What happens when a mosaicist purchases an abandoned coal plant?
Rachel Sager recounts how she turned her amazing real estate purchase into an artistic venture.
When SAMA member, Rachel Sager, purchased a house and land in Western PA through a foreclosure sale, she was in for the surprise of a lifetime. The “house” was a former office building for a coal mine. And on the “land,” yes, was the abandoned coal mine.
“I remember having a bit of a panic, actually,” Sager recalls. “As a mosaic artist, I felt like a gauntlet was being thrown down at my feet, like ‘What are you going to do with this, Rachel? This is the challenge of your life right here.'”
Thus began The Ruins Project, a collaborative, long-term art installation.
The high, concrete walls, covered in vines and moss, became the substrate for the finds of her unique foraging technique—she uses found materials like bone, rock, and glass shards, earning her the sobriquet “the forager mosaicist.” Mosaic artists from all over the world are invited to leave their marks on the walls of the huge, former processing facility. The results of workshops conducted there have also been applied to the walls, which are slowly coming to life. Rachel feels she is paying tribute to the miners—that carved out some of the purest coal in the nation—by adorning the walls of that mine, closed in 1946 after four decades of operation.
“My dad, who operated coal mines, taught me to be conscious of what’s beneath our feet,” she recounts. “All his life, he’s crushed rock. And now, I chop up much smaller rock to make my art.”
After all, Rachel theorizes, “All of these empty walls have been just sitting there for almost 100 years, waiting.”
Read her story by Adelina Lancianese of 90.5 WESA here: