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Other voices: Mural misleading on mining’s impact

Kerstin S. Ronsiek

ohn Pugh’s second proposal for the Del Oro Theatre has a false message and needs to be changed. The proposal shows an illusion of looking through a hole in the wall of the Del Oro Theatre. When we look under the surface, we investigate and search for the truth; consequently I expect to find a truth in this “hole.”

However, I am disappointed. The opening contains two entities. The one to the left, painted in soft, pastel colors, is a creek or river that cascades from the top down. Little shapes of hearts fill the water, and among the rocks grow ferns and other lush greenery. The right half of the opening contains a mineshaft with historic Idaho-Maryland miners at the top ready to go down into the depths of the earth.

These two entities are painted side by side, each one as beautifully rendered as the other. They seem to be co-existing in peace within the one opening, and nothing in this picture tells of any battle or even friction between the two. With the symbolism used, the proposal means that the environment and the miners live in perfect harmony.

Similar pretty, pseudo-real images are sometimes used in commercials with the intention to numb and with beauty seduce the viewer to believe that something untrue is true. Regardless, whether the artist purposely wants to mislead us or not, the truth is, gold mining and the environment have never existed in marital bliss. On the contrary, our land and water suffer abuse from mining. Since the miners in the mural are historic, the environment side needs to reflect what happened to it during that time.

For example, at the Empire Mine Historic State Park, there are 17 acres where there are signs warning the public to stay away. The mine’s cyanide plant was once here and the ground is still poisoned with arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals.

Despite a major cleanup program in the early 1990s, when 46,000 tons of mine tailings were removed, the earth remains contaminated. The Nevada City and Grass Valley area is littered with gold mines; one of them is Lava Cap Mine which is listed as a Superfund site (one of the nation’s worst toxic sites). Toxins left in the ground seep into our groundwater and rain brings the contaminants to our creeks, rivers and lakes; hence, we are not supposed to eat many fish from around here. This environmental impact needs to be visible in the mural for it to reflect the real world.

Furthermore, the Idaho-Maryland Mine wants to reopen inside the city limits of Grass Valley in 2007. If we would be fooled by John Pugh’s pretty mural proposal, we might not even think to question the environmental impact this mine could possibly have. No, we must continue to question gold mining, its processes and promises; and we must remember that all mines have accidents despite the most advanced safety precautions of today. Gold is after all a luxury item, whereas our environment is a necessity.

This mural proposal serves us a cute, want-to-believe, romantic illusion. There is a subliminal message in it that doesn’t fit with the reality that we know. Therefore, I believe the proposal is dangerous and an insult to the intelligence of the community. The purpose of art in public places is to elevate the community and not to dumb it down.


Kerstin S. Ronsiek lives on the San Juan Ridge.


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