0 Not a directory
    0 Not a directory

Images of Portrait-Stories



(documents the stories of hundreds of residents living in the Appalachian coalfields).

To view other Portrait-Story Projects, visit our main website  "http://www.portraitstoryproject.org"


You see exhibited here a merely recent collection of telling’s of a generations-long saga. Welcome to the story of a land linked, yet unbelievable, to the lives of hundreds of millions who live all around and apparently not too far beyond its foothills.

Within the borders of an overdeveloped and under-ethicized nation-state, a chaotic tyranny lays it vicious claim of extraction and ruin, escalating its ambitions, which have inflicted voluminously documented and yet seemingly untold loss and abuse. A tiny and insulated elite, commanding engines of surreal scale, desecrates the most biologically diverse ecosystems of North America, its “mother forest” from Paleolithic times, down through their very Paleozoic bedrocks, wreaking the purest nihilism the earth has ever faced. A land quite rural, yet mechanized and subordinated to a “progress” it overwhelmingly has never reapt, has bled the psychologically and geologically incommensurable for decades virtually unnoticed, until very recently, by the outside world for the majority of its disproportionate burden.

This, in Tim Butler’s words in Plundering Appalachia, (Earth Aware Editions, 2009 earthawareeditions.com) “. . . may be the ultimate manifestation of modern industrial people’s ideology of conquest. It symbolizes a toxic culture, a culture so thoroughly divorced from humanity’s roots in wild nature that it views the living Earth merely as a smorgasbord . . . Blowing up mountains and burying streams in pursuit of coal is a practice that could only be conceived by people who have forgotten – or rejected – our species’ kinship with all life.”

To see if your energy consumption comes from steep slope surface “mining” visit



To see decapitated ridges:


Thousands of tons of munitions blast some of the earth’s oldest mountains beyond the plausibility “reclamation” advertised by corporate mad-bomber terrorists. A pathetically imaginationless and short-sighted“boom & bust” paradigm irrevocably liquidates the firmament of thousands of square miles into dust and rubble, eliminating the chance of any life or livelihood worth speaking of.


If interested in joining the direct resistance here are a few places to start:



As coalfield resident Tanya Turner said in the summer of 2009 heat wave of mountain defending actions, “This is an Appalachian apocalypse. We must end (mountain range) removal now.”
And when considering global anthropogenic climate destabilization, where all non-renewable fossil fuel industries stand culprit, no one remains an outsider and virtually everyone carries some responsibility.


For more connection from the local to the planetary,



To see why nuclear power offers no “alternative” to so-called “clean coal,” http://nirs.org/


In our age complicity means ecocide. Passivism around big business-as-usual surrenders our species and forfeits our future. A 19th century robber-baron frontier mentality, 20th century consumer mentality and 21st century brute efficiency of political corporatism (call it “King Coal”) brings this nightmare of waste chains wreaking greater havoc than production chains bring security and a tenable standard of living. Picturesque summits become “overburden” and “valley fills.” The hydrology, fossil record and sequestered carbon of mountains become wastelands of accelerated erosion. Coal slurry injections into people’s water tables and recent artificial disaster-spills of coal slurry and coal combustion waste, on a scale of billions of poisonous gallons, into the tributaries of major rivers, which serve as the drinking supplies of entire cities hundreds of miles away, have re-enforced the notion that eventually “we all live .”


For the day-to-day details of this non-monetary cost of coal consumption,

http://sludgesafety.org/ http://tennesseecoalashsurvivorsnetwork.com/
http://dirtycoaltva.blogspot.com/ http://creekkeeper.blogspot.com/

Erik Reece, of the University of Kentucky, in Lost Mountain, A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness, Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia (2006) writes, “Back in the [1950’s] and ’60’s, most companies would have augured the periphery of those [coal] seams and been done with it. But modern explosives, larger equipment and a rapacious public that uses 70 percent more electricity than it did twenty years ago mean that the entire mountaintop must go.”

Disbelief, shock, denial or approval surfaces from within and without the region, amongst the patriotic, naive, apathetic and myopic, the ecocidal and complicit. Recent coal disasters of slurry and coal waste, on a scale of billions of poisonous gallons, into the tributaries of major rivers, which serve as the drinking supplies of entire cities hundreds of miles away, have re-enforced the notion that eventually “we all live downstream.” For the day-to-day details of this non-monetary cost of coal,



As Knoxville native Chris Irwin put it, “My grandmother once told me that the rest of the country viewed Appalachia as America’s ‘Fourth World.’ . . . (explaining) that practices (unacceptable) for a Third World country are somehow considered acceptable in Appalachia . . .” – Tennessee Mountain Defender, 4th edition, (2008)

“This is the enduring paradox of Appalachia,” Chad Montrie clarifies in the professionally dispassionate, historical text, to save the land and people, (2003) “that the inhabitants of a land so rich in natural resources could be so poor . . . Appalachia is marked by poverty not for a lack of modernization or because of inhibiting cultural traits, but as a consequence of a particular type of modernization . . . Because so much of the timber, minerals and land had been bought up by northern speculators and many of the companies from outside of the region, the great wealth of the land flowed out from the highlands never to return.”

“It’s like we’re selling our children’s feet to buy shoes,” Julia Bonds, coal miner’s daughter and granddaughter once told a visitor, “ . . . It’s from cradle to grave. The cradle is the mine, from which the coal comes forth in corruption and evil and sorrow and death. The grave is when they dispose of the waste.” Bonds once related, “. . . We live in a war zone . . . I don’t mind being poor. I mind being blasted and poisoned.” Revealing, coming from and confronting this existence, several hundred of these Appalachian Portrait-Stories distill the most pertinent themes of purpose and sanctity, joy and trial in the hollows, coalfields, watersheds and nearby towns. Augmented by a specialized form of art, these narrations, as a travelling show of originals, have sprung from those concerned and familiar to the beauties and pains of the “energy colonies” and “national sacrifice zone.” Both delineations, the former one of obvious critique, the latter of intensively bleak status quo propaganda, nakedly bespeak the source of the area’s fate remaining external to it, dubiously laying an unfathomable and amoral parasitism upon it.

As we find ourselves in an unprecedentedly huge and deep energy crisis with no clear end in sight, an imploration from Warren Wright of the Council of Southern Mountains in 1971, rings with particular relevance, “It is now imperative that we be heard in defense of our land and we should be more encouraged in knowing that incidental to our striving, we are striving against the national disease of technological pretense and technology’s demand for worship.”

As Big Lick native Mike Sathers monologued in Voices from the Mountains, (1975) “There is much in traditional mountain culture worth cultivating and emulating. Mountain People have valued simple adequacy rather than super-abundance, over-consumption and waste . . . friendship and neighborliness above influence and power . . . to adapt rather than manipulate.

I used to think that what was needed was to bring mountain people into the ‘economic mainstream.’ . . . to do this and still preserve some of the positive, humanizing qualities of mountain cultures. I no longer think that this is either possible or desirable.

Our challenge is . . . to re-create a renewed and authentic form of what the mountains have always been. From the time that the first (European-American) settlers deliberately cut ties with the coastal culture of colonial America to start a new life in the wilderness, (these) mountains have offered an alternative to mainstream America . . .”

Some possibly embrace this “challenge,”

As Jason Ringenberg essays in This Train Passes Through But Doesn’t Stop, published in the collection subtitled America’s First and Last Frontier, (2004) “. . . When pioneers began crossing Appalachian Mountains in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of the hardy folk . . . saw no need to join the feeding frenzy across the Mississippi. Their fathers and mothers were buried in those hills; how could one leave that? When the Civil War began, many of them resisted both Confederate and Union attempts to impose agendas on their valleys and hills. When New Dealers arrived in the 1930’s and 1940’s, some ended up on the bottom of rivers and caves. Even today, that independence still lives in the hearts of those who disdain the tackiness, commerciality and upward mobility of the ‘New South.’”

As Laurel Shackelford and Bill Weinburg introduce Our Appalachia, (1977) “The Mountain people talk about a way of life not walled in by state or county lines . . . There is no ‘typical mountaineer.’ The region has been plagued by overnight experts, who, in the words of one mountain person, ‘pop in, pop off, pop out.’ Such writers have often concentrated on sociological pieces about the Appalachian people. Over the years bad sociology becomes bad history . . . Exploitation in the mountains has occurred through publication as well as the more common means of controlling resources from afar.”

Harry Caudhill, author of Night Comes to the Cumberlands,(1961) My Land is Dying, (1971) and the Watches of the Night, (1976) like many natives, know that the deep trap of unconscionable poverty imposed via The Mad Reign of King Coal’s audacious dispossession politics has forever greatly complicated their landscape. Vigilance over legacy, provincially, or in Larry Gibson of Kayford Mountain’s words “within your circle of concern,” has then arisen as an ongoing strategic necessity amongst contemporary goals of Appalachian self-realization.

We, the Portrait-Story Project bottom-liners, became aware in our travels, while graciously hosted in so many of the homes of those drawn in this series, of our work being within the grand momentum of the 21st century Appalachian literary revival. Blessed in absorbing and running in tandem with this creative phoenix, we observed its contributors generating fresh and culturally competent understanding, depiction and uplifting of a roughed and proud milieu.

Enter peoples that have borne a cornucopia of intellectual analysis and political controversy for a century and a half since the “War Against the States” or “The War of Northern Aggression” laid so much waste upon populations who have sustained the arrogant excesses and negligence of outsiders in one form or another ever since. Traditions here have roots tapping centuries deeper, strained and tenacious, crucial, informative and respected at last. Erik Reece succinctly concludes “The literature of Appalachia is a literature of place.”

These Portrait-Story entries appear here conspicuously alive and developing for us at the moment of display, rather than merely remembered. In other words, although such public memoirs and contemporary lore will stand as the raw stuff of one of our own versions of living history, many of us Portrait-Story subjects, have also made it to exist as our journal, even a forum or an organizing tool, for grappling with our dilemmas in our geography.

Incisive artist critic Robert Hughes once wrote in reference to the 1980’s SoHo scene, “What strip mining is to nature, the art market has become to culture.” Steering clear the pitfalls of vulgar extraction, this archival craft emerges as intellectual commonwealth in the worlds of fine and folk art, without a commercial incentive. With greater intuitiveness in production and spectatorship than digital media, through the grace of so many participants, a landscape of personhoods solidifies for visual prosperity. A people of, and more broadly, for a land, bestows upon us the weight of a multiplicity of perspectives, indisposable shards in the longer story of this mountainfolk and their allies.

These are indeed, voices for Appalachia.

As we try to address our own needs towards diversified local economies conducive to ecological care, empowerment and dignity, steep and met with tremendous inertia as this path may be, may we say as the namesake of an old time and bluegrass band once toasted in defense of our mountains,

“Here’s to the Long Haul!”

And may day come to the Cumberlands,

For those who have kept their mountains,

The Portrait-Story Project