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Can Art Sway Opinion About Proposed Mine?

Susan Bence

Groups of state residents continue pushing against an iron-ore mine in northern Wisconsin, even though Gov. Walker has put the wheels in motion. The new permitting law he signed has prompted the company Gogebic Taconite to begin the application process.
Friday, a group calling itself the Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin will open an office in nearby Ashland to monitor activity at the site. Members say they would consider acts of civil disobedience to prevent harm to the Penokee Hills.

WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence learned of a collection of artists traveling the state to share their depictions of the area’s dramatic landscapes. The exhibit arrives in Milwaukee next week. The exhibit opens next week at the Urban Ecology Center.

Terry Daulton says the idea struck her two years ago.

“ When the first iron mining bill was being considered by the legislature,” Daulton says.

Her vision was to band together a few local artists to create a manageable art show. Twenty creative types – including sculptors, photographers and painters like herself wanted in and Daulton says the project took on a life of its own.

“We ended up putting together not just simply an art show, but an educational exhibition that has text panels and information on geology, history on past mining operations, natural features of the landscapes,” Daulton says.

Daulton pulled in a small grant, but for the most part, the artists donated their time and materials. She says each has a unique interpretation of the Penokees. Some snapped sweeping aerial photographs; others molded sculptures from scavenged wood or stone. A local tribal member expressed her connection through weaving.

“April Stone Dahl made a basket – a black ash basket. Her perspective is living in a sustainable way with the land,” Daulton says.

Others wove the sounds of moving water and wind into musical reflections.

Although Daulton would like to think the body of work might sway stiff opinions......

“ People on either side of the firmly entrenched camps are probably still in those camps, but I think there are still a lot of people trying to decide what they think about it; and those are the people that the exhibit really speaks to – who are saying what is really there and what is it really worth and how will this affect the future of the area,” Daulton says.

Daulton maintains there is not an artist in the bunch who does not feel in their gut, the need for jobs in the region, but speaking for herself......

“ We all live in the north for a reason and for me it’s not because I can earn a lot of money or drive a fancy car; I live here because I love the beauty of the outdoors and those rivers and hills are really stunning; so I will feel sad if the mine goes in, but if the process were to be done well I wouldn’t feel as bad,” Daulton says.

No matter what happens, Daulton thinks the exhibit could hold up as a kind of time capsule. “Even if the mine goes in, maybe sometime in the future, one hundred years from now.....people will look back at this artwork and the information and see what people thought before we had this big hole in the ground,” Daulton says.

In the meantime, Daulton urges people to visit the Penokee’s rustic trails. “Go to the waterfalls or the overlooks,” Daulton says.

She parachuted there – figurately, in the 1970s, right out of high school. The New York state native had never stepped foot in the Lake Superior region until she decided to attend college in Ashland. She became a biologist, eventually working at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

As for painting; Daulton says it always found its way into her work.