Matewan as Metaphor

Garden 1920 4 by Jean Hess
40″x40″; paper, galax leaves, dogwood, acrylic paint, resin, pencil on wood panel


Jean Hess: Matewan as Metaphor

at Flood Gallery Fine Art Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina, USA
8 October-30 November 2022

“Matewan as Metaphor” is an exhibit of collage paintings, assemblages, textiles, & faux artifacts designed by Jean Hess to explore the 1920 West Virginia mining labor dispute as metaphor for the human condition. “Matewan as Metaphor” is also an experiment in artistic license. Hess creates a personal story by combining real and imagined resources with the intention of healing her own memory and transcending limits on what is possible and allowed in creative and scholarly endeavors as well as in visual art. The 1920 mining labor dispute in Matewan, West Virginia, which involved her own family, stands for a full life and its adversities.

In 1920, Matewan was the scene of an armed skirmish between coal miners, mining companies, local union officials and hired strike-breakers. Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency thugs hired by the coal operators traveled by train to cast striking miners and their families out of their homes. The local mayor and several Baldwin-Felts agents were killed. The chief of police, the mayor of Matewan, and several other locals gathered at the train station to confront the hired guns about the unlawful evictions. The Baldwin-Felts agents refused to recognize the local authority, and a shootout ensued. The mayor, some miners, and several detectives were killed. This was one of many violent conflicts that took place in Southern West Virginia between pro-union miners and men hired by coal companies to use force and intimidation to prevent miners from unionizing.

For the Mules by Jean Hess
11″x11″; collage, acrylic paint and resin. Courtesy of the artist.

Jean Hess takes serious training in cultural anthropology and visual art to playful levels. Her mixed-media paintings and constructions come from personal memory and nostalgia, ancestral ties and historical fact. Mining illustrations and maps signify coal mining in early twentieth century Appalachia, as well as issues concerning extractive industries, population displacement, exploitative labor practices, suffering and loss. Using collage, paint, layered resins and found ephemera Hess experiments with myriad ways one can obfuscate, surprise and entice. Found imagery is from geography and history textbooks from the early 1900s and before. Dimensional objects are from her family or found in junk shops over time. Much of her material may be deconstructed, obscured, scrambled or carefully embellished.

(text adapted from materials provided by the gallery)


Flood Gallery Fine Art Center
850 Blue Ridge Road
Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711 USA
(828) 273-3332

Monday-Saturday, 11AM-5PM
Sunday, 1-5PM