River of Ash
When natives of North Carolina were informed that over 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27,000 gallons of contaminated water had been dumped into the Dan River following a breach in a coal ash pond, we responded with outrage. The pristine Dan River, which runs cold and clear through the Western North Carolina mountains, then widens into a red, muddy river as it runs along the North Carolina-Virginia state line was now grey and polluted.
My life has been shaped by the Dan River since childhood, and art allowed me to channel my pain and anger over this carelessness into River of Ash, a 12ft by 33ft installation at the Reece Museum, Johnson City, TN. Seeking to combine social engagement with aesthetic power, I used ash collected from the Dan River area to transform my images of a beautiful landscape into the wasteland Duke Power had created. Incorporating the actual ash to transform the images I had collected in my years on the river bound together past, present, and future. In the final work, the Dan’s haunting beauty lingers, and amidst the desolation, color and life emerges in the representation of wildlife, resilient and defiant.