CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — What’s harder to believe? That there’s a 20-foot tall statue of a coal miner in Shinnston, W.Va, or the fact that there are two of them only 20 miles apart?
These goliath statues were both built by retired coal miner and artist Bryan “Jimmy” Davis, who constructed the statues out of used hot water tanks. Jimmy was a skilled wood and metal worker, who had a love of motorcycles which he continued to ride into his old age.
Davis was first commissioned to build a statue for Coal Country Minature Golf in Fairmont, and later by the founder of Repair King, Phil Southern, who offered to buy a more detailed version of the statue to put outside of his workshop in Shinnston. Southern says the statue cost him around $14,000. Work on “Charlie” began in January of 1999, took five months to complete, and was dedicated on Sept. 25, 1999, to all coal miners who have lost their lives as they worked to power our state and country. The dedication plaque can be read in the slideshow below.
Phil Southern, the founder of Repair King, comes from a long line of mine workers—the “son of a son of a son,” of a coal miner. His father, Charlie, whom this statue is named after, was killed alongside 118 others in the Orient #2 mine explosion in 1951 in Franklin County, Illinois. His grandfather and great-grandfather also perished in coal mining accidents.
“The impetus behind this project was to provide a memorial to coal miners everywhere,” Southern said in a 1999 September issue of the Shinnston and Harrison county publication The News and Journal.
Independent of Southern’s family ties, Repair King is closely linked to the coal industry as a machine and part fabrication shop for industrial mining and aerospace equipment. The interior of the building is alive with movement and noise as engineers are busy creating manifolds and water nozzles used in continuous mining drills. The whole building is a reminder that the coal industry isn’t just about the people working in the mines, but the entire support structure around the industry like the people making the equipment and the locomotives that are used to haul coal across the country.
Seven Southern, Phil’s son, is acting CEO of Repair King and reminisced with his business partner Fred Fazalare about the statue’s artist Jimmy Davis before he passed away on September 25, 2021, the 22nd anniversary of his statue’s dedication.
“He was the youngest old man you’d ever meet. He never knew a stranger, he could talk to anyone,” they said.
Phil described Davis as a man who “had a lot of talent,” and was strong despite his small size.
Fazalare and Seven described a man who was larger than life and loved by everyone. Someone who will be remembered not just for his many artistic works, but also by the people he touched throughout his life.