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The Green Life: Artists on the Life and Death of a Creek

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November 02, 2011

Artists on the Life and Death of a Creek

Toad by ann payneIn September 2009, most of the inhabitants of Dunkard Creek suddenly died. The 40-mile stream, which had been one of its region's most biodiverse waterways, flows along the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border and empties into the Monongahela River. A sudden increase in total dissolved solids (TDS) — likely wastewater from coal mining or fracking operations — led to a deadly algae bloom, suffocating tens of thousands of creatures.

In the days after the massive die-off, as officials sorted out the mystery of the Dunkard's demise, local artist Ann Payne wondered how she could contribute to the discussion. The result was Payne's two-year collaboration, Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek. Ninety artists created images inspired by the animals that perished in Dunkard Creek. An exhibition of the works, sponsored by the Mountain Institute Appalachia Program, will travel the region through 2012.

The EPA ultimately pinned the environmental crime on coal-mine drainage and fined the operators of the nearby Blacksville No. 2 mine. Other experts insisted on another culprit: wastewater from fracking operations.

For the local artists, all of whom have ties to the Monongahela Watershed, the project is "a memorial," Payne said. "The watershed is literally a part of each one of us."

--Della Watson / image above: Fowler's Toad by Ann Payne

Click below to see more artworks from the show.

Red elf newt by erika osborneRed Elf Newt by Erika Osborne


Variagate darter 1 by ron donoughe Variagate Darter by Ron Donoughe



Craneflies by mark klingler Craneflies by Mark Klinger




Wabash pigtoe mussel by helen payne Wabash Pigtoe Mussel by Helen Payne




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