The Museum in the Park at Chief Logan State Park will open a new exhibit, Downtown: Logan – Welch: West Virginia Urban Coalfield Life 1946-2006, with photographs by Russell Lee from the National Archives and recent photographs by contemporary photojournalist Earl Dotter on Friday, March 2, with a reception and talk by Dotter from 5 - 7 p.m. The exhibition and opening reception are free and open to the public. The photographs will remain on display through April 1.
Supported by a Coalfields Grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council, the Clifford M. Lewis, S.J., Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University joined with Dotter to create the exhibit, drawing upon Lee’s pictures of life in Logan and Welch 60 years ago along with photographs taken of the two communities by Dotter last summer. The 120 photographs in the exhibit look at living conditions and honor the past of each city while challenging inhabitants to consider the present and future.
“We hope that this exhibit captures much of urban coalfield life at its height just after World War II and today, as the communities struggle with the loss of industry and jobs,” said Dr. Jill Kriesky, Appalachian Institute executive director. “We hope it will impel viewers and especially coalfield residents to consider what lies in their future.”
Lee trained as a chemical engineer, and in the fall of 1936 became a member of the team on photographers assembled under Roy Stryker for the federally sponsored Farm Security Administration (FSA) documentation project. He is responsible for some of the iconic images produced by the FSA, including photographic studies of San Augustine, Texas in 1939 and Pie Town, N.M. in 1940. After funding for the FSA was discontinued, Lee continued to work under Stryker, producing public relations photographs for Standard Oil of New Jersey. He moved to Austin, Texas in 1947 and became the first instructor of photography at the University of Texas in 1965. Lee died in 1986 at the age of 83.
Dotter was raised in Philadelphia and began his photographic career after completing studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 1968, he joined Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and was assigned to the Cumberland Plateau Region of Tennessee. He came to know and respect the culture and struggles of coal-mining families. After his VISTA assignment concluded, Dotter remained in the area to photograph the rank-and-file movement to reform the United Mine Workers union, then under the leadership of Tony Boyle. He was invited to join the staff of the reformers’ newspaper The Miner’s Voice, and then became the photographer for the campaign to unseat Boyle, called “Miners for Democracy.” When the election effort proved successful, Dotter went to work for the United Mine Workers Association Journal, where he remained until 1977.
Throughout the 1980s, Dotter photographed a variety of occupational subjects. His photographs are noted for not just showing the work but the whole worker and his or her life on the job, at home and in the community. As he met and photographed the cultural life of Logan and Welch during June and July of 2006, Dotter put his commitment to this exhibit in the context of a lifetime. “I have continually worked to put a human face on coal miners’ concerns,” he said, noting that it was good to revisit places he had worked before. Dotter is the recipient of the Josephine Patterson Albright Fellowship in Photography for 2000 from the Alicia Patterson Foundation. His project, “Commercial Fishing, Our Most Perilous Trade,” provides support to document the hazards faced by commercial fishermen far offshore in the North Atlantic as well as in harvesting fisheries along the New England Coast.
Housed at Wheeling Jesuit University, the Appalachian Institute is a center of research and analysis, education, and action focused on contemporary Appalachian challenges and opportunities. The Institute collaborates with a variety of partners, always attuned to the struggles and dreams of the Appalachian people. The goal of the Appalachian Institute is safer, healthier, and stronger communities in the central Appalachian region and beyond.
For more information about the exhibition and talk, call the Museum in the Park at (304) 792-7229.
The Museum in the Park is a regional cultural center showcasing the best in West Virginia history and the arts. It features changing exhibits and displays of artwork and historical items from the collections of the West Virginia State Museum and State Archives. One area of the museum is dedicated to local and regional history. It is operated and maintained by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and is located four miles north of Logan on West Virginia Route 10 at Chief Logan State Park. Museum hours are 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 1 - 6 p.m. Sunday.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Its administrative offices are located at the Cultural Center in the state capitol complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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