Show: Gilman, Harwood Art Center, Albuquerque NM, January 2005

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Gilman is an abandoned, fenced and locked company mining town perched precariously on Battle Mountain in Colorado, above the Eagle River. It began around 1879 as an overflow town from Leadville, had several names before Gilman and was a source of much gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc before being shut down by the EPA in 1984 for massive environmental pollution. 

Gilman fascinates me as the embodiment of the American Dream: Go West, Get Rich, Live Happily Ever After. But only a few got rich. The rest existed on hard work and hope; then had to move on to start over, leaving behind a trail of wreckage of land and lives. The buildings remain as silent witnesses, slowly decaying back into the ground. Tidy rows of painted houses. Only if you look closely do you see the broken windows, the slow rot, the emptiness. 

Gilman, or any other ghost town, can be seen as a microcosm of the world. Like civilizations and empires, it began small, grew, flourished, boomed, overreached and finally died. I imagine that in its heyday people thought it would go on forever. It is also like a human life – birth, a childhood of hope and potential, a wild adolescence, prospering in middle age but then dying of diseases caused by its own excesses. 

Greed, corporate callousness and disregard of human life flourished there, but so must have hope, goodness, human kindness. Mining everywhere was hard, dangerous and rarely well – paid work. Miners were often exploited (the “Company Store”) and treated as expendable commodities rather than human beings. The land was considered expendable too. 

And yet I saw at the Leadville Mining Museum a re-creation of a room in a mine at Gilman that was full of pyrites (“fool’s gold”), a magical, glittering, gold – colored palace of a room that was a place of great beauty and looked as if it had stepped out of a fairy tale. I wonder how much the Gilman people noticed the beauty of the mountains surrounding them or if they only saw the hardships.


Introduction for the show.


Enlarged Gilman Map
Artist books on display
Mary's paintings and Granddaughter Isabella
Box & book. Rocks from near the Gilman site.

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