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The Crack Magazine

pitman painter Oliver Kilbourn_My Life as a Pitman_at Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland 2.jpg

Mining for art treasures

The 50-year career of one of the founding members of the Pitmen Painters, Oliver Kilbourn, is being celebrated at the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland.

The Ashington Group – more affectionately known as ‘The Pitman Painters’ – grew to prominence in the 1930s but their stock has never been higher than it is today. And perhaps the most celebrated of the original members is Oliver Kilbourn. This show, which features 39 of his paintings, document his career as a miner at the Ashington and Ellington Collieries. Among the paintings on display are ‘The Galloway field at Ashington Colliery’, which depicts a field full of young ponies before they were broken-in and trained to work underground; ‘Deputy’s Kist (chest or office)’, which shows an oncoming shift of fillers reporting to their deputy at his underground office (knows as a kist); and ‘Putters at the beginning of their shift leaving the stables’, a tribute to the putters who collected their ponies from the underground stables at the start of the shift. Also included in the exhibition is a newly conserved mining banner from the Ellington colliery branch that features artwork by Kilbourn. A faithful copy of the original, which dates back to 1951, the banner represents the pride in the close-knit coalfield community, and their optimism about the future. Rowan Brown, chief executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “When the Ashington Group of painters first began their exploration into the world of art in 1934, I’m sure none of them imagined they would go on to receive worldwide fame, and that their work would become an important historical record of twentieth-century coalmining in Northumberland. [This show] is a poignant look at the life of a pitman; and the role art has played in capturing, documenting, and celebrating this important part of Northumberland’s history.”

Oliver Kilbourn: My Life as a Pitman, until 15 September, Woodhorn Museum, Ashington,