Take a Look at the Bright Side of a Pitmen Painter
For the first time, paintings from three separate collections by Pitmen Painter Jack Harrison are to come together for an exhibition at Woodhorn Museum. Work from the artist’s private family collection will be shown alongside paintings given to Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and those in Woodhorn’s care.
The exhibition, The Bright Side, will feature a wide range of styles from colourful Northumbrian landscapes and thoughtful portraits to community events and images reflecting his working life.
John Francis Harrison was born into a mining family and spent fifty years as a miner working first at Ellington Colliery and then Ashington. Although always interested in art, he found little time to develop his interest until Ashington Group member Harry Wilson encouraged him to join their group in the 1950s. Jack found this the inspiration he needed, offering critical support and firm friendships that would last until the 1980s. His work didn’t always conform to the Group’s aims however; it was often unrelated to mining and full of colour.
Jack’s daughter, Jacqui Henderson explained, “My father often spoke of his desire to portray the world as a colourful, brilliant, kind of place and very different from the pitch blackness of the pit where from the age of fourteen he had spent so much of his life.
“After my Mother died at only 63 years of age, his gardening and his art became his two most important endeavours. He filled his summers with gardening and his winters with his pursuit of extending his own style though experimenting with different genre. He read dozens of books on styles and took great pleasure in using different styles and materials.”
The paintings on public show for the very first time from the family collection, illustrate Jack’s variety of styles as well as giving a glimpse into the personal side of his life.
Local scenes are prominent in the paintings from the Northumbria Healthcare collection. These originals, which were given by Jack to Wansbeck General Hospital after he was a patient, have recently been deposited at Woodhorn.
Brenda Longstaff, head of arts and the patient environment programme at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “We are delighted to be part of this unique exhibition and for the Northumbria Healthcare collection of paintings to be displayed. They have brought so much pleasure to our patients, visitors and staff at Wansbeck General Hospital over the years.
“At Northumbria Healthcare, art plays an important part in improving the hospital environment and these paintings have been very popular as they have reminded us of the area’s rich mining heritage and local culture.
“We recently replaced the original paintings with official prints of the collection to ensure they continue to bring joy for future generations.”
Keith Merrin, Director of Woodhorn said, “The Bright Side gives us a wonderful opportunity to bring out from our archives some of our own Jack Harrison paintings to share with visitors alongside those of his family and Northumbria Healthcare.
“This exhibition coincides with the 80th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the Ashington Group, and follows quickly on the heels of the main Ashington Group Gallery revamp made possible through royalties from the world-wide success of the play, Pitmen Painters. There is a great deal of interest in the work of the Ashington Group now, not just within the local area, but from around the world. We are most grateful that Jack Harrison’s family and Northumbrian Healthcare agreed to allow Woodhorn to share more of his work, and I am sure visitors will enjoy seeing a different aspect to the work of a Pitmen Painter.
The Bright Side opens on Saturday 28th November and runs until 19th April 2015.