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Exhibit showcases unique history of safety lessons at Trail smelter

PHOTOS: Joe Cushner created 200+ meaningful and entertaining safety-related posters

Even if you’re not an eager follower of art, the latest exhibit at the VISAC Gallery in downtown Trail will likely draw you in as its cultural relevance is just as strong today as it was 70 years ago.

“The Art of Health and Safety” featuring graphic posters by Joe Cushner, Cominco Staff Artist, opened in the Cedar Avenue studio this week, and runs until April 28.

“Trail operations artist Joe Cushner created meaningful and entertaining safety-related posters from the early 1950s through the early 1970s,” explains Sharon Roberts, VISAC executive director. “He created over 200 posters that described safety incidents, candidly pointing out causes and suggesting ways to prevent recurrences.”

The showcase came together after Deb Bain, community engagement leader for Teck Trail, approached Roberts with the idea.

First, the posters were copied because the originals are fragile after years of hanging in the Trail plant.

Next, Roberts was presented with the challenge of hanging such unique art pieces — all unframed — so they would pack a punch with gallery viewers.

After much consideration, Roberts decided to go back to the basics.

She pinned them up with tacks just like the posters would have been hung back in the day.

“There is so much history with Teck, so this exhibit is very community-minded,” Roberts says. “It bridges the gap for those who wouldn’t see themselves coming to an art gallery … We are hoping a lot of people come in and say, ‘I remember these posters’ …”

Joe Cushner celebrated 30 years of employment at Cominco in December 1973. After that his trail runs cold.

As part of the exhibition, the gallery is holding a youth health and safety poster contest.

Young artists are invited to design their own health and safety poster leading up to national Occupational Health and Safety Month in May. Poster templates can be picked up at VISAC and a digital download will soon be available.

Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, noon until 4 p.m.

From archived Cominco magazine:

Rated one of the most successful safety “happenings” at Cominco, the IT HAPPENED! posters appear regularly on all 230 company notice boards. They illustrate and describe incidents and accidents, candidly pointing out causes and suggesting ways to prevent recurrences.

The series was launched in 1952. Since then, artist Joe Cushner has turned out about 200 originals from which the posters were reproduced.

Their appeal depends a great deal on Joe’s ability as a cartoonist. Safety supervisor Dave Haggarty says, “We could do detailed writeups but, even well written, they wouldn’t have anything like the impact of the cartoons. So we keep words to a minimum and let the sketches tell the story.”

Some stories have been hard to tell. Joe recalls one early assignment in which he had to portray the inside of a mine cage or elevator in motion. It seems some miners loaded diamond drill rods on the cage without securing them.

They caught on timbering in the shaft as the cage travelled between levels, pulling the rods out very quickly and breaking the cagetender’s leg.

“I had to do a cutaway, not only of the solid rock in the mine but of the cage itself,” Joe says. “It was a real stinker!”

From archived Cominco magazine (see photo gallery attached) :

We think we have made a discovery, as the caricatures show that Joe has ability of no mean order.

It seems that for months he has been delighting his workmates with draw ings depicting them at work or in their most revealing poses. Finally it came to the attention of Cominco that here was something worth looking in to, so we asked Joe to prepare a couple of samples for reproduction in the magazine. Here are the results and we think you’ll agree they are first class jobs (see photo gallery).

On the opposite page our artist has depicted George Woods at work on the slag boiler. George is well known to all Trailites through his active sup port of all kinds of sports. In the summer time he gives much of his time to refereeing ball games, as well as being one of the more active mem bers of the softball executive of Shaver’s Bench. In the winter, hockey is his great passion and George is to be seen at all the senior hockey games, where lie acts as timekeeper. On the job, he is responsible for the maintenance and repair of all the equipment in the steam plant. Although he looks as if he’s going to bash something with the hammer, actually he cares for the steam boilers and auxiliaries with loving care.

Below we see another steam man, this time Jack Moffatt of the Warfield steam plant (see photo gallery). Jack is a stean engineer and a good one. Although his attitude here seems to be one of boredom, it’s actually one of slight frustration. The gee-gees in the back ground supply the answer. Jack is known for his weakness for a bit of a “flutter” on the horses. One day the boys in the plant dreamed up the idea of sending him a telegram saying he’d won some big racing sweep. It all went over very smoothly, and Jack had ideas of abandoning the job of generating b.t.u.’s for ever and retiring to the sunny south with his millions. Before he got so far as to put in his resignation, the perpetrators of the joke broke down and confessed. The cads!

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Sheri Regnier

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