From Deep Mining to High-Tech - A Mosaic of Trbovlje and Zasavje

By Jana Petkovšek Štakul and Carsten Frederiksen, Dewesoft 

Nothing can stop development and change, and the former mining region in Slovenia, Zasavje, is once again undergoing a transformation. Until the early 1990’s it gave bread to thousands of miners, and most of the industry in the main town, Trbovlje was tied to the mines. 

At the turn of the millennium when the brown coal began to run out only some 300 people still worked for the mines, but since then new municipal and government initiatives have been taken and technology companies like Dewesoft are emerging - and transforming the region.

The Designer – Giving New Life to Coal

A young designer from Zasavje, Marjeta Hribar, makes sure that the mining tradition and the value of coal do not disappear. Making handmade coal jewelry she shares the eco-friendly message: “Wear it, don't burn it!” Under the brand Kuolmi, the rock, coal is now even embedded in bottles, wall clocks, book indexes, tie pins, and adorn footwear.

Marjeta Hribar mining the coal for her jewelry collectionDressed for the job - Marjeta Hribar is designing jewelry and accessories with coal.

The small smiling young mother and creator of coal jewelry from Izlake is the granddaughter of a miner. Now she is breathing new life into the more than 10 million years old material, which shaped the development of the region for more than two centuries. She feels at best in her workshop, where she only invites very few visitors.

Shining coal

A lot of people ask me, how is it that coal shines so brightly? Basically, it’s its natural glow, like stones glow when we wet them. So, I will bring it back. The first attempts at coal design were a failure,

says the designer. She immediately realized that simple varnishing would not work. “The material is alive, still breathing, and has the properties of wood and stone”.

Finding the right way to prepare it so it could shine with the sun took her almost two years. She tried freezing and heating - everything possible to make friends with coal. “It can still surprise me today because each piece was created under slightly different conditions”, she says. “Now I treat the coal with natural resins, which gives it the opportunity to one day go back to where it came from - to Mother Nature. This ecological way of designing is an important guideline for the vision of the future I stick to”.

Bookmark with a heart of shining coal Made by Kuolmi - a bookmark with a heart of shining coal (Photo: Marjeta Hribar).

Marjeta is also an advocate of cooperation and co-creates new projects with other like-minded entrepreneurs and companies that support a local and sustainable economy. In 2017, working with More Than Beauty, organizing the national contest Miss Slovenia, she created a new crown, giving a special dark shine, to be worn by the winning beauty queen, and in cooperation with the Slovenian footwear manufacturer, Alpina, she created coal-based jewelry to adorn a selection of new boots.

Coal is home 

"My emotional attachment to coal is focused on coal as the material we love and which in the past represented bread and heart", says Marjeta. “For me, coal is above all something that is readily here, but I point to new qualities, look at different angles, and draw from them the best to connect the past and the future”. When she was little, she liked holding warm coal in her hands - coal means home to her: “Everything about it was home to me, and my grandparents taught me that it was worthy of respect".

We must not deny our past, but we can transform it. Instead of discovering new things, we can find additional value in what we already have,

says Marjeta Hribar.

The Miner Hero – Honoring the Heritage

The miner Prometheus, an eight-meter-high monument in remembrance of more than 200 years of mining is now erected in Trbovlje to be officially revealed later this year. A monument to the generations of Zasavje people who worked hard to ensure the survival of families and the development of the region.

Sculpture of the miner called PrometheusA miner Prometheus sculpture designed by sculptor Zoran Poznič is placed in Trbovlje and looking to the mine.

This the largest commemorative sculpture in Slovenia is made by the sculptor Zoran Poznič and his assistants. The initiative was introduced years ago by Ivan Berger, a longtime director of the mine. With the Trbovlje-Hrastnik mine definitively drying up, it seems a good time to erect a monument.

The icon of fire and  knowledge

In Greek mythology, Prometheus is punished by Zeus for stealing the fire and giving it to humans to help them in life’s struggle. Zeus tortured Prometheus - bound him with chains, and sent an eagle to eat Prometheus' immortal liver every day, which then grew back every night. Years later, the Greek hero Heracles, with Zeus' permission, killed the eagle and freed Prometheus from this torment.

Sketches of the sculpture PrometheusSketches of the miner Prometheus sculpture.

Prometheus became a god of fire and a representation of human striving, the skills of civilization, such as writing, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, and science. He is seen as a representation of the quest for knowledge and revolutionary defiance - but also of the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In Trbovlje, the impressive mining Prometheus sculpture will shine self-sufficient solar cells - illuminated from the inside. His headlight will shine across the valley to the entrance of the mine shaft, where it will illuminate the mining coat of arms on the tower.

Marjeta Hribar has made the heart of this Prometheus – naturally of coal.

For me, it’s personal satisfaction to be a part of this project. The more I thought about him, the more I wanted to embody the duality of this life in our ends. There was always talk only of male heroes suffering underground. However, these heroes were only able to survive thanks to their wives. That is why this heart has two halves - which are connected and beat with the same rhythm,

Marjeta explains.

Marjeta Hribar working on her coal heart of sculpture PrometheusMarjeta Hribar working on her heart of coal for the miner Prometheus.

New identity for Trbovlje

"With blisters and sweat, our ancestors laid the foundations for three towns, which are changing from former mining towns to high-tech and advanced cities," says Karel Vukovič, head of the group for the erection of the monument within the Trbovlje New Media Setting Association (Trbovlje Novomedijsko Mesto association, TNM).

TNM was set up in 2009 as a comprehensive and wide-ranging program intended to establish a new-media-arts-sensitive culture in the former industrial town of Trbovlje and the wider Zasavje region. It aims to create a network featuring various central people in the arts and heritage scenes as well as with those working in science, technology, and tourism. "We did not ask anyone for money, the people of Zasavje funded and erected the monument themselves", says Karel.

TNM relies on a strong tradition of technical intelligence on the one hand and cultural and artistic avant-garde on the other. The goal is to achieve a breakthrough in all these areas through the synthesis of technology, science, art, and economic initiative, and in the long run, to offer the residents of Trbovlje a new identity - the first association with the name Trbovlje shall no longer be of mining past and failed industry, but high technology, robots, new media art.

Marjeta thinks the statue will appeal even to the younger generation:

Prometheus will not need an explanation, because it skips time frames. Given that the basis of work is from the past, it is driven h the present, and with all the virtual technology, it connects all time frames. Everyone will look for the part of the story that is closest or most related to them.



By Jana Petkovšek Štakul and Carsten Frederiksen, Dewesoft