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Berinje' 07-09-2007 11:10 PM

Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
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Very nice article in the Detroit Free Press about the Port Huron Mining Memorial, for which I was commissioned to sculpt a life size full-figure Miner. Twenty two miners perished in that mine explosion 35 plus years ago. The same newspaper editor who covered the accident those many years ago found out about the memorial and phoned to ask about the bronze sculpture I am creating for it. He wrote the article below and plans to also cover the installation.

The sculpture is now being cast at the bronze foundry. My husband and I will be present for the installational on August 30th and the dedication on August 31st. Families of the 22 miners are flying in from all over the country to be present for the dedication. It should be a very meaningful and inspiring event.


Coming together to remember

Memorial to honor men killed in 1971 tunnel explosion

July 9, 2007



Ft. Gratiot Twp. -- One moment, Jerry Radford and his crew were setting up forms to pour concrete in a 6-mile-long water intake tunnel near Port Huron.

Seconds later, Radford's workmates were dead, victims of an explosion caused by drillers on a platform in Lake Huron who bored through the tunnel's concrete liner while the men were still in the tunnel. A spark ignited a pocket of methane, causing a blast that hurled men and heavy machinery along the tunnel.

"It still amazes me how all of those men could be gone in the twinkling of an eye," Radford, 61, of Turtletown, Tenn., said of the accident that killed 22 men and left him permanently disabled.

It happened at 3:11 p.m., Dec. 11, 1971, as the men worked on the final mile of the tunnel, which provides drinking water for millions of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department customers in southeast Michigan.

And now, more than 35 years later, friends and family members of the victims are planning to dedicate a $60,000 brick, stone and bronze monument to their loved ones.

Dedication of the 1971 Water Tunnel Explosion Memorial is planned around Labor Day.

"It's long overdue," said Radford, who counts himself lucky to be alive. "Those were some mighty fine men who lost their lives that day. They were my friends. Any tribute they receive is well deserved."

The memorial is the brainchild of Debbie Comeau and her husband, Randy, of Port Huron. Randy's father, Raymond Comeau, died in the accident; he was 35.

As a teenager, Debbie Comeau remembers driving out to the water treatment plant that sits at the tunnel entrance to check out a local myth that flashing car headlights on the metal door of one of the buildings would reveal the image of a cross. Sure enough, it did, she said.

Six years ago, after learning that her husband's father died in the accident, Comeau decided to start raising money to erect a memorial.

She drew support from the Port Huron Museum, the Port Huron Times Herald, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Commission, which owns Ft. Gratiot County Park, where the memorial will stand.

A granite pedestal and the circular brick, stone and concrete pad on which it sits were installed by construction companies that donated labor and materials.

The group also raised money by selling $25 engraved paving bricks, $250 engraved paving slabs and $5,000 granite benches.

Sculptor Paula Slater is creating the life-size bronze statue of a tunnel worker that will stand on the pedestal.

Slater of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., usually works on more expensive projects -- she's a finalist for a major firefighter memorial in Toledo -- but said she jumped at the chance to work on the tunnel memorial.

"It really touched my heart," Slater said. "I get to sculpt so many wonderful projects that I get to pick the ones that are really important to me. This one is very important."

Slater said she plans to come to Port Huron to install the statue in August or September.

The accident, one of the worst in state history, was blamed on poor communication between contractors -- the drillers had no idea that men were working in the tunnel -- and poor ventilation.

Cherie Fogal Darmis, 55, a Lexington real estate agent whose first husband, Donald Fogal Jr., died in the accident, said she spent 17 years grieving her loss.

"It brings some closure," she said of the memorial. "And it gives my husband a chance to be remembered by his family and friends. He laid down his life for us. Just to be able to honor him this way is major."

Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at 313-223-4490 or

Copyright 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

BKH 03-25-2008 12:05 PM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
I will be attending the placing of the memorial I'm from Lexington MI. very nice work on the miner! are you all from the Port Huron area? I sculpt life sized people. and want to make a living at erecting memorials like this one. any suggestions on getting jobs like this?

Tlouis 04-01-2008 11:51 AM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
This thread has been up for the past seven days and yet none of the members who post virtually everyday have posted. Is that because they don't wish to comment on how bland this sculpture is? How like most other public monuments that incorporate the human figure, it is, though unquestionably very well rendered, really just a sculpture of clothing surmounted by a human head? And boring? Yes? No? GlenT? Evaldart? StevenW? Etc?

Berinje' 04-02-2008 08:02 AM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
2 Attachment(s)
Sorry, this type of bronze monument isn't your cup of tea, however, it was what my clients/selection committee wanted (see attached photos of the finished bronze). They wanted a heroic looking miner rendered realistically to represent the 22 miners who died in a mining accident (they even dictated that he be holding a lunchpail and a pic axe). They wanted something their community and the families of the miners could identify with, and they needed something they could afford.

I love being able to expand my creative imagination further and having a larger budget to work with (like a monument I am presently working on for a veterans memorial which I was set free to design). But that kind of freedom is rarely the case.

So you do the very best you can and feel good, as I did, when the miner bronze was unveiled and the families of the men who perished in that horrible explosion came up to me with tears in their eyes because I'd given exactly what they wanted and needed for closure. I love all types of sculpture and I think this kind of bronze memorial has its place--I certainly have no regrets and make no apologies for sculpting it.

Much creativity to you :)

Tlouis 04-02-2008 10:19 AM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
My post was directed only at the sculpture and in no way was meant to denigrate the loss of 22 miners nor the grief of their families. I sincerely apologize if I gave offense.

GlennT 04-02-2008 07:09 PM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
TLouis: This sculpture was posted under events and happenings, rather than in other parts of the forum that seem more appropriate if an artist is looking for a critique of the work. There are things that I like about it and things that I don't like about it. Out of respect for the vast body of wonderful sculpture that Paula has created, I did not feel obliged to comment on this one, especially prior to the event which had the significant meaning to those involved. Given what Paula has hinted at regarding the circumstances limiting her creative freedom, I think I made the right choice in keeping my comments to myself. Unless you have gone through a similar process, it is a lot easier to second guess the results of all of that work than to be the one responisble for fulfilling a commission. The best critique is still the reaction of those for whom it was made and the meaning it has for them.

evaldart 04-03-2008 11:21 AM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
The memorial purpose, of course fills this piece with meaning, and Paula is obviously very able as a renderer of clay and as a responsible satisfyer of of her undertakings, but Lou is right to question, within this forum, the success of the thing as a created object or as a piece of artistically directed matter.

Even as an executor of themes and narratives, we make the best art when those drivers and initiators become paled and incidental. The liberties and risks we take with form, process and composition are what will make it good. The story is only the beginning.. the enabler (the funder). The sculptor of commissioned works who works at the absolute edges of what his/her client will accept is serving ALL purposes the best. In all, the work should not simply and immediately be loved and cherished...they should first wonder whether they love it and whether or not they can, and then get hit over the head by it when the're not looking....DING! DING! Sculpture wins...everyones happy.

This is a very well done piece but I think it pays too much attention to the story.

Berinje' 04-13-2008 06:13 PM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
I agree with you completely, evaldart. However, when you make your living by sculpting and you are in competition with other sculptors for a commission, you try to give the committee what they want or you don't get the job. I was awarded this commission because I gave the enabler/committee exactly what they wanted, the other competing sculptors did not and they did not get the commission. So simply put, sometimes you need to give the enabler what they want or you don't eat. I like what Ries writes on another thread about his making a living sculpting, having his own studio, doing this work full time and that he can't always be a "purist", but at least he doesn't need to have a second job to pay the bills. I concur :)

Much creativity to you,

evaldart 04-13-2008 06:56 PM

Re: Port Huron Mining Memorial and Bronze Sculpture
Can't argue with a word of any of that Paula. I myself am often in the position of making works with the intention of satisfying a client or potential buyer, the studio must be bustling, after all, and I have found that it takes a wide array of creative approaches to be sure that everyone in my household is warm and well-fed. This forum, though, is an opportunity to speak our minds about certain artistic ideals that may or may-not be within the scope of reality. We are all aware here that there is plenty of room for growth. You have reached enviable hieghts and surely do amazing things very do not need our good wishes, for you have your ability.

the best, Matt J

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