From the Ground Up
meet mannington artist ben kolb
There’s nothing more Appalachian than creating beauty from the very ground of the region’s hills, and that’s exactly what Mannington artist Ben Kolb has done. In recent years, Kolb has cultivated a days-long process of gathering coal from hollers and creeks around the state and processing it into paints, which he often then uses to paint odes to famous Appalachians.
“People have been making paint from earth since the beginning of creativity,” he says. “It’s not that crazy, because coal is earth.”
The job requires heat from bonfires and furnaces, mortars and pestles, and sometimes beeswax or honey to get the consistency and texture he’s looking for. It’s labor intensive, which is part of the reason the paints aren’t for sale to the public yet—Kolb says he’s not sure how to price the labor and time that goes into it. Apprentices at his art studio and gallery, Nativibes, help get the job done.
Kolb wants to honor Appalachia with his art, and largely attributes Appalachian creativity to the adversity some of its residents have endured over the years. “I think it comes from living a bleak existence from 200 years under the feet of coal owners that have their mansions on the left as you’re heading up the South Hills,” he says. “I think that’s what lends us to being more colorful and creative than a lot of other cultures.” 104 West Railroad Street, Mannington, 304.365.9153, seekingstarsart.com, @Nativibes on FB