Marlinton, West Virginia
(click on any image for a larger view)
OVER BONNIE is a mural inspired by several local historical writings, particularly those of G.D. McNeill, author of The Last Forest, and also the writings & poetry of his daughter Louise McNeill.
The McNeill family’s history goes back seven generations in Buckeye West Virginia, a small town near the Greenbrier River, over the mountains from where I grew up in Lobelia. Their combined life experiences & writings span a time of incredible cultural change – from the virgin forest and mud-rutted roads, to paved highways and clear-cut hills; from fear of the wilds to fear of the atomic bomb. Through their writings we see idyllic wilderness and agrarian communities slowly change under the burden of modernization & growing political strife, all with intimate detail. No doubt, us Pocahontas County folks are lucky to have inherited such documentation.
The origin of my design came from the overwhelming feelings I got reading historical descriptions of the virgin forest, from G.D.’s writings and a few other old documents. This once all-encompassing canopy of giant native trees is something our imaginations will never fully grasp. The opening story of the Last Forest (called the First Campfire) is about G.D.’s memory of a fishing trip he took with his Uncle Doc: camping by crystal clear waters under ancient hemlock trees, they caught 200 hefty trout in a day. This was a time when the wilderness was thought of as something to be tamed. Then there’s W.E Blackhurst’s Riders of the Flood (based on stories of his hometown Cass community), illustrating the early “wood-hick” log-riders who cut & rode the timber out, down the Greenbrier river. And then there’s one of the last stories in The Last Forest, that describes the aftermath of the timber industry; mountains left barren & dry, rampant wildfires destroying any trees left standing… no wildlife, only ash, dry bark and black water. I have always had a hard time envisioning either extreme, virgin woods or blackened hills, having grown up in healthy second-growth forest. I wanted to try and paint a picture that might evoke feelings of those nearly unimaginable times.
The mural begins with an excerpt from a Louise McNeill poem, with images of a nautilus (wurd to the ancient seas!) (There’s lots of fossilized coral to be found in the fields of the Hillsboro Valley), arrowheads, and an image of a native Seneca woman and girl. The little boy in the mural is G.D. himself, as a boy on that legendary fishing trip. His Uncle Doc is in the background holding a catch of fish. The title of this mural, Over Bonnie, is the term that Louise claims her father used to talk about the old wilderness over the mountain behind their house, before it was cut by the early loggers. Louise claims that he referred to it with those words only in remembrance; for when it had still existed he called it “over the mountain”. Thus “Over Bonnie”, in my interpretation, refers to a place that was once wild and beautiful, but can now only be found in memory.
(I still lack decent photographs of the winter logging scene, train, horses and forest-fire on the right hand side of the mural…. more to come)
I wanted to paint lots of water in this mural, because 8 rivers originate in Pocahontas County. Very few places in the United States have as much clean, un-polluted water as we have here. However, ye old Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) industry is creeping up over the mountains, and prospectors are running Briary Knob Road, looking to test and drill in National Forest Lands. It’s so close. It’s so scary.
If you get the time, I highly recommend listening to This American Life’s story on this subject; http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/440/game-changer
And at last, Louise in her old age and eloquence: