Gallery comments from the MSU exhibition comment book:

"An evocative, moving show, highlighting fleeting moments in the life of a church"

"Especially moving"

"Great sorrow and beauty both at once"

"Nice work, I also enjoyed your presentation"

"Deeply sensitive work"

"Wonderful presentation"

"So true!"

"Alone with the hymnns and the quiet, it was easy to feel..."

"I love your exhibit"

"Half way through the tears began - I have been changed because of this"


"A glimpse of the (not too distant) past"

"Regional pride is obvious"

"Gave my heart a much needed rest"

"Thank you!"

"Enjoyed our visit"

"The photographs are beautiful"

"Thanks for the beautiful pictures"

"Lovely, lovely photos"

"Thank you for making me feel!"

M  E  D  I  A


#    #    #

The exhibition "Death of a Church" featuring photography by Appalachian artist Robert Miller, will be on display in the Strider Gallery in the Claypool-Young Art Building on the campus of MSU, June  2nd  through June 27th, 2003.  There will be a reception and gallery talk hosted by the photographer on Friday, June 6th at 3:00 pm.
Robert Miller presents gelatin silver prints focusing on an abandoned church as a physical metaphor for the birth and decline of an Eastern Kentucky coal town, Cannel City, from which his family originates. Accompanying the exhibition is an audio soundtrack which features dulcimer arrangements of primitive hymns. Writing about the exhibition, Miller states "'Death of a Church' deals with the rise and subsequent fall of an Eastern Kentucky coal town named Cannel City after the coal profits dried up during the Great Depression.  A glorious rural church was built and then abandoned as coal workers went elsewhere to make a living.  Many ended up in Dayton, Ohio working in industrial plants such as General Motors and Frigidaire (like my Grandfather).  Like the lonely church rotting away in silence in Cannel City, Kentucky, the Appalachian culture is fading fast.  Soon there will be no one left to tell the story.  That's where I come in".

Miller has been an active fine art photographer for twenty years, exhibiting throughout the U.S. and Europe for the past decade.  As an artist of Appalachian heritage, his family comes from Cannel City, KY, near West Liberty,  he concentrates a great deal of time and effort to preserving the history and "telling the story" of Appalachian Americans.  As a volunteer artist for the Appalachia Service Project, he hopes to use his images to help Appalachian families in need.

The exhibition, reception and gallery talk are free and open to the public   The Strider Gallery is open Monday - Friday, 8 AM to 4 PM or by appointment.
Questions or inquiries, contact Jennifer Reis, Gallery Director, at 606-783-5446.

#    #    #


Miller captures death of Cannel City church

The Lousville Courier-Journal
Photographer Robert Miller salutes his Appalachian heritage with a metaphorical exhibition, "Death of a Church," which deals with the rise and fall of Cannel City, an Eastern Kentucky coal town near West Liberty.

Miller, whose family moved from Cannel City to Dayton, Ohio, after the town declined, is a 1983 graduate of Morehead State University. His gelatin silver print series shows the now-rotting church that once was a proud feature of the town before the Great Depression.

"Death of a Church" will open tomorrow and will continue through June27 at the Strider Gallery in the Claypool-Young Art Building at Morehead State. Miller will give a talk during a 3p.m. reception Friday. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

#   #   #

Lexington Herald-Leader

Posted on Sat, Jun. 14, 2003


Fallen from grace
Exhibit chronicles abandoned church
By Benita Heath

Robert Miller never worshiped in the white frame Union Church trapped between two hills off a back road in Morgan County. His family had left the coal town of Cannel City when his mother was 8. The mining companies had pulled out, and his grandfather went north to Dayton, Ohio, to get a factory job, just like most of his friends.

But Miller's family often made the trip back home, as they would call the town, so the church, with its cedar-shingled steeple piercing the sky, was part of the landscape to him. Occasionally he'd slip inside to look around. But by then, the only congregants were peeling paint and rotting wood.

It wasn't always like that. From the early 1900s until 1933, there was always at least one mining company, sometimes three, in town, digging up the cannel, a special variety of coal that could be turned into liquid fuel like coal oil for

lamps. By the 1920s Kentucky was the leading producer of cannel coal, and output from Morgan County mines surpassed others in the state.

The church, the only one in Cannel City, was the heart of the thriving company town, used by four denominations, which would rotate Sunday worship through the month. In fact, the word union in the church's name refers not to any religious doctrine but to its open-door policy to all congregations.

But a few years after the Depression, all the coal companies had moved out of Cannel City, the town they built. It was no longer profitable to go after the dwindling deposits of cannel when crude oil could produce cheaper fuels. By 1961, the year Miller was born, so many worshipers had moved away or passed away that the church was abandoned to the elements.

Focusing on old things

A few years ago, Miller, now a music educator in the Huber Heights school system, outside Dayton, became interested in photographing all things Appalachian.

"I like to photograph old things," he said. "They have such strength and character. New things don't stir emotion in me."

He remembered the decaying church and headed back to Morgan County with a medium-format camera and his curiosity. There he found the old building even worse off than he remembered.

"It was empty, intact and musty-smelling," he recalls. "As an artist walking in, I was hit with an overwhelming feeling of despair and sadness that this beautiful church sits and rots. How could this happen? There is this beautiful church that is decaying, and there is nothing to be done to save it."

After several hours of shooting that afternoon, he developed his prints; each time an image would wash across the paper, he felt inspiration taking a deeper hold.

"I got the idea that this is a story that needs to be told. Here is this church like the Appalachian culture that is disappearing. I hate to say no one cares, but not many do. I have the ability to save it so others can see it."

A warning to others?

Using the church as his subject, Miller has produced a photographic exhibit that presents the details of the decaying house of worship as a metaphor for the town and Appalachian culture at large. The exhibit is on display at Strider Gallery in the Claypool-Young Art Building at Morehead State University.

Visually dissecting the church with his camera, his exhibit shows dust-covered pews, the single remaining light tarnished and dangling out of the ceiling, warped-piano keys, even a single vine creeping in through a broken window.

"The tiny details ... that is what I want to bring out. My goal is to challenge people on how they think about this," he said. "I am putting this out in their faces."

In fact, Miller sees a broader interpretation to his exhibit because the fate of this small house of worship could be a warning to other churches.

"If you don't change and evolve, you will end up the same way," he said. "Smaller churches everywhere are disappearing."an empty house of the Lord
'Death of a Church: Photography by Robert Miller'

Where: Strider Gallery, Claypool-Young Art Building, Morehead State University.

When: Through June 27. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays or by appointment.

Admission: Free.

Information: (606) 783-5446.