barbecue...


Southern West Virginia is in the heart of historic coal country. The industrial colonization of the region for resource extraction began before 1912, but April of that year saw the first of many violent conflicts between mine owners, private police, and striking miners and families: The Paint Creek/Cabin Creek Strikes. The locus of this battle, and those that followed it, was a drive to unionize the various coal fields of Southern West Virginia. But the larger struggle is better characterized as a pitched battle for social justice and basic human rights for families working in the coal industry in the region. This era of oft-violent confrontations would later be called the “Mine Wars”, culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain (1921), the largest armed rebellion on U.S. soil since the Civil War.


In fall of 2013, a group of area residents, including local avocational archaeologist Kenny King, UMWA union coal miners, academic historians, and community organizers formed the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. The group secured a building in Matewan, site of the 1920 Matewan Shootout, or "Massacre" (which happened right outside our back door), in which to build a permanent museum with didactic exhibitions, to open in May, 2015. A little while later, I was invited into the fold - originally I had just offered to do some design work and come down for work days on the building, and now I'm deep in the process of designing the space itself, acquiring artifacts, helping set the tone for the exhibitions, and a whole mess of other details! I'm proud to be working with this group, and proud of what we're doing. It's taken a load of work from each of us just to get to this point, and we've got even more in front of us to accomplish before this upcoming May! Just getting the space cleaned up and painted takes a ton of work...


Here's a small case of artifacts from Kenny King's collection which I arranged for the event. Kenny is a self-taught archeologist of sorts, and he's been scouring Blair Mountain and the surrounding areas for years picking up anything he finds from the past. He also buys a lot of photographs and printed matter on eBay, the kind of stuff you can't find buried on a mountainside. Kenny's collection makes up the foundation of the Mine Wars Museum collection at this early point. Here we have a lantern, check tags and coal company scrip, and spent machine gun bullet casings from the Battle of Blair Mountain. Tools of the trade, essentially. "Scrip" was the money miners were paid by the companies they mined for, redeemable only at company-run stores (which were, naturally, the only stores in many towns where residents could buy goods). Check tags were used by individual miners to identify the carts of coal they had loaded as they rolled out of the mines to be weighed. The bullet casings probably need little explanation, suffice to say that, for the most part, automatic weapons (unless stolen) were used by mine owners and their hired thugs to keep everything in order.


Kenny and Chuck Keeney selected about twenty photo reproductions from Kenny's collection and wrote up captions for each. The night before the open house, I hung them all in a simple row, so folks could see a sample of the imagery we'll be presenting in the completed museum.


I didn't really get any photos that captured the energy of the day, or the number of people who showed up...


We had plenty of barbecue to go around from local joint Wingo's, enough chips and salsa to feed us for days from Mi Pueblito, and some donated cupcakes which, I kid you not, were filled with frosting. They were basically 85% frosting. Obviously a hit. Also, Hawkeye brought a pizza to round out the feast.


One of the most exciting parts of the Open House was the carpet selection station! We're totally re-carpeting the place, and we asked for community input on styles and colors! We set out three very different, really colorful options for folks to sift through. It was a tough contest, and the ballots are still out as I write this...


We have already received a lot of crucial support from the community, particularly from the United Mine Workers (UMWA) Local 1440, District 17. We've also received funding from the West Virginia Council for the Humanities, the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, and Turn This Town Around/West Virginia Focus (from which we received a grant to take care of some immediate structural repairs on the building).

We've got a website in the works, and we'll be doing a Kickstarter drive later this winter. Stay tuned!

detail from a photo, labeled "Kirkbrides Camp No.8, Tug R.(iver) W.V. July 1905"








Monday, November 3, 2014

Penny Smasher: Public Debut



This past Saturday, Stuart Anderson and I dragged the penny smasher prototype out into public for the first time for a "soft" debut before the Flood Tide screening at the Mattress Factory. To the tunes of locals Red Bells, we helped folks crank out pennies, shimmed and re-shimmed the dies, and quietly took stock of all the kinks we still need to work out for next time. Below are some photos from the night...

I provided dramatic, focused light (the room was dark!) while Stuart walked folks through the process...

After someone cranked laboriously through the penny (it still takes some effort to really pull the penny through), we rotated the machine on it's temporary base in order to poke the finished penny from under the gears.
Here you can see the machine later in the night, with a bunch of the residual marking and shim tape built up under where the design dies sit...
 
Here's what folks got, a genuine U.S. one cent penny, totally squished and embossed with a wolf head - appropriated with approval from a previous print design by Justseeds' own Pete Railand:

We handed out info cards to everyone who smashed a penny. One side detailed our project and where to find out more, and the other side was a summary of our interest in the wolf OR-7, and why we chose to focus on his story as it fit thematically with the whole project. From the card:
OR-7 is a male grey wolf (Canis lupus occidentals) born in October of 2009. Dubbed "Journey", OR-7 has traveled alone significantly farther than most lone wolves, becoming the first wild wolf registered in Western Oregon since 1947, and the first wolf registered in California since 1924. In the summer of 2014, it was confirmed that OR-7 had found a mate, and that the two had a litter of at least three pups. 
Fictionally and mythologically, wolves have commanded sovereignty in our imaginations for millennia. They are symbols of fear and power, commanding in us both awe and spite. In creating what is now the United States, the eradication of wolves and other alpha predators was a critical tenet of Manifest Destiny. Perhaps more than any other animal, wolves reflect the underlying historic tension between how we categorize Wilderness, and our assumptions about our human privilege to the land. The repopulation and movement of wolves in North America brings this struggle between our fear and our imagination to the present day.
The perseverance of OR-7 and his family are a living challenge to this history.
More in-process photos as the project moves forward are on our Tumblr here!



Thursday, October 2, 2014

Penny Smasher: Phase One

calibrating pressure, using a die made by Bill Ball
The penny smasher (or penny crusher/elongator/press) project with Stuart Anderson is moving swiftly this fall! It's invigorating to finally see this project develop into something tangible, as we've had many fits and starts since originally developing the concept back in 2008. Lately, Stuart has done almost all of the work, handling the intricate machining and mathematics to get a prototype up and running. This first phase cranks out one single-sided penny design at a time, and we're currently finishing up some various designs for these initial dies which will test the possibilities/limitations on illustration detail.

the single-penny prototype
From there, we'll start working with a crew of selected artists to generate final designs within our overall theme this winter. The machine, when finished, will incorporate over a dozen double-sided designs which users will be able to shuttle through at will. Thematically, we are focusing on human perceptions of the changing animal world, addressing use-value, extinction, urban adapters, alpha- and mesopredators, and even (probably) cryptids. Our hope is to tour the machine around the country, both in a subterranean way (re: in the back of a van) and also more formally through institutions willing to temporarily house the project (museums large and small). 


For now, once these first test dies get heat-treated (and we fabricate a nicer crank arm for the machine) we plan to do a series of informal events next month, rolling out this first prototype penny crusher and clamping it to the tailgate of my truck, and parking at various arts happenings in Pittsburgh or whatever else we dream up. The final machine will debut late spring 2015. Stay tuned!

We're keeping a Tumblr of everything we're doing in relation to this still-unnamed project, which you can see (and follow) here.

Stuart's notebook

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Printing on Paper...

my print drawer at Justseeds World Distro HQ (Pittsburgh)
 I've actually been able to squeeze in some time to make print and design work since this winter. This is especially exciting for me since I make prints significantly less often than most of the other folks in Justseeds. I blame this on two things: running the background mechanics of Justseeds' online store, and the reality that I don't conceive of many of my projects in terms of what could be illustrated on paper. But those are largely just excuses, so here's a few of the prints I've finished up!


This one was my latest addition to Josh MacPhee's Celebrate People's History poster series. I chose to focus on the Luddites, and wrote a fairly extensive post about the process and research behind the print here. Deftly rendered in two-color offset by the masters at Stumptown Printers in Portland, Oregon, you can get copies of this poster here.



This one is actually printed from an older linoleum block I cut back in 2008, while teaching a summer youth printshop called RUST with Heather White and Justseeds' Mary Tremonte and Pete Railand. I never finished carving the block in the midst of teaching, lost it for a few years, found it in last year's move, and finally finished and printed it this past month with the expert help of Justseeds cohort (and office pal) Bec Young. Printed on a press at Pittsburgh's utterly incredible and indispensable Artists Image Resource. You can get copies of this print (and read a little more about it) here.


This was one of the fastest designs I've completed in a while. I came up with the concept and then handcut it from Rubylith in less than a week, which felt great: I'd love to work some faster design-to-print methodology into my practice in the next couple years. This print was specifically created for Justseed's newest portfolio, the teaching/education-themed Liberating Learning, which you can get here. The prints are targeted for classroom walls, the concept bloomed from the mind of Bec Young, and Mary Tremonte ran all of the prints on a now-arcane Risograph machine at OCAD in Toronto, Ontario. You can get a version of this print on a thin poster paper (the portfolio version is on a heavier stock) right here.

I have a couple other designs up my sleeve for this autumn, once we get the screenprinting set-up working in the new studio...



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New History Projects in the Works

On my plate for early 2014: two new projects in the works, revitalizing my constant drive to dig deeper into stories of struggle, justice, and the political fringe.

company scrip from a coal mine in Logan, West Virginia

I've been invited to join the group forming a new Museum of the West Virgina Mine Wars down in Matewan, West Virgina. Matewan was the backdrop for the skirmish which soon led to the Battle of Blair Mountain (Sept. 1921). I've just started working with a lively group of Logan and Mingo County residents, historians, miners, and activists to bring together what will hopefully be an invigorating museum in Matewan itself. I'll be visiting the site later this spring to do some heavy brainstorming and get started on renovations, and I'm very excited by the possibilities.

I'm also picking up again on a trail I let slide a couple years back: digging for the story behind the forced-at-gunpoint excommunication of twenty-five Italian immigrant families from the Guffey Hollow coal mine in Westmoreland County in Western Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1901. The "eviction" of these families followed on the heels of the anarchist Leon Czolgosz's assassination of President William McKinley, which sparked a nation-wide sweep of judicial and vigilante crack-downs on the American Left - especially anarchists, which the Guffey miners were accused of being. I haven't set to really digging out a lost history in ages, and it's invigorating to start writing again and eventually put out a small zine/booklet - whether or not I ever find out what really happened at Guffey that September night.

one of the few pieces of evidence I currently have of the Guffey Hollow incident, from The Washington Post, September 18, 1901
PS: I'm back in conversation with Stuart Anderson about our languishing penny-crusher project... finally looking to start the actual fabrication late in 2014.