The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Montcoal Mine Disaster

April 5, 2011

Beckley artist paints April 5, 2010, to laud miners

For many locals, the date April 5, 2010, will forever be etched in their hearts. That date is also the name of a painting created by Perl Tipper in honor of 29 fallen miners of Upper Big Branch.

Tipper said she knows the struggles of coal mining and the tragedies that can occur.

In 1928, Tipper was 6 years old and living at Glen Rogers Coal Camp. It was then, she said, that she got her first taste of art.

“I’ve done art all my life because I grew up in a coal camp, and there was nothing beautiful there. It was a wonderful camp because of the people, and we had a lot of nice things to do, but because times were hard, we had to make our own toys,” Tipper said.

She said that in her day, just like today, the families and communities of lost coal miners banded together for support.

“My house was immediately across from the tipple, and right out our living room window we could see the smoke stacks, the tipple and the cage,” she explained.

“We had two or three bad explosions in that mine because I remember so well my little brother and I looking out the window and watching the cage go up and down, bringing men out one or two at a time and carrying them to the doctor’s office.”

Worry and fear of another explosion were constant in the camp, especially for the families of the coal miners.

“Back in those days, if a man got killed in the mine, his wife would have to immediately leave the house because they were short on houses, and it was a company house. If someone was lost in the mine, the miners would all forfeit their day’s wages and give it to the widow because we didn’t have the insurance and things like that back then.”

She recalled the day she watched the footage of the UBB disaster on television and thought to herself, “I have been through that and watched those tragedies growing up.”

She said she was unable to peel herself from the television during those first days.

“When it happened, I was glued to that TV every day, all day, until they got the last miner out,” she said.

Tipper lives with her daughter and son-in-law, and the three watched the coverage together.

“We were all so upset over the whole thing — watching it being played out on TV,” she added.

At her daughter’s suggestion, Tipper decided to paint 29 pairs of boots to honor the men.

“My daughter said, ‘Paint all the boots and breaking hearts,’ and I did to represent the heartache and the breaking of families,” she said.

The painting has an eerie feel with 29 pairs of empty boots, breaking hearts and the mine tipple in the background.

“I’ve watched these tragedies throughout my life, but thankfully, I have never had it happen directly to me or my family. But regardless, it is all too familiar,” Tipper said. “My heart and prayers go out to the families affected by this.

“This is my small way of remembering and honoring the men lost that day.”

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