Coal Miner’s Granddaughter

Looking over these photos I posted elsewhere I thought they might be of interest to some of you.

The photos are from a movie called “Country Justice”, filmed in Tazewell Virginia. (For a while it was known as “Coal Miner’s Grand-daughter”.) This was George C. Scott’s last movie. I was Scenic Charge, responsible for interviewing miners and collecting reference photos inside a working West Virginia low seam coal mine. This required traveling two miles inside the mountain, the ceiling never more than four feet above the floor. The miners spent their working lives crouched, crawling and shifting. I directed a crew of scenic artists and foam carvers in making a modified replication of what I saw in the mine. Our work was above ground, and light, compared to theirs.

A miner on his mining machine. (In West Virginia, across the state line from Tazewell, Virginia)

A miner on his mining machine. The grinding head is in the nose of the machine, about fifteen feet in front of the miner. The miners follow the coal seam, leaving pillars of coal to hold up the ceiling. Once the seam is exhausted the miners back out, collapsing the pillars and collecting the coal as they go.

Should the ceiling collapse on the miner, rescuers will dig in and grapple onto the back of the drilling machine and pull it out. It will quickly return to service, controlled, very likely, by another driver.  As you can see there is no overhead protection for the man.

This photo shows the actual West Virginia miners.

Despite the working conditions they were a hardy, cheerful lot.

A crew photo in the re-imagined mine.

Taswell Virginia had one motel at the time. Crew (and leads who wished) were housed with mining families. We were well fed and cared for. The local and family histories we heard did give us cause for reflection; me anyway. Generations of men worked the mines and everyone had lost someone to accident, black-lung, cave-ins, methane explosions which turned mine shafts into canon barrels, shooting miners across the valley to crash into the opposing mountain. We learned of strikes and shut-outs, shoot-outs and union-busting; the times and the economic hardships; the lack of choices for the young people. But there were also music, cheer, laughter and comfort to be shared. People are people, where ever we go. I’m glad I took this gig.
The set rigged for cave in.

Five thousand gallons of water rushed in on the actors. Among them was George C. Scott, who had to leave his oxygen bottle whenever he worked. A strong union guy, he refused to cross a picket line during the show. The production backed down.

Another shot of the real mine.

We prettied things up a bit.

Another wing of the set. When the shooting was over people from the community asked us to please leave the set in place. (We used a large municipal warehouse for Art Department and set construction.) Production agreed. We learned that for all the generations of men that had worked the mines, the women -wives, mothers, sisters, daughters – had never seen the inside of a mine, the places where their men spent their working lives. Viewing the sets gave them some idea of their loved ones working environments. A very approximate idea, as you can tell from the pictures. For other set pictures and examples of movie work – backdrops, etc. – please visit New Mexico Storyboards and Art to Go.

Posted in "...where danger is there arises salvation also...", "Country Justice" movie, Coal Miner's Granddaughter, george c. scott, lead scenic, low seam coal mines, scenic artist, set building foam carving, set painting, Tazewell Virginia, West Virginia coal miners | Leave a comment

ann, again

A note, and a response.
New comment on your post “Ann Bunting-Mock”
Author : Jeanne Scheerbaum
May, 2012
I just read a wonderful article by Ann Bunting-Mock in American Quilter magazine, January 2008.  Just want you, whomever you are, to know that she still is helping people with her ideas, words, and quilts, I am sure. It went on to explain that she began making anonymous women’s quilts from old quilt tops, rearranging, combining, repairing and finishing them, along with a ‘letter’ hidden, explaining who she was as a woman, but evidently without name.
What a marvelous way to continue ones legacy and belief in the “kind, character-building small acts such as picking up some trash, giving money to a charity drop-box, allowing someone to make a mistake or be unpleasant without getting angry….. . I find that taking myself out of the picture begins to shift something in my life and connects me to a great anonymous river of positive emotion.  The unexpected benefit of allowing and nurturing myself to embrace a bit of anonymity connects me uniquely to the world.”
Sounds like a special, giving and gentle woman to me. And she is swimming in that ‘great anonymous river of positive emotion’, a wonderful place to be, swimming in the good.  Quite a good and gentle woman!  Glad this site is still here.
Dear Jeanne,
When you left this note on my blog I was touched and pleased. I meant to get to you right away. It was thoughtful of you to write and tell me about the article, and to quote it at length. She was that good and gentle woman, and more. She had fire in her heart and expressed that, too. She helped where and as she could. I think she saw the big picture and the very small, the very human. She was smart and bright and human herself. I think she saw herself and the rest of us pretty clearly. She blessed our frailty and foibles and encouraged our gifts and strengths and was one with us, not apart. I know she suffered and she endured. She was student and teacher, darkness and light, spinning around a core of awe at the simplicity and the complexity of her universe. I’m glad you recognized her. I believe she would have recognized you.
I am waxing poetic. I live in Northern New Mexico with my small family. Our lives are quite crazy and we do our best to manage but things (like responding to mail) do slip through the cracks. Let me know if you are still out there.
I’m working out of town. I’ll post some pictures of the quilts she made for us when I get home.
This link is to a piece of writing dedicated to Ann’s memory. As is the painting I gave to her of a calf I saw in the mountains above Merida, Venezuela, while I was visiting friends there.
Posted in aan, ann bunting-mock, auld lang syne, callings, love | 1 Comment

back again

About finished with Tin Star, a pilot for a proposed Western series. If all goes well then there will be continuing gainful employment for at least some of the film community here.

Lone Ranger crewing up in ABQ. Building an Old Western town west of ABQ as well. Working on a big show can be like working in an art factory. Creative, but still a factory. I prefer smaller shows with lots of room in between for family, friends, art and travel.

I wonder, continue this blog, or set it free?




Posted in Elmo in Grouchland, film and television, film work, Gypsy Movie Trash, Lone Ranger, Merida, Muppets from Space, scenic artist, set painting, Tin Star, Venezuela | 8 Comments

Rest in Peace, Troy Davis

Troy Davis, Born October 9th, 1968. Killed at the stubborn whim of the state of Georgia September 21, 2011.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

looking for lost etching press

Kelton etching press

Kelton etching press, missing in action

Hello, my Wilmington NC, ex-creative community (Printmakers in particular!). I seem to have misplaced a very large (6 ft wheel), very heavy (burned out the clutch in my truck driving it down from Boston) and very old (120 years, plus or minus a few) etching press. This press was (if I recall) manufactured by M. M. Kelton Co, (Brooklyn ?) New York, in the late nineteenth century.

It was last seen at The Independent Art Company gallery. Someone asked to borrow it and I said ok. Later we took a 3 month gig in New Mexico that turned into 5 years and I managed to lose track of it. Recently I have needed access to a press and I remembered – everything except who I loaned it too. If anyone knows the whereabouts of this old, large, heavy, beautiful object please email me at or call: 910-233-2497. Thanks you so much. I miss your faces. See you soon, I hope.

Posted in etching and engraving, Kelton etching press, lost and found, lost Kelton press, MM Kelton Sons Brooklyn New York, Wilmington NC printmakers | 4 Comments

Glenn Buttkus writes again

Ada at two, standing in front of a jumble of scenes pulled from a full life, just like with Glenn’s Poem I posted below. Now she’s two and a half and painting. A firecracker, born on the 4th of July. The picture caught my attention when I was looking for an image to accompany Glen’s writing.

How They Found Me

steinbeck lost dog
women red roaring
skin bukowski cream
tour bra-flinging pow-wow
drake headstone nicholas tilt
moon mountain gods foot
old field school bus
weeping blood soldier
winged dance ballet laces
naked cat sonata
crazy cornflakes
gleason sleep number
aging mirror twin wrinkles
salmon toss trash talking
sphincter blues tacoma pier
bear lips bledsoe
broadsword bare nipples
whistle train sadness
byrd leg panties paso
egypt fist square sun
burroughs bath house break
zone creek serling owl
zelda doll cancer flowers
police poem handcuffed words
saxophone harjo tattoo tulsa
cd funsterville motorcycle lyrics
fidelo butt rash ride
pine violin ferrari bus
hilo bacon bungalow bobbing
picasso pears franco figs
fringed custer flight goggles
raven ranch poe park
eagle drive-in talon fort
poetics joyous morning meal.

Glenn Buttkus

February 2011

Glen’s blog is bibliosity. Check it out to see many more examples of his work and the work of his friends. You can also listen to him read his work there, and visit his marvelous image collections. And I have to say check out his On Patrol for a mind-blowing piece of writing. No soft or happy pictures there.

“What do I see? I see a barefoot angel looking at me. Also a snake. Where did that snake come from? And these red shoes? I would like one final blessing before heading out to cross that Supernatural Bridge, please.”


Posted in "...where danger is there arises salvation also...", ada corinna, bibliosity, dinky-dau, glenn buttkus, image collections, memory, On Patrol, storybook collaborative, supernatural bridges, Vietnam War | 5 Comments

Yemaya’s Children – the Orishas return

Another story from Damyanti in response to the image I put up as a writing prompt for her. I never know what will spark her writing or the direction it will take, but I am always delighted to read what comes out. She brings a magical sensibility and a chameleon-like ability to diffuse into the story and disappear until surprise! she opens her eyes and I see what she sees.

The picture she used is from a scroll (4′ x 25′) of connected-by-theme paintings which I later cut apart and stretched separately. I saw them as creation myths. This image was the first in the series. It is about 3.5′ x 4′. I used acrylic lay-in colors finished with oil glazes on printed linen (image painted on the reverse as the pattern’s bleed-through produces a more subtle background – also, no scotch-guard protective film on back). I’m glad Damyanti showed up to write the stories. Here is her story.

Yemaya’s Children

Quit swimming in the air, Kenny tells them, air is no place for fish.

But they refuse to listen.

During the day they forage amid the plants in their aquarium, driving him crazy most weeks because no sooner than he puts in a half-decent plant in their aquarium they set about ripping it apart. The Singapore Aquaria, set above the sparkling, man-made Sentosa beach, likes each of its aquariums to look as neat and well-groomed as Singapore parks, gardens, people and government. If Kenny, a Filipino, is to survive here he has to make sure the Blue Tialpia behave.

But the Tilapia do not know about the obsession for order that hovers about them.

Each moonlit night they rise from their aquarium, and before Kenny’s helpless eyes, they rise into the blue ether, taking their time.

Quit swimming in the air, come back here, Kenny orders them, or they’ll fire my ass.

The Yemaya will protect you, the Tilapia babble in a chorus, like precocious children. She is the mother of all us Orishas, the most powerful guardians of old, and of the lands, the rivers, and the ocean. She is our mother and yours, too.

I know who is my mother and she is back home sleeping in the Philippines, come back now or I’ll lose my job and she’ll starve, pleads Kenny, hiking up the pants that have slipped below his belly.

We’re the children of Yemaya, the now-faint fish voices rain down from the moonlit sky above the blue-black ocean, and the red-rimmed moon is our home.  Our job is to send dreams and desire to all creation, mate day with night, turn up in the dreams of newly-weds on land and in the sea, multiply the children of Yemaya.

If you’re so powerful, why do you swim about like a bunch of common fish in an aquarium? Come back down, air is no place for fish.

If fish do not belong in air, do you belong in this country of another, cleaning muck where you could have planted fields back home?

Kenny has no answer. The Blue Tilapia rise and fade till he can see them no more, they go home.

The next morning, Kenny does the same.

Posted in character, Damyanti Ghosh, damyantiwrites, ekphrasis, fiction, fish, image prompts, lucid dreaming, picture prompts, speed-writing, the Orishas, Uncategorized, writing, writing prompts, Yemaya's Children | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments