The Battle of Blair Mountain was a key event in the infamous West Virginia Mine Wars, when thousands of striking workers joined forces to fight for justice for themselves and their families. The Battle of Blair Mountain took place in Logan County, West Virginia, just a hop, skip, and jump from many of our own backyards. It took place for five days at the end of August and beginning of September in 1921, making this year the 100 year anniversary of this groundbreaking moment in history. To celebrate, Blair100 is hosting a series of events across the state, and many of these will take place in Southern West Virginia. Among them is, “I Come Creeping,” an art show from local artist Chris DeMaria.
“Being in the Mountains Always Felt Right To Me”
Chris is originally from Miami, but his mom is a West Virginian, and he visited the Mountain State frequently growing up. “Being in the mountains always felt right to me, and I loved to visit,” Chris says. “I went to the Maryland Institute in Baltimore for a short time after high school, but dropped out after my first semester. Not long after that, I moved to West Virginia.”
Representing History in a Fresh New Light
The move stuck, and he’s lived and made art among our mountains ever since. Chris had been a longtime follower of Roger May, a West Virginia photographer who had an exhibit at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum awhile back. “I hadn’t realized the museum had exhibit space for artwork until then,” Chris says. “I reached out to the museum about having an exhibit centered around the Battle of Blair Mountain for its Centennial this year, and thankfully they were receptive.”
Chris collected images from the mining industry in the state during the earlier part of the 20th century. “I decided I wanted to do the paintings in a more contemporary style to bring new life to a historical subject,” He says. It was a challenge for him to transfer the black and white photographs he found into his own vibrant creations. “Sometimes I’d push the palette as far as I could to give the piece a vibrancy the original images did not convey. I wanted this series to look fresh.”
And why Blair Mountain? “I like to paint images and subjects I want to see on canvas,” Chris says. “Things and places I haven’t seen painted before. I have not seen much artwork made that is centered around the subject of the West Virginia Mine Wars, and this was one of the motivating factors for me to create this series.”
“Every Aspect of This is Exciting”
Chris is incredibly excited about the show. “Every aspect of this is exciting,” He says. He’s excited to see his work in Matewan, for one. “First, it’s in Matewan, West Virginia. Matewan has a significant role, not only with regards to the Mine Wars, but in working class history in general. When Sid Hatfield fought back against mine owners to help protect the rights of the people of Matewan, that was one of the turning points in the struggle for worker’s rights.”
Chris considers it a point of pride to see his work in the museum. “Being able to show artwork at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum for the Centennial is a huge honor,” He says. “They have some great people working there who are dedicated to promoting and preserving West Virginia
history and working class history. “
He’s also excited to promote the arts in an area that is historically overlooked when it comes to visual art. “Being able to have shows in communities that may not be exposed as much to art is incredible,” He says. “Central Appalachia as a whole is overlooked by the art community in this country, but there are so many creative people in our region doing great work. Not just traditional art, but visionary, thought-provoking work. It’s important, especially for young artists starting out, to see art being made and shown within their own community.”
More than anything, he’s glad to bring this buried history to light. “This history is not taught in schools,” He says. “It’s time for everyone in rural and urban areas to come together and demand more. I think this is the main lesson to be learned from the Battle of Blair Mountain and the Mine Wars: worker solidarity.”
You can attend Chris’ art show at the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in downtown Matewan, West Virginia on Sunday, September 5th at 6:30pm. Want to learn more about this event? Check out the Facebook event page for more information.