Traveling Exhibit Devoted to Dunkard Creek Fish Kill

Washington PA  Observer Reporter
15 November 2011
By Scott Beveridge, Staff writer

CALIFORNIA - West Virginia botanical artist Ann Payne was traumatized by the sight of a massive fish kill along a large stream at the West Virginia-Greene County line.

A flock of green heron and other birds were alongside Dunkard Creek in September 2009, feeding on dead fish as they washed ashore. Nearby was a homemade sign bearing the words, "Who murdered our creek and who will save it?"

"It was the worst thing I have ever seen," said Payne, of Morgantown, W.Va., a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators.

To help her grieve, Payne invited 89 other artists along the Monongahela River from Morgantown to Pittsburgh to create an art project relating to species killed in the environmental catastrophe. The exhibit, Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek, will travel around the region for two years and has made a stop this month at California University of Pennsylvania.

The fish kill was traced to golden algae that came to life in abundance in the creek, said Kevin Sunday, Department of Environmental Protection spokesman in Harrisburg. The algae bloomed and then sucked the oxygen out of the water as it decayed. The West Virginia DEP and Consol Energy eventually reached a consent order involving fines for a number of mine-related spills in the area. Meanwhile, Southpointe-based Consol and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission are in litigation over allegations the company's coal mines contributed to the fish kill.

"All of the fish suffocated, obviously," Payne said.

The exhibit in Cal U.'s Frich Hall, which runs through Dec. 8, includes paintings, sketches and even a design stitched on burlap. The species include mussels, catfish, carp, muskie and mosquitos.

Payne said she didn't want artists involved if they are "hot-headed environmentalists." She said she wanted talented artists who live in the watershed, which supplies drinking water to three-quarters of a million people in the Pittsburgh region.

The show was to be more about what happens when "energy meets the environment," she said.

"Here is what we have. Here's what we've done. Now, what are you going to do about it?"

Greensboro artist Maggy Aston, an assistant art professor at Cal U., served as curator of the campus exhibit and contributed a pen-and-ink drawing of a carp.

"It's an environmental issue we are trying to call attention to," Aston said. "We'd like for people to be aware of what went on there."