About the Founder
Artistic Director and Founder of Coal Camp Creations, Jean Battlo, is a native of McDowell County, West Virginia. The youngest daughter of Italian immigrants who came to work in the coal fields of Appalachia, Jean recalls the days of booming business and thriving industry in McDowell County. From a personal place and as an avid historian Jean wanted to share the history of coal; the struggles and challenges of life in a coal camp. She envisioned an aesthetic effort to use the same coal that heated hearths and homes, as a medium for art and Coal Camp Creations was born.
Jean refers to Michelangelo who said David and his other sculptures were captive in the marble; he simply released them. By creating characters, objects and structures from the past, Coal Camp Creations will free new art from the coal.
Jean says, “Our products are designed to appeal to collectors, as well as souvenir seekers. We use West Virginia artists to produce the original sculptures and make sure the reproduced statues are carefully made. Coal Camp Creations produces a quality product that no one else is offering.”
Battlo is also a Playwright, Poet, Novelist, Historian
A native of McDowell County, West Virginia, Jean Battlo is a writer of rare talent. The youngest daughter of Italian immigrants who came to find work in the coal fields of Appalachia, Jean has produced an eclectic body of theatrical, literary, and historical work. Initially a poet, winning awards in 1997-1999 for her books of haiku, Bonsai and Modern Haiku, she moved effortlessly to other genres.
Her plays have been performed by professional, community, and college theatrical groups in several states. Her Appalachian roots are apparent in much of her work. Her characters tend to be composites of people she knows and talks with everyday in her small town of Kimball. When asked how she began writing plays she relates the reality of her community. "I had published two books of poetry, so everyone knew me as a writer. Some people in the area wanted to form a theatre group, but couldn't afford to pay royalties to big publishers, so they asked me to write them some plays. I'd never written plays or even thought about writing plays until then."
Battlo is intent on dispelling the negative images that tend to pervade American media when it comes to West Virginians. "These people are not caricatures, not 'mammy Yokums', not hillbilly stereotypes," she emphasizes. "These are people I live with. They're real. They watch CNN. They know what's going on the world. They just haven't lost touch with their roots." In fact, some of her principal characters are "yankees" who discover just that.
Battlo left her position as an educator to become the Writer-in-Residence from 1987-1989 with Theater West Virginia, based in Beckley, WV. While in that role, Jean wrote two plays for WV’S professional theater , not representative of Appalachia, but more literary in nature: FROG SONGS and SHAKESPEARE: LOVE IN STAGES, the latter which she shares authorship with Alma Bennett, professor emeritus of theatre arts at Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, WV. Scenes from each of these plays were published in Getting Started In Theater by Linda Pinnell, National Textbook Company, Illinois, 1996.
In 1992, Jean was commissioned to write BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, a musical about Pearl S. Buck in honor of the Nobel winning novelist's birth centennial. It's premier performance took place at Buck's birthplace home in Hillsboro, West Virginia.
In 1990, her most noted play about a Jewish family just prior to the Holocaust, #8, was selected as a finalist in Camel-Sea, optioned by off Off-Broadway StageArts, and was a finalist in the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright's Competition. Battlo's historical interests also are apparent with the play THE HOUSE ON SECOND STREET about the Lizzie Borden case. That piece was a finalist in the Forest-Shiras Competition (1988). In addition, Jean approached the history of a family even more familiar to her—her own. LIFE: A CELEBRATION (a play with music) chronicling the joys and struggles of an Italian immigrant couple and their family from 1920 to 1988, premiered to rave reviews from southern West Virginia audiences in 1999.
Her outdoor drama, “Terror of the Tug” will have its 11th season in the summer of 2010. An original film, "Smilin' Sid," was produced especially for this play by filmmaker Danny Boyd. The film has been in independent film festival festivals in addition to composing an integral part of the play. TERROR is currently under the exclusive control of McArts, McDowell County's community arts organization for which Ms. Battlo is artistic director. It was performed again in September 2002 in McArt's newly constructed outdoor amphitheater. It is expected to become an annual event.
Over the years Battlo's plays have been performed by such groups as the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater in North Carolina, the Tennessee Stage Company, Company, Theatre West Virginia, among others. Her first mystery novel The Mahotep Synod was published in 2002 by McClain Printing Company.
Jean Battlo has a B.A. and M.A. from Marshall University with studies in history, dramatic arts, English literature and a minor in philosophy. She has 35 hours of classical studies at William and Mary College.
Coal Camp Creations
Coal Camp Creations is McArts most recent enterprise. At the suggestion of Cheryl Hartley, of Tamarack, in December, 2004, McArts, once again through the funding arrangements of Sen. John Pat Fanning, made inroads to start creating coal figurines. From the first talks with Ms Hartley, artistic director, Jean Battlo, discussed making this a new unique coal art company. Battlo discussed with Ms Hartley a new creative vision, trying to turn craft into an art form. The idea was first of all, to develop a coal camp story, with characters, coal objects, utensils, coal camp home items, etc, that would then be created as original pieces. Following meeting during the winter and spring, 2005 with McArts supporters and Rachel Lester, of McDowell County EDA, Battlo developed the first character and wrote the lyrical biography for Mac Dowell. In this tract, Battlo has included a summation of coal mining history in McDowell County from 1911-1931, including a list of the towns that developed, representative names of some miners who made their living in the region, as well as the list of coal mines.
McArts, a non-profit founded in 1979, for promoting arts and history in McDowell County.
The success mentioned, is related to the fact that McArts, once simply a community theater group, now comprises three broad areas of development that should eventuate in three separate administrative functioning entities, each doing business as McArts.
The broad umbrella of the vision remains the same:
Providing quality performances, outlets and activities to the citizens of the county
Attracting and providing the same for the projected tourists to our region.
If we call them and they come, they will want to be entertained.