Can you dig the art of mining?

A new exhibition of art inspired by the mining industry opened at Monkwearmouth Station Museum last weekend Saturday 21 March 2015 and will run until Sunday 1 November 2015

“The Art of Mining” exhibition comes from several talented artists who began their working lives in the mining industry. It celebrates the once essential and powerful workforce and vividly illustrates the working environment of coalminers through their own interpretation of life in and around the North East of England. Viewers are encouraged to experience through the artists’ eyes the severe working conditions and social climate of the time.

Councillor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture said: “Much of our recent local history is founded in the mining industry. Its 22 years since Wearmouth Colliery, the last in Sunderland, closed and I believe everyone should take time to appreciate the role mining played in shaping today’s city.”

The first significant mining operations in the city were around Houghton and Hetton and began around 1820. Wearmouth Colliery or Pemberton Main as it was then known was begun in 1826. Eight years later it finally struck the coal seam at 1,578 feet below sea level, making it the deepest mine in the world at that time. By 1960 there were almost 40 miles of underground roadway and a coal-face 3½ miles from the shaft bottom. The pit employed around 2,000 men and output reached 11,500 tons a week. Even in the 1960’s the colliery employed 42 pit ponies.

Cllr Kelly added:” The legacy is still felt throughout Sunderland and the wider region. It is great to see that such an important part of our local history, a history we should be truly proud of, can still engender inspiration. I encourage everyone to go along and see the fantastic results inspired by this once great industry.”

The Great Northern Coalfield of Durham and Northumberland once had over 400 collieries and directly employed about 250,000 people, their working lives are now rapidly becoming no more than a memory.

Images of mining were made by the Egyptians as early as 1500 BC and underground scenes have been captured by renowned artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, J.M.W. Turner and Henry Moore. In the 20th century, artist collectives like the Ashington Group and Spennymoor Settlement, provided opportunities for the ordinary miner to express himself and from these have sprung popular ‘Pitmen Painters’ such as Tom McGuinness and Norman Cornish.

This exhibition continues the tradition with paintings and drawings inspired by the miners, collieries and communities of the North East.

Artist Rick Smith, at 65 the youngest of the group, added:” I believe that mining was unique among the heavy industries in producing so many artists keen to record their everyday lives and companions. Some like Norman Cornish and Tom McGuiness have become famous nationally and beyond, and others like the Ashington Group became famous through works of authors and playwrights, each united by a desire to share their experiences.

“This new exhibition shows selected works by five of the few remaining artists with direct links to the industry. Everyone is self-taught, and their works are highly individual, using media such as oils, water colours, charcoal and papier mache. As the local mining industry becomes little more than a memory, the artists too will fade away, but I hope our work remains to record a hard and often unforgiving way of life.”

Monkwearmouth Station Museum is housed in an outstanding grade 2* listed 1840s station building, commissioned by the famous railway entrepreneur George Hudson, displaying many original features such as the ticket booths, fireplaces and shuttered windows.

Find out more about the ‘Art of Mining’ exhibition.

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Did you know?

Mowbray Park in Sunderland city centre is one of the oldest parks in the North East. Restored to its former Victorian splendour, it has an intriguing array of art works.

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