Brassing Out

Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, 2008-9

Materials: hemlock timber with pine pitch, steel wire fencing with brass tags, hooks and swivels

Winner of the 22nd Rosen Outdoor Sculpture Competition and Exhibition 2008-2009, Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC

Juror: Dr. Sarah Clark-Langager, Director and Curator, Outdoor Sculpture Collection at Western Gallery, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA

On the morning of May 27, 1925, three explosions rocked the Egypt Coal Mine in Farmville, North Carolina. It became the state’s worst mining accident. 53 men did not “brass in” that day. This sculpture recalls that accident and the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other deaths within the Appalachia due to “burrowing into the earth.” Before heading down the shafts and into the stopes, the miners were given numbered brass tags, thus performing the act of “brassing out.” When their shift was complete, they would return their tags to the brassing in board, signifying that they had made it out of the ground for another day.

In her juror’s statement, Dr. Clark-Langager wrote, “Knowledgeable about the history of avant-garde display,” Skabelund “might have thought about Duchamp’s 1938 installation 1200 Coal Bags Suspended from the Ceiling Over a Stove (International Surrealist Exposition, Paris) when he accepted the Rosen Competition’s invitation to execute a site-specific work.”

“Rather than the polemics of conventional display, Skabelund has been interested in commenting on the long-term effects of the physical, social, and political environments of the communities where he has lived and worked. After researching the state of North Carolina, he was fascinated with its long history of mining (some coal, more feldspar and mica) and its production of naval stores of tar, pitch, rosin, etc., all derived from the sap of the extensive pine forests. He decided not to shore up the mining industry of North Carolina, but rather to invoke the past tragedies and inequities of some miners not returning at the end of the day. Individual miners are remembered here only by their brass tag with specific number. Furthermore, Skabelund has planted a tree of life with smoky-brown pine sap and golden leaves which flicker now in the sun. Over the next year the tags in Brassing Out will tarnish with the result that the branches with tags will turn into a ceiling of darker igneous fragments and the tree trunk will become another shaft.”