Photo: Eben Goff, detail of The Butte Speculator, 2015, archival pigment prints, copyright the artist.

Edge Of The Abyss

June 7 2021 - September 18 2021

Artists Picturing the Berkeley Pit

Contemporary artists living and working throughout the region have a history of making creative works and actions in response to the largest open-pit mine in Montana: the Berkeley Pit in Butte. Jean Arnold, Eben Goff, Kristi Hager, Marcy James, Peter Koch in collaboration with Didier Mutel, and Nolan Salix present a dynamic range of perspectives in reaction to this undeniable feature of the Western landscape and psyche—from awe at the grandeur of landscape to concerns about land use and environmental impact.  

History of the Berkeley Pit: Mining began in Butte around 1864 and copper was discovered in 1888. Traditional underground tunnel mining gave way to large scale industrial excavation when an open pit mine was begun in July 1955 on the site of the historic Berkeley shaft, which lent its name to the pit. As the pit grew, it consumed the working-class communities of Meaderville and McQueen. Over 1.5 billion tons of material was eventually removed from the pit before it ceased operations on Earth Day in 1982. The pit measures 7,000 feet long, 5,600 feet wide with an approximate depth of 1,780 feet, and can be seen from outer space. When mining and water diversion ceased, the pit filled heavily acidic (2.5 pH level) water laden with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals leached from the rock. Called the most contaminated body of water in the nation, the pit boasts toxic levels of copper, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid. In October 2019, water from the pit was treated and released to Silver Bow Creek for the first time ever.