[click here for more images near the church]
of a Church" has been calling out to me
since I was a child, visiting my ancestors often in the hills of Eastern
Kentucky. When cannel coal was discovered there around 1900, the
coal company constructed a school, a post office and a Union church
that was the envy of any rural community. The church was the
spiritual and cultural center of the community (it was "shared" by
five different denominations on a rotating weekly basis) until the
depression and the use of natural gas and electricity virtually
rendered coal from that location unprofitable.
The workers moved out, the population dwindled to near nothing and
no one was left to go to the Union Church. Most church-going members
of the community now attend indigenous rural churches in the area.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the woman who keeps an eye
on the decaying property, Hattie Benton, who says about the town:
"The young people move out as soon as they can, and the old people just die."
Ronald Perkins, the town elder, put the church's situation bluntly -
"It closed because nobody came to church any more."
The Cannel City Union Church has been vacant since 1961 (the year I was
and it sits rotting from the inside out, ignored and unused -
a monument of peeling paint, broken stained glass and flaking ceilings.
I see a scary analogy to modern churches -
they must evolve and change or people will
go elsewhere and the church will die from within.
No one will be left - only four walls that eventually collapse.
The same can be said about our society and life itself.
I invite you to think about that a bit.
for this exhibition has been an ancestral and spiritual
pilgrimage for me. My Appalachian roots and family heritage have been
my strength and source of pride all my life. I am very fortunate to have a remarkable
family - strong, moral, proud. This exhibition is dedicated to the Benton Family,
72 dpi website scans cannot come close to the warmth and
intensity of the original 11x14" toned gallery prints.
I look forward to sharing them with you.
***click here for photos & gallery comments from the Hotel Gallery exhibition***
***click here for media/press and gallery comments from the MSU exhibition***
***click here for "Death of a Church" - an interview with Robert Miller***
front cover of July 2002 Messenger magazine