Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Crowdfundung to Open the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum!

Over the course of the past year, I’ve been commuting the seven hours between Matewan, WV and my home in Pittsburgh to work with a group of community members to develop and open a People’s History Museum. We're collaborating to preserve and share the story of an era of working class uprisings wiped from the majority of U.S. history books, and now we're crowd-funding to put the last pieces in place!

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum teaches about the decade of large-scale, militant strikes by a cross-cultural, united front of diverse miners and their families seeking not only a union, but basic social justice. In 1921, these struggles culminated the largest armed insurrection of US citizens since the American Civil War. It’s a history that has been nearly buried for almost a century…

The museum itself is located at the site of the Battle of Matewan in 1920 (subject of John Sayles' excellent 1987 film Matewan). Thanks to an incredible group working on this museum, we have cataloged and will be exhibiting what is likely the largest collection of artifacts from the era!

This has been a dream project for me, and while incredibly challenging at times, we are building an independent museum that we are all very proud of. We’ve been working with grant funding, but there are still costs remaining to put the final pieces in place before the grand opening on May 16th.

Please check out our Indiegogo campaign, and support us if you can! Any amount helps, and it all adds up. In addition to preserving this history, there are also great perks for donating!

And please share the campaign with any of your friends and colleagues who you think might be interested! Together we’ll make sure that this inspirational piece of history gets its day!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cataloging Artifacts at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum

New York Times, September 5, 1921
We're moving forward with the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum over in Matewan, WV. This community-driven, people's history museum opens to the public on May 16 (in the midst of the annual Matewan Shootout reinactment!). There's still work to be done getting the building, and our exhibits, in order - but we're moving quickly, and it's invigorating watching it all come together.

Last month several of us took on the task of cataloging the collection of board member Kenny King. Kenny's been scouring the known battlefields where skirmishes occurred during the Mine Wars era (~1912-1921) and picking up whatever artifacts he finds. His collection is the foundation upon which our burgeoning museum is built, and I was personally very excited to catalog and photograph his extensive collection - the first time his work has ever been assembled and documented in full. Below are some choice images from last month's work, all of which will be on display when the museum opens in May...

Miner's cap with oil-wick lamp.

Carbide headlamp.

.30-06 bullets.

.45 ACP cartridge cases, from Thompson submachine guns.

Kenny has bags and bags of "check tags", individual identification tags which miners used to mark the cars of coal they had loaded before they were pulled out of the mines. ID numbers on the tags were used to log miner's pay.
Child's shoes.
Company scrip.
Examples of company scrip - coinage that was the primary (and illegal) method for paying coal miners of the era, redeemable only at stores run by the same companies which ran the mines.

Fork, bent into a hook to hang from a belt.

Miscellaneous items from the collection.

Monday, December 22, 2014

We're Selling a Few Smashed Pennies...

For a limited time, Stuart Anderson and I are selling one of the designs we've been churning out of our working prototype penny smasher! This one is a catch-all inspirational message, sort of our answer to the plethora of Lord's Prayer pennies common at interstate rest stops.

collaborative cranking at Bill Daniel's Tri-X Noise opening (Babyland, Pittsburgh)
We're still touring the prototype around to various local events, providing a free, hands-on smashing for anyone who wants to, and working out a lot of kinks in the process. This winter/spring Stuart is in San Fransisco at a residency at Autodesk, where he's hammering out the engineering for our bigger project (read more about that here).

You can get these pennies over at the Justseeds store here. You've got two options: for a few extra bucks, you can get this penny drilled, with a jump ring attached, for wearing proudly upon the body (chain not included). Or you can get it straight up, with no hole, for carrying daily in the pocket.
penny in the rollers, w/die

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!