Morris Library exhibit sheds a new light on coal mining

By Chase Myers

The life and times of a coal miner can be far from glamorous. Although the death rate has decreased since the early 20th century, the number of mining-related fatalities in the U.S. did not dip below triple digits until 1985, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

An exhibit called “The Light that Shatters Darkness” premiered Monday at the Hall of Presidents in the Morris Library, which reflects upon the people who risk their lives every day in mines.

The exhibit will feature poetry from Senior Library Specialist David Bond complimented by the photography of former faculty member, the late C. William “Doc” Horrell.


“I want to focus on the people that worked at the coal mines and the experiences they had,” Bond said. “It was almost a supernatural environment there.”

Bond worked at the Murdock coal mine just south of Champaign for five years before transferring to a coal mine in Sparta, where he worked for more than 12 years.

After experiencing the coal mines in the 80s with a background in writing from his undergraduate studies, Bond decided to put those experiences on paper.

“There were a few specific things, like people getting injured … that kind of highlighted the danger aspect,” he said.

Bond also touched on relationships with other miners, including being a company member alongside union workers on strike.

“They were kind of your enemies almost and then when it was over, you were back working with them again,” he said.

Bond worked very close with Morris Library Specialist Beth Martell when putting together the exhibit.


“I loved playing a supporting role,” Martell said. “David’s got the tenderness of a master and the steel of a paladin who has met oblivion’s steady gaze without wilting. He’s definitely the star of the show.”

Horrell, the other contributor to the exhibit, was very involved with the SIU photography department and education department. He began taking pictures in the 1930s after receiving a camera as a high school graduation present.

Horrell became a key contributor to the printing and photography department at SIU in 1958, which is now the department of cinema and photography. He became a staff member at the university a year later and eventually became a professor in 1972.

Horrell began taking pictures in coal mines during the 1980s, but the photos were not published until after his death in 1989.

Bond was working in the mines around the same time Horrell was taking the majority of his mining pictures.

Bond said although Horrell’s time working with the mines was earlier than his, the conditions were relatively similar. He said  Horrell took 700 photographs, 15 of which went well with some of Bond’s poems.

“I thought maybe an exhibit of the coal mining photos from Doc Horrell would compliment my poems and kind of show a whole other view of coal mining,” he said. “Not like the history or environmental framework or anything, but just so we can catch a glimpse of the men and women that really worked in the coal mines everyday.”

The exhibit will feature 12 poster-sized photos with related poetry and will be presented until Feb. 1, 2015.