The UK’s first gallery dedicated to Mining Art opens in Bishop Auckland on October 21, here’s some of the artworks they will be featuring
You may have heard of the Pitmen Painters, the group of colliers from Northumberland who took up their brushes in the 1930s and became a mini art movement that spawned exhibitions, a book and, eventually, a West End play. But the connection between art and the mines runs much deeper than the group from Ashington, as a new gallery in Bishop Auckland is hoping to show.
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The Mining Art Gallery is part of a major regeneration of Bishop Auckland, centred around the historic Auckland Castle and is the UK’s first gallery dedicated to Mining Art. There mining related artworks in collections across the UK – notably the Pitmen Painters collection at Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland – but the new gallery aims to explore the wider development of Mining Art as a form of self-expression and highlight its unique place within British art history.
Featuring works that came out of the Spennymoor Settlement – another local mining arts community founded in the 1930s that was home to acclaimed artists Norman Cornish and Tom McGuinness – the gallery also shows important works by miners from across Northumberland, Yorkshire and Wales, as well as artists looking at the mining industry from the outside.
The core of the gallery’s holding is the Gemini Collection, containing over 420 paintings and works on paper gifted by Bob McManners and Gillian Wales, who have spent three decades locating, recording and buying Mining Art.
In the 1990s McManners and Wales began writing their first publication ‘The Art of an Underground Miner’ about Tom McGuinness, who Wales met whilst working in Bishop Auckland library and during their extensive research into the biography they began to uncover more mining artists and identified an urgent need save the art as it was in real danger of being lost.
They have since purchased hundreds of works on the subject and have become leading experts, writing numerous publications including the definitive book on Mining Art, Shafts of Light: Mining Art in the Great Northern Coalfield.
Over the last two decades, the pair have shaped the Gemini Collection into one of the most significant collections of mining art in Britain, revealing the remarkable creative energy of the mining community, especially in their local area.
Comprising over 420 artworks the collection encompasses painting, drawing and printmaking and begins in the Victorian era with the first paintings depicting miners in their surroundings – from mining company commissions offering a romanticised view of the industry to Henry Perlee Parker’s Pitmen at Play (1850), which was one of the first paintings to realistically convey the conditions endured by miners.
But at the heart of the gallery, which is staffed largely by local volunteers, including Corinne Aspel, the daughter of Tom McGuinness, is the work of the mining artists themselves, which say the organisers “offers a unique opportunity not only to see, but feel what it was like to be a part of the mining community”.
Paintings by artists including Tom McGuinness, Ted Holloway, Tom Lamb and Bob Olley evoke the claustrophobia and fear of life underground, whilst works by Norman Cornish, Jimmy Floyd and David Venables reveal the spirit and energy of the community which sustained life above ground.
The Mining Art Gallery is situated within the Old Bank Chambers in Bishop Auckland’s Market Square. The historic market town, which has been the seat of the Prince Bishops of Durham since the 12th century, grew significantly during the Industrial Revolution due to the rapid expansion of coal mining in the Durham area, with the industry lying at the heart of the town’s economy until its decline in the late 20th century.
A range of educational activities and community events inspired by the artwork on display, is designed to explore this impact of mining and the evolution of mining art while an ongoing research and development programme will be documenting the history of the region, giving a voice to those at the centre of the mining community.
The Mining Art Gallery open in Bishop Auckland on October 21 2017. See www.aucklandcastle.org/Mining-Art-Gallery for more.