Bonanza Mine, Kennecott, AK, St. Elias/Wrangell National Park & Preserve, 2022
In August 2022, I returned to McCarthy, Alaska, in order to embark on a new body of work which I began during an artist residency at the Wrangell Mountains Center. In 2016, I spent two weeks researching the history of the area and exploring the Kennecott Copper mine, mill and town of Kennecott. Over a three day period, I hiked and climbed up to four of the five mines: Bonanza, Glacier, Jumbo and Erie. The idea for Found developed after exploring the Bonanza mine, which sits on a steep talus slope three thousand feet above the town. Because the ruins of its bunkhouse are far too dilapidated to enter, I scrambled down into the adjacent tramway house, still erect and stable with its massive timbers. As I explored its two levels, I noticed a worn leather work glove lying on a window sill.
Gloves like this have been a key motif in my drawings and sculptures since 1987 when I found my first one lying on the side of the road between two cornfields while out for a bike ride north of Iowa City. There was something about this abandoned or lost object that impelled me to pick it up and incorporate it into my work.
Inside the Bonanza mine's tramway house that day in 2016, I had the distinct feeling that there might be more gloves stashed away in other parts of the structure, so, I bean hunting. My instincts were correct: high avove my head on a darkened shelf, I discovered a midden of nearly three dozen gloves, all of them covered in grease and debris. I imagined they had been used and then tossed up into that niche and left behind in 1938 when the mine was closed and the town of Kennecott vacated - never to be discovered until I serendipitously found them. I removed the gloves from the shelf and then spread them out onto the floor to photograph. I then used rusty nails and hung each one form the thick vertical Douglas fir timbers.
The gloves represent the creative and destructive hand of man, paradoxically insulating and isolating us from nature as we physically put our hands into each pair. They exude a sense of longing, portraying a stilled-life. They recall the cicada exoskeletons that I collect and use in my installations. As I draw each glove, I feel as if I am rendering the spirit within them. There is a feeling of animism of the animal whose body the hide once covered. Over time, the gloves also began to take on additional meanings. This protective gaunlet that we pull onto our hands to protect us became symbols of Manifest Destiny, of the marks we leave on the land and the economies and cultures we forge from that land.
When I find a glove on a roadside, I don't know who wore it, where it has been, what it was used for, or the moment it fell to the ground. I don't know its history. Like the birds and squirrels that I find, collect and draw, they are remnants of a life. But the gloves I reclaimed from the Bonanza mine's abandoned tramway house have a context and history that allows for more nuance. I know that they were worn and discarded by miners who worked more than eighty years ago in a remote Alaska copper mine, greasing the pulley and thick steel cable that hauled the ore buckets down the side of the mountain.
Once I photgraphed each of the gloves, I then created a new installation, Found, with them. This time, I attached each one to the side of one of the wooden screens that protected the miners from the two huge pulleys that hauled the ore buckets. My hope is that this is only the first phase of my bigger planned project, which will be to return again to the Bonanza mine and draw each individual glove, before the structure gives way to gravity burying and pulling her down.