The Copper Mind Project

: to communicate knowledge to
: to give character or essence to
: to be the characteristic quality of
: to remove from place by violence
: to lacerate mentally or emotionally
: to pierce with sound

Copper Mind is a personal reflection of how landscape informs identity. And how obliterating a landscape rends the identity of those who were raised in it.

This rough draft introduction previews the project theme.  It's next phase is in production and has been included in an international multifaceted effort called Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss.

Reared in a Sacrifice Zone

Christmas 1961 (my sister) - First Photo with my new Brownie Kodak Camera

The place where I grew up
No longer exists
Not even on a map.

It was buried in the slow consumption
Of Company claimed ore
Bought at a cost
That only corruption can afford.

A landscape that once fed fervent ambition
Was crushed without an anchor
To hold its place in time.

I was born in Seattle, Washington on February 25, 1954 but grew up in Butte, Montana where my parents returned to live soon after my birth. They were both of immigrant stock that came to Butte a generation before. My father was Irish along with some English genes he never discussed and my mother was Italian. She started working at the age of twelve, washing dishes on the night shift at a restaurant, the Rocky Mountain. My father got his first job in the mines at age 14, on the afternoon shift. Both continued to attend high school and were the first in their families to graduate.

My mother was a talented visual artist but she could never imagine that being a significant part of her life. My father was her second husband. She married her first husband through an arranged marriage soon after she graduated from high school. He was Italian and many years her senior. From her own account, he was a domineering figure common in the culture and she feared him. He died after a protracted illness and left her to care for two young children.

My father was a Boilermaker and Union steward. His father died when he was 2 years old so he was raised mostly by his grandmother while his mother supported the family as a cleaning lady in the Catholic schools. He had an older sister who was born with spina bifida, a congenital disability common in the Butte Irish. She died suddenly in her early twenties from an injection that contained an air bubble that stopped her heart.

At least once a month, my father told dinner table stories about hauling a dead miner up a shaft. The usual method of death as I recall was falling down a shaft or getting crushed by rock or machinery. The shaft falls in particular were never clearly accidental. The suicide rate in Butte has always been high. I went to a grade school with only eight other kids. By the time we graduated into high school, two of their fathers had committed suicide.

The suicides were never publicly reported as such because that would deny the widow and children any insurance payments. Then, of course, there was the fact that men were drinking on the job. The Anaconda Company condoned it. Butte is renowned for its unrestricted consumption.

I attended Catholic schools where the nuns drilled us to be grateful for whatever life we’d been handed. The sum of our virtues was that we were uncouth but honest. Our best hope was to become a slightly better skilled version of our laboring parents.

In third grade I started skipping school, wandering around town and through the stacks of Butte’s library. Sometimes I'd convince a friend to join me.

From the 1960's media that crept into our house - magazines like LIFE and LOOK, flickering television shows like Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver - I saw that success meant having a rational, comfortable, well-ordered life with no significant conflict. It was a life absolutely unlike the one I knew.

Eaten Alive

On a visit to Butte when my son was young, I drove through the decayed remains of ravaged houses, trying to impress him with a local point of pride that growing up here prepared you to survive anything short of death.

Along the route we happened to pass an old man without an arm and my son took note. A short time later, another old man hobbled up the street with the aid of a wooden leg. With that, my son lowered his eyes and said, “it looks to me like Butte just eats people alive”.

A Sense of Self: Memory, The Brain, and Who We Are
Veronica O'Keane

So...the magic resonance of place-evoked emotional memories goes on and on, and back and back... back to the earliest memories of the childhood home ... deep down to your buried hippocampal place cells and their idiosyncratic tangles with your amygdala/insula neurons. . . your very own psychogeography. We can walk through a city and remember "through its avenues, the feeling I'd once had of being light and carefree",* or see a small gravestone and feel terror. Places - the streets of Dublin, the avenues of Paris, the doorways of Vienna, Edith's gravestone, the herb garden in Cambridge, the childhood home, the haunted house, the barn dance of remembrance -  are, experientially, the anchor for memory and feeling.

* Patrick Modiano, 'Flowers of Ruin', from Suspended Sentences