FOUR paintings by south Durham mining artist Tom McGuinness are to go under the hammer in North Yorkshire next month.

They were purchased directly from the artist by his lifelong friend, Sidney Lockey, who went to school with him in Witton Park, near Bishop Auckland.

McGuinness left school in 1940 and was conscripted into the mines as a Bevin Boy, starting his 39 year career.

However, his colliery training officer spotted him drawing on the side of coal tubs, and encouraged him to enrol in the Darlington School of Art in 1944. In 1948, he joined the Spennymoor Settlement – a miners’ education and recreation organisation – and came into the circle of writer Sid Chaplin and artist Norman Cornish.

The Northern Echo: Working at the Coal Face by Tom McGuinnessWorking at the Coal Face, by Tom McGuinness, with an estimate of £400 to £600

McGuinness found his own style, twisting, distorting and exaggerating the shapes he found underground so that his miners became hunch-backed and rounded like their cramped, arched tunnels.

In 1958, his nightmarish view of this subterranean world gained him his first show in London, and as his fame grew, he featured in a BBC Omnibus documentary.

He was made redundant from the mines in 1982 but carried on portraying the world of the miner which was now being closed down all around him.

The Northern Echo: Pipe Men, by Tom McGuinnessPipe Men, by Tom McGuinness, estimated at £2,000 to £4,000

His friend, Sidney, often visited his studio, buying the occasional painting while it was still on the easel. Sidney even kept an album of newspaper cuttings and exhibition programmes relating to Tom, and the two men died within months of each other in the mid-2000s.

The four works up for auction at Tennants of Leyburn on June 15 are from the second half of the 1960s and their estimates range from £300 up to £4,000.

The Northern Echo: Potato flasks

WHILE looking at lots in Tennants forthcoming sales, we couldn’t help but notice that on May 18, they are selling a collection of a dozen 19th Century potato flasks (above).

This is why antiques TV programmes can be so compulsive because they turn up the weirdest things. Potato flasks were small flasks made in the shape of nobbly, gnarly potatoes – potatoes as they used to be before the supermarkets made them all conform to neatness.

Royal Museums Greenwich has a potato flask dating back to 1793, and they became a form of folk art in America, often connected to bootlegged alcohol that was produced during prohibition – “Irish moonshine” or “poteen” is a ridiculously strong beverage that is distilled out of potatoes.

At the Chicago World’s Fair, you could even buy a souvenir potato flask with the date “1893” on it.

Those flasks in the Tennants collection were made in England and Scotland. They are selling in one lot for an estimated £400 to £600.

If you have a potato flask, we’d love to see a picture of it. Email