Romania’s Petrilla mine shows how art can be a catalyst in former mining communities

After Coal author and director Tom Hansell recently traveled to Romania to participate in the Appalachians / Carpathians: Mountains Apart, People Connected conference. Participants explored the theme of post-industrial development in mountain communities. Here is his report:


Photographer Gabriel Amza , who has documented the decline of coal in Romania’s Jiu Valley and I collaborated on a presentation that explored the role of arts in former coal mining communities. After our presentation, we visited the Petrilla mine, which employed approximately 20,000 workers at its peak, before closing in 2015. Some miners were transferred to other mines, but many lost their jobs.

Local officials believed the best path forward was to bulldoze the mine site and leave a clean, green field. However a strong local movement emerged to save the mine site. Former mine engineer and artist Ion Barbu (pictured below) helped lead an art based campaign to preserve the mine. He engaged hundreds of people in a series of street performances and visual art projects that raised awareness of the architectural and aesthetic value of the mine complex. Eventually, his efforts won over the miners’ union and other important organizations. Today, most of the mine still stands and funds are being raised for preservation. In the meantime Barbu has turned the abandoned pump house into a community center for theater performances and participatory art projects that highlight the region’s unique heritage and provide hope for a post coal future.

Although the first step of preservation is complete, many former miners and other community members still struggle to make ends meet. Still, the story of Petrilla demonstrates how the arts can help former mining communities identify local resources. Arts can amplify local voices and build political power that leads to new opportunities for these former mining towns.

Ion Barbu’s work to save the Petrilla mine was documented by filmmaker Andrei Dascalescu’s film Planeta Petrilla

After Coal travels to Romania.

After Coal author and director Tom Hansell will present to the Appalachians / Carpathians: Mountains Apart, People Connected conference at Transylvania University in Brasov, Romania October 7, 2019.

During the conference, delegates will travel to Romania’s Jiu Valley, the site of the nation’s last coal mine, which shut down in 2018. Hansell will present his work on the After Coal project alongside Romanian photographer Gabriel Amza, who has documented the decline of coal mining in the Jiu Valley for more than a decade. You can learn more about Amza’s work in this interview with Lomography Magazine

Check the After Coal social media feeds for photos and updates from the conference.

After Coal returns to Wales

Former site of Onllwyn No. 3 Colliery, located near DOVE Workshop in Banwen, Wales.
After Coal director and author Tom Hansell will provide a keynote address to the annual conference of the Oral History Society of the UK at Swansea University July 6, 2019. The theme of the conference is “Recording Change in Working Lives” a topic that is close to the heart of the After Coal project.

On July 8, 2019, Hansell will travel to the DOVE workshop in Banwen, Wales where he will turn over copies of the interviews conducted by the After Coal project to the South Wales Miners Library, where Welsh residents can easily access the media. Appalachian residents can access the interviews from Appalachian State University’s W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection in Boone, North Carolina.

Follow After Coal on facebook or twitter for updates from these events.

Film Clip Friday: The Battleship Island (Japan, 2017)

This Film Clip Friday, we highlight a feature length historic narrative film set in Japan before World War Two. Written and Directed by Ryoo Seung-Wan, The Battleship Island is the story of coal miners on the island of Gunkanjima, which is located off the coast of Nagasaki. The island sits on top of a large undersea coal seam, and housed around six thousand people at the peak of mining.

During Japan’s colonial era, roughly 1910 to 1945, Many Koreans were captured and forced to work in the coal mines. This film tells the tale of their attempt to escape the island. Today, the island is in the process of being preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site. Follow this link for more details about Battleship Island:

The Battleship Island , written and directed by Ryoo Seung-Wan

Music Monday: I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill

This Music Monday we honor singer and actor Paul Robeson’s 121st birthday. Robeson was born April 9, 1898 and became a friend and supporter of south Wales miners after he met a delegation of miners on a hunger march in 1929. The singer regularly performed for benefit concerts for the miners’ union and was invited to perform in Wales with the Treorchy mens choir at the Eistedfodd in 1957, but the US government had revoked his passport because he refused to disavow communism socialism mend that the government had revoked his passport.

In this clip from a 1949 National Coal Board film, Robeson sings the labor ballad I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill to the Scottish miners

Paul Robeson: I dreamed I saw Joe Hill

Film Clip Friday: The Proud Valley (1940)

This week’s Film Clip Friday post highlights The Proud Valley, a feature film set in the coalfields of south Wales starring American actor and singer Paul Robeson. This is one of many ways that Robeson expressed solidarity with mining communities. The story is that Robeson met a delegation of Welsh miners on a hunger march in 1929 and was attracted by their group singing. As a result he helped raise funds and other support for Welsh mining communities.

Paul Robeson was invited to perform with the Treorchy men’s choir at the national Eistedfodd (a festival of Welsh culture) in 1957, but the US government had revoked his passport because he refused to disavow communism.

Here is a trailer for The Proud Valley, directed by Penrose Tennyson:

Music Monday: Dream of a Miner’s Child

This Music Monday we listen to Appalachian musician Rich Kirby performing “Dream of a Miner’s Child.” For an audience of Welsh coal miners. Kirby visited Wales as part of an exchange between Appalachian and Welsh Mining Communities in 1976. During his visit, he performed this song for a continuing education class offered by the National Union of Mineworkers, connecting this Appalachian mining song’s origins to the British Isles. The footage in this clip was recorded by Helen Lewis, John Gaventa, and Richard Greatrex with support from Hywel Francis.

Dream Of A Miners Child from Tom Hansell on Vimeo.

Film Clip Friday: The Silent Village (1943)

This Film Clip Friday we feature Silent Village, director Humphry Jennings 1943 docu-drama about the Nazi massacre of the residence of Lidice, a coal mining village in Czecholslovakia. Funded by the British Crown Film Unit, Jennings chose to reenact the story in South Wales during World War Two. Much of the filming took place in the communities featured in After Coal, including the villages of Cwmgiedd and Ystradgynlais. Silent Village is considered a classic example of the social realist approach that was common in British wartime films. The original film has been preserved in the archives of the British Film Institute.

Silent Village, director Humphry Jennings (1943)

Music Monday: Big Bad John

This Music Monday we feature a 1961 hit from Jimmy Dean, a Texas born singer radio host, and actor. Although he had no direct connection to coal mining, Dean played a role in promoting the image of the miner who would sacrifice his life to save his comrades. Big Bad John was a crossover hit from country to rock and roll and scored number one on the billboard charts in the US (and number 2 on the UK singles charts).

As an interesting side note, Jimmy Dean later became famous as the spokesman for the sausage family he founded with his brother in 1969. These commercials were resurrected after he died in 2010.

Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean

Music Monday: Black Waters

This Music Monday we feature an original song by Kentucky songwriter Jean Ritchie. She wrote Black Waters as a response to strip mining she witnessed near the home she grew up in Viper, Kentucky. At the time, she was worried that no one would take a woman’s word seriously about an issue as serious as strip mining . As a result, she credited Than Hall (the name of her maternal grandfather) as the songwriter for Black Waters.

Ironically, many of the leaders of eastern Kentucky’s anti-strip mining movement during the 1960s were women who adopted Black Waters as one of their anthems. The song is still relevant today and has been covered by numerous country, folk and bluegrass musicians. Scroll down for Jean Ritchie’s version, followed by a newer version by country artist Kathy Mattea

Black Waters Jean Ritchie

Black Waters Kathy Mattea