Uptown Athens mural honors region’s mining past

Chris Stain, a visiting artist at Ohio University, who hails from Queens, New York, on Saturday stands beside his finished mural honoring SE Ohio’s coal-mining past.

A new piece of public art in uptown Athens - a mural depicting coal miners on the north-facing wall of the Lucky's Sports Tavern building - was finished as of Sunday morning.

The mural is titled "Without Labor, Nothing Prospers," a quote attributed to Greek playwright and tragedian Sophocles by the mural's painter, Queens, New York-based artist Chris Stain.

Stain, 42, a visiting artist in Ohio University's College of Fine Arts, said in an email Friday that the mural recalls a history of coal-mining and resource extraction-based work in Athens County and in southeast Ohio over the last 200 years. He said that the image of the workers he painted in the mural was inspired by the history of Athens County, and photographs from the Athens County Historical Society & Museum.

However, America's working class is a topic that Stain said he regularly explores in his artwork (more of his work can be found on his website, www.chrisstain.com/about/).

"I grew up in a working-class family and neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland," he said. "It was steeped in blue-collar values. My grandfather worked for over 30 years at Bethlehem Steel. One aspect of my work (is that) I attempt to pay homage to and dignify the men and women who have dedicated their lives to bettering their families through labor."

The mural is part of a project called "A Year of Printmaking" for students of OU's School of Art Design, which brought three different visiting artists to campus over the 2014-2015 academic year, Rachel Cornish, OU's director of external relations for the College of Fine Arts, said in an email Friday.

"Chris was one of them (visiting artists), and his focus is on mural painting," she said. "Along with that, the students get to learn from his collaborative approach to public art. So while this particular project is not part of an ongoing public art project, the College of Fine Arts is continually looking for ways in which to interact with the Athens community, and public artwork is just naturally part of that."

Stain noted that there was a "direct connection with (the) Lucky's Tavern" building in regard to the mural's image of workers on that building's wall.

"Kelly Hysell of Rutter Rentals, the owner of the establishment (building), hails from a family of coal miners in Ohio," Stain wrote. "The visibility on Court Street is prime and helps integrate the mural into the life of the town."

(Actually, the building is owned by Betty Rutter, 92, Hysell's grandmother. She signed the mural contract with OU last year, and Hysell was the contact person for the agreement. According to Hysell, "My grandmother's father, and grandfather, were both coal miners. Plus her son, Rodney, is a recently retired coal miner.")

Cornish said that supplies for the mural cost $500, and Stain was paid $4,250 for his work.

Stain is also a printmaker and a teaching artist, he said Friday.

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