the people and the project
This multifaceted art project was built by a team of 25+ volunteers from Texas, West Virginia, California, Washington State, as well as an indomitable volunteer from France. It was funded by personal donations from dozens of individuals across the United States, as well as a 2017 Art Honorarium grant from the Burning Man Arts Foundation.
In 2017, the project focused on building a 29’ tall wooden sculpture at Black Rock City, Nevada, for Burning Man 2017. After 4 months of modularized construction by the Deviled Angels build crew in Houston TX, the sculpture was transported for assembly to Black Rock City, Nevada. It was built oriented on the meridian between sunrise and The Man (center of the city), located at 1100’ feet from The Man. The assemblage resembled a woman in a white dress standing amidst the hills of Appalachia, carrying a Korean-inspired drum in her right hand and her left her raised in the peace sign. Her flowing black hair, eyes, and parts of the hills around her were coated with Pocahontas bituminous coal. An imitation mountaintop-removal coal mine was cut into the hills of her dress to the north, and an imitation subsurface mine shaft was built inside her body with a side entrance, leading to a vaulted interior room lined with the silhouettes of extinct tree species (Carboniferous-aged forests, circa 300 million years ago). In this room stood an 8’ tall black angel sculpture, coated completely in glittering Pocahontas bituminous coal fragments.
With final approval of the Burning Man Fire Arts Safety Team (FAST), the artist and crew assembled with 73 volunteers to hold a perimeter of about 150’ around the sculpture at midnight on Friday, Sept. 1, and set the sculpture on fire with an audience of about 2,000 people (including more than 25 art cars). After 20 minutes of burning, the piece transformed from a monumental effigy into its angel form, as the effigy form of the piece burned away completely to reveal the angel surrounded by flames. The angel remained unburnt and cooled overnight to be visited in the morning, seen in silhouette against the rising sun on September 2.
The project also incorporated 15 years of writings on the transformational experiences of grief revealed and inspired by angelic presence, in the form of a book offered as a project memento titled “Margareta Appalachia.”
The 1990 film “Margaret” by John D. McCormick was also offered as a memento (DVD copy). This film shares much more about the fiery, Harley-Davidson-riding, Korean-American restaurant owner and peacemaker from West Virginia -- the project’s spirited inspiration -- Margaret Eileen Eros Shifflet. A short version of this film can be found on Youtube.