Life of Christ Museum and Coal ChapelHoward McDaniel (b. 1932)




Grafton, West Virginia, 26354, United States

About the Artist/Site

The Appalachian Region of the United States is practically synonymous with coal mining. The state of West Virginia holds the title of being the second highest coal producer in the United States. Within the Mountain State, coal plays a variety of different roles aside from the standard energy source. In the town of Grafton, WV, Howard McDaniel used the compressed carbon rocks to create unique decorations and structures. McDaniel’s first foray into coal art was the coal chapel, built over 7 years using 20 tons of coal, according to McDaniel in a 1981 interview with the local Grafton newspaper “The Mountain Statesman.” The chapel was one of a handful of coal buildings located within West Virginia, the most prominent being the Coal House in Williamsburg which to this day hosts the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The coal artistry was a team effort for the McDaniel family, with all 8 members pitching in to help with the gluing of coal to everyday objects that eventually made their way into the family’s living room. Howard’s wife Billie discussed the complexity of working with coal, mentioning the difficulties of keeping the coal fragments glued in place during the drying period. Supposedly, one of the most laborious projects was the completion of a coal-covered sewing machine; still in working order. McDaniel preferred to chip the coal into smaller pieces for a more appealing visual, which adds another level of difficulty in crafting the objects. In a quote to the Mountain Statesman, Billie stated that “the littler it is, the longer it takes to make anything.” 

From silverware, a guitar, a fish tank, flowerpots, and children's toys, inside the Mcdaniel household no object was safe from a coal encrusting. A centerpiece within the coal chapel was a coal child-size coffin, complete with a doll lying in repose inside. The chapel achieved a reputation as a fascinating destination for tourists from around the world, bringing in visitors to see a monument of West Virginia’s state rock, honoring the life of Jesus Christ and the mineral-coated mission of Howard McDaniel. 

~Nikki Ranney, 2023


Bartlett, Marvin. “Coal Art Draws National Attention.” The Mountain Statesman. December 1981.


cinder block, dolls, plastic flowers, rock

SPACES Archives Holdings

1 folder: clippings, correspondence, and images

Map & Site Information

Grafton, West Virginia, 26354 us
Latitude/Longitude: 39.3409249 / -80.0189659

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