Arthur strives to balance aesthetics, functionality, and quality with costs when planning DIY projects in the home and garden.
Art Décor in Coal
I believe that handcrafted coal ornaments are a brilliant use of this natural material. With the skill that goes into making them (often by ex-miners), coal ornaments provide good bang for the buck and, when displayed with your other ornaments, looks great.
Appreciation for handcrafted and carved objects made from natural materials is almost as old as mankind itself—only cave art predates carved wood, stone, and bone art.
I'd like to show our modest collection of hand-carved coal ornaments to offer you a chance to share in the delight of this art. If you're searching for gift ideas, handcrafted coal ornaments make an extraordinary gift for anyone who appreciates fine art.
Our Modest Coal Figurine Collection
Quality Over Quantity
It all started with the hand-carved 'horse' I picked up from a motorway service station between Bristol and London for my wife. It was purchased many years ago, not too long after the British coal mining industry had been decimated by the then incumbent government during a power struggle with unions.
My wife quickly warmed to the hand-carved horse. Now, whenever we travel around the UK, we always keep an eye open for coal ornaments to add to our collection. It's not often that we see them, but when we do, we often find something to add to our collection.
Our collection is still modest with just four coal figurines: a horse, a squirrel, a Welsh woman, and a Welsh coal miner. All the figurines are made from Welsh coal, often by ex-coal miners.
- The horse was the first of our collection.
- The squirrel is just cute.
- The Welsh lady is the most eloquent piece.
- The coalminer pushing a coal wagon is my favourite one.
I will share more about them with you below.
Animals Handcrafted From Coal
Animals are cute. In comparison with the Welsh woman and coal miner, the handmade horse and squirrel are simply formed. Nevertheless, I find them appealing in their own right.
I love nature, so an opportunity to buy models of animals made from coal and add them to our collection is always a pleasure.
3. Welsh Lady
A Welsh Ornament of Beauty
The Welsh lady figurine from coal depicts a woman in traditional costume standing in front of a sign that reads "croeso y cymru" which translates in English to 'Welcome to Wales'.
As depicted on the base of the ornament, the figurine of the Welsh Woman was made in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales by Creative Innovations. The coal was mined from Tower Colliery, which is the last working deep mine in Wales.
4. Welsh Coal Miner
Welsh Coal Miner
A Welsh Ornament Depicting the History and Roots of the Modern Age
The Welsh coal miner is my favourite. He is depicted pushing a coal wagon and is shown in exquisite detail. You can even see the individual lumps of coal. It's rather poignant in that the model of a miner pushing a coal wagon is itself made from a lump of coal. This figurine is even more emotive in what it represents: a dying industry that not too long ago was a powerhouse upon which traditional British Industries (e.g. the steel and ship-building industries) drew their strength. Coal was the foundation upon which Britain was built, providing the energy for the Industrial Revolution, fuel for the steam age in the Victorian era, heat in homes of the populace in modern Britain, and energy for the electricity that powered industry and home alike for over a century.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a 3D model of a coal miner conveys a thousand meanings.
Coal as a Fossil Fuel
The Power Struggle of Coal
Coal, like oil, is a fossil fuel which, in the current climate of 'greenhouse effect,' is a dirty word due to the gases released during its use. Britain was fortunate in sitting on a large oil and natural gas reserve in the North Sea just off the west coast of Scotland although the limited reserves are being depleted. However, Britain is sitting on 200 years worth of untapped coal reserves under our feet that's not being mined—under the current political climate, it isn't likely to be mined for the following reasons:
- The first and main reason is the so-called greenhouse effect. Burning coal in traditional coal power stations to produce electricity releases vast amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere. However, the technology exists that could be further developed to filter out and collect these pollutants. Many of these pollutants could be reused as a by-product beneficially in other manufacturing processes.
- The second reason for ceasing large-scale coal mining in Britain is the increased cost of digging increasingly deep seams of coal from the ground. At the same time, I'm sure with advancements in modern technology and political will that most technical issues can be overcome and coal production can be made more cost-effective.
- The third and (I think) real underlying reason why the coal industry was decimated in the 1980s in the UK was purely political. At the time, coal was the prime power source for running British industry, providing most of the electricity needs for commercial properties and domestic homes alike. This high level of dependence on coal for power gave the coal miners the potential power to bring the country to its knees during an industrial dispute.
The Future of Renewable Energies
Research and Development
I don't know what your views are on 'climate change.' Being of a scientific mind and taking an interest in such subjects, I'm aware that climate changes with or without human intervention; at this time without human influence, we would likely be edging towards another ice age period. As I'm cold intolerant, I know my preference is towards heat rather than cold.
During the dinosaur era, the planet was a lot hotter than it is now even though sea levels were also far higher. The dinosaurs not only survived during this hot phase in the earth's climate, but they also thrived. It's not so much climate change in itself that can be devastating, but more the rate of change. A rapid change in climate can be disastrous, whereas slow changes give time for ecosystems (including us in our environment) to adapt. This could include moving to higher ground and reclaiming land previously covered by ice.
While alternatives to fossil fuels are being developed, I think there is still room for research and development to deliver clean fuel from coal. It wouldn't be cheap, but neither is the building and decommissioning of the favored nuclear-power stations around the world. In my view, the risk and potential radioactive devastation from nuclear power are far greater than the greenhouse effects of fossil fuel. There's also a greater potential for renewable energy sources in Britain that isn't being tapped mainly due to the lack of populous and political will.
Britain isn't exactly a sunny climate, so there are limits with solar power. With advancements in solar panel technology, it can be economically viable to utilise roofs, especially ones that are south-facing. In the UK, energy providers are under a legal obligation from the government to pay the householder for any surplus energy the homeowner produces. The surplus energy fed back into the national grid could be used elsewhere.
Where Britain has a potential for a win/win and yet underutilised energy source is water and wind power. Britain is a wet and windy land surrounded by high seas—many of our fast flowing waterways are under-tapped. I know many people think there aren't many suitable rivers and would argue that you can't build watermills in built-up areas. However, Britain is overflowing with rivers and, as the Victorians and their predecessors demonstrated, you don't need large fast-flowing rivers to economically and commercially extract usable energy from water.
- For example, Uley in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire (where I lived in my childhood years) is a prime example of what can be achieved when there is the political and economic will. It's a small village with a population of just 1,000 people and no rivers. There are many springs feeding small streams, yet during the 18th and 19th century, over ten commercial watermills were built specifically to generate waterpower for the woolen industry. If the Victorians and the people before them could tap into water power at that small scale and make it commercially pay off, I'm sure we could do a better job with today's technology.
Transition from Fossil Fuel
Although the technologies for clean and renewable energy is here, it’s obvious that it’s going to take time before wind, water, and solar power are fully established to provide all our energy needs. In the meantime, we could continue burning fossil fuels and spend serious money into research and development to more efficiently extract unwanted greenhouse gases during the burning process so fewer pollutants reach the atmosphere. Otherwise, we could continue building more nuclear power stations at the risk of contaminating the world with radiation.
Until renewable energy is fully established, I believe we should rely more on fossil fuels for power.
Questions & Answers
Question: How do you clean coal figurines?
Answer: I just dust ours, but a damp cloth with soapy water should also be fine.
Question: I would like to organize a kids DIY event where kids can make their own coal figurine. What is the process and what do we need? Do you have molds for sale?
Answer: That's a good question. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the figurines are made from coal dust mixed with resin, and set in a mold, I presume similar to candle making and making figurines with plaster of Paris. Therefore, a crafts shop that sells plaster of Paris (or candle molds) might be a good start, e.g., potentially using plaster of Paris molds to set the coal dust and resin mix!
I hope this is of some help or gives you some ideas. If you do find a more definitive answer, I’d be interested in hearing it.
Your views and comments on coal as a fossil fuel and cool coal ornaments
anonymous on July 05, 2013:
Climate change is nothing to do with the human race. It's caused by cycles that the earth goes through and has done for billions of years!
soaringsis on February 07, 2013:
This is new to me (coal ornaments), very fascinating and beautiful pieces. Thanks for sharing.