Mining art to go on display in County Durham

Auckland Castle Trust are helping with the project Credit: PA images

A disused building in County Durham is being transformed into an art gallery to celebrate the region's industrial past.

The former Old Bank Chambers Building at the Market Place will become 'The Mining Art Gallery' - a dedicated space showcasing paintings by former miners depicting life underground.

Construction will begin this autumn, with the gallery due to open in August 2017.

It's the brainchild of Gillian Wales and Dr Robert McManners OBE, founders of the Gemini Collection of Mining Art, who have taken on the project with the Auckland Castle Trust.

Dr Robert McManners OBE says it's important to celebrate County Durham's coalfield heritage, which is "rapidly disappearing from living memory."

“Mining art is a vital aspect of coalfield heritage, which had not been properly valued and was rapidly disappearing from living memory. During five years of research for the book Shafts of Light, where we recorded and evaluated the work of more than 70 coalfield artists, many of whom had not been previously acknowledged in print, we realised that it was essential that this work be collected for future study and appreciation – and this we did. Now, after more than twenty years of collecting, Gillian and I have acquired over 300 pictures, as well as further pieces of three-dimensional art, which allow us to understand the language of the mining artist. Through imagery they tell us what it felt like to work in the coalmines, not simply what it looked like. In this mining artists are unique and we find no equivalent corpus of experiential art from any of the other heavy industries that flourished in the North East in the twentieth century. Coal shaped not only the demography but also the value-systems held in the North East. It has defined the region's character and we owe it to those in our coal industry, that great driver of the Industrial Revolution, to permanently celebrate their art and understand why, even for their leisure, the miner felt it necessary to paint that same dark, clamorous, claustrophobic arcane world, denied to our gaze, where he had just spent a perilous shift of frightening physical toil.

Dr Robert McManners OBE, co-founder of the Gemini Collection