1. ITV Report

New exhibition mines region's industrial past

Gallery employee Kathryn Wilson views a bronze sculpture titled Miner by artist Alistair Brookes during a press preview of the Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. Credit: PA

The country's first museum dedicated to coal miners' art is opening, showcasing the pitmen's desire to tell the hidden story of their lives underground.

The Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has gathered 420 pieces, including paintings, drawings and prints.

Miners' art has its own place in British history for its depiction of a way of life which has now disappeared.

Artists featured in the gallery include Tom McGuinness whose work evokes the claustrophobic feeling of being deep underground.

Others on show include Norman Cornish, who celebrated the sense of spirit found in mining communities and their lives away from the pit.

Among the artists on show was Bob Olley, 77, whose Westoe Netty painting has become a symbol of the North East.

Artist Robert Olley is pictured with his work The Last Drop, 2007, Oil on canvas, on display during a press preview of the Mining Art Gallery in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. Credit: PA

He felt that mining had led to a genre of art which other heavy industries like shipbuilding or steel had not inspired.

The South Shields artist, who worked underground for 11 years before becoming a professional painter, said: "If you look at a coal mine, you can only see half of it, which is the top half.

"In days gone by, before cameras and mobile phones, you couldn't show people 'that's what I do at work'.<

"People had to describe what they did, they would do a sketch and say 'That's the sort of thing I do'.

"I think that may be part of why there's so many people who came out of coal mining being artists.

"We are lucky because we have had the exposure, but there must have been thousands of other people in the industry that didn't, and nobody has seen their work."

The gallery has been a long held ambition of local GP Robert McManners and Gillian Wales, authors on mining art who have built up a major collection over the past 20 years.

Dr McManners said Mr McGuinness was a patient of his who had shown huge determination to learn to paint, walking miles to get home from night classes after a shift down the pit.

Ms Wales, a former librarian, was delighted with the gallery, but admitted to feeling "empty nest syndrome" seeing the paintings in a new home.

The new gallery is part of a wider drive to increase tourism to Bishop Auckland, including the Kynren historical spectacle which launched in 2016 and a display of priceless Spanish art which will open in the future.