Environmental Reclamation Artist Angelo Ciotti

My hope is that all who read this will join in relating humanity to earth once again.

-Angelo Ciotti

As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, I was fascinated by the large spoil dumps (abandoned coal mine refuse) that dotted the landscape.

These massive mounds of unearthed volcanic-looking rock made a sharp contrast to nearby lush, green valleys. This picture of nature, laid waste by the careless, formed an indelible mark on me and it became the impetus for my imagination.

This negative (subjective) transformation of the earth's crust carried implications of an alternative positive approach involving the transformation of mining induced scares.

Ten years of study and travel throughout Europe and North Africa revealed attitudes toward the earth that were much different. In other parts of the world, there was spiritual value in the earth, of merely an economic one that led to exploitation. Primitive structures such as Stonehenge, stupa and burial mounds seemed to speak of this deeper value. Even the Italian formal gardens give voice to a spirit of life that is earth.

I have been teaching at the college level since 1970. During this time I have found it more valuable to see art as an active means for change than as a technique to be learned. My approach takes the student back through the ages to the changes that took place from the Mesolithic to Neolithic times when the human sense of earth was pure; I want to teach humans the pure spirit of the Mesolithic and Neolithic shapes before the planet was contaminated.

In 1972, I began work on a surface mine that had been abandoned for 13 years and had become desolate through the relentless erosion of silt. Through the simple placement of rock earth-works, the flow of silt was stopped; soon enough topsoil was accumulated to support vegetation. The guiding principle for this project was to bring life back to a dead earth through the creation of functional earth-works. Today vegetation has spread over the six acres.

Since 1973, my interest in Primitive burial grounds has been theoretically important in my sculpture. The mounds symbolize the human bond with the earth; the dead body is given back to the earth for the rejuvenation of life.

The Twin Stupas Project was first conceived in 1977 as a prospective massive reclamation of an abandoned surface mine.

Each of these works embodies concepts crucial to farming, construction, leisure activities, and for the preservation and enjoyment of wildlife. Each piece is a monument that offers itself not as the art of a museum, but rather the object of a pilgrimage.

Our main concern in coal-rich Pennsylvania is to address the problems presented by abandoned surface mines, and to solve them in a functional way at a minimum cost. Many problems must be addressed: water quality, erosion protective cover and hazards to health and safety. The most detrimental effect of the abandoned mine surface is the result of its high-walls and the spoil bands. These problems can be dealt with effectively by benching the high-walls, saving what plant life is present, planting pines, and revegetating the spoil dump with what I call “positive” and “negative” planting. By working with the contour of the land there would be less earth to move. Functional earth-works could be accomplished in cooperation with the soil conservation service, forestry’s, youth services, sportsmen’s clubs, and other interested citizens. It should be a community project.

The pragmatic concepts that I envision present possible plans for reclaiming surface mines even while the coal is being removed. In essence, my work style is similar to Michelangelo’s: The great sculptor is said to have come upon blocks of marble, and having spotted on that he liked, he said “I see an angel in that block, and I must let him out.” In the same spirit I see in the residual material of coal mining a potential that can and must be released.

Art is, in the final analysis, an art of ethics; I am concerned about the relationship of humanity to the earth.

Albert Schweitzer once said: “The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with the relation of man to man.” With my Art we are called to relate once again to the earth, to love it, and to rejoice in all its possibilities.

© 2009. All rights reserved. Contact Angelo Ciotti by email.
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