Journey from the coal face to acclaimed Pitman Painter

PITMAN PAINTER: Artist Norman Cornish in his Spennymoor studio

PITMAN PAINTER: Artist Norman Cornish in his Spennymoor studio

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Shildon and Spennymoor)

AS the eldest of nine children born in a North-East pit town, Norman Cornish used his experience of life in the coalfields to create the honest, characterful paintings that made his name.

He was born on November 18, 1919 in Oxford Street, Spennymoor, and a short time later the family moved to the town's Bishop’s Close Street, where their house had no bathroom or toilet.

Leaving school and with his father unemployed, Norman had little option but to shelve his dreams of university, and he started work as a miner aged 14 on Boxing Day 1933.

His daily three mile journey along the pit road to the Dean and Chapter Colliery, in Ferryhill later featured in his paintings.

Norman had started drawing aged just four and his true calling was already stirring in him. He joined the Spennymoor Settlement in his home town as a 15-year-old.

The settlement, which became known as The Pitman's Academy, was set up between the two world wars to provide a place for the unemployed and poor to meet and learn skills.

Norman’s ability was soon spotted and he came under the tutorage of Bill Farrell.

Attempts to raise money to send him to art school failed and Norman seemed destined to spend his life at the coal face.

He had some success and in 1946 he had his first solo display when he exhibited at the Green Room, in the People’s Theatre, in Newcastle.

Then in 1966 aged 46 he decided to take the plunge and left the mines determined to become a full-time painter.

It proved a struggle initially but then his breakthrough came with a show at the Stone Gallery, in Newcastle, in 1967 and from there he never looked back, with his work reflecting every day life in North-East pit communities winning widespread acclaim.

Norman, who lived with his wife Sarah in Spennymoor, had a son John, and daughter Ann.

He was honoured in 2007 when the Queen awarded him an MBE for services to art.

Recently discovered long forgotten sketches and paintings found in his Spennymoor studio went on show at Greenfield Community College, Newton Aycliffe recently.

There is also a display of his work at Northumbria University, in Newcastle, and the Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle.

Three years ago, in an interview with the BBC, Norman recalled a conversation he had had with his friend and contemporary LS Lowry: “I remember we talked about what happened to an artist when he died. His work — was it forgotten or was it going to be cherished?”

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