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The Art of Mining: Thomas Harrison Hair

19th March - 12th June 2011

This exhibition presented a series of watercolour sketches by Newcastle-born artist Thomas Hair (1810 – 1875). These sketches were produced between the late 1820s and early 1840s as preparatory studies for his book of etchings ‘Views of the Collieries in the Counties of Northumberland and Durham’, published in 1844. Little is known about the life of Hair, a painter and engraver who trained and worked in the North-East and London, producing both landscape and industrial scenes.

Despite being preparatory studies for Hair’s book of etchings rather than ‘finished’ artworks in their own right, these sketches record a remarkable amount of information. In an age before photography the images carefully document the particular workings of each featured colliery. Both the sketches and final etchings provide an important and unique source of reference for historians and industrial archaeologists.

It is perhaps a sign of the times and of the intended audience for the book of etchings (wealthy coal-industrialists), that colliery workers are less well represented. Where workers are present, little insight is offered into the hardship of their working conditions or their lives as individuals. However, Hair found the workers to be of great help in his research, stating that ‘the utmost extent of their knowledge has always been freely given; and that we can say in truth that nowhere have we been met with more real politeness than on the pit-heap.’

Hair created these sketches on-site at the collieries in pencil, ink and watercolour, skilfully progressing his aim to address ‘an unacceptable vacuum in pictorial illustrations of an industry of such importance.’ Although produced to inform his formal etchings, the immediacy and delicacy of the drawings offer the viewer an evocative insight into this period of coalmining history.

This collection was on loan from the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University (Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums).

This was produced in partnership with: Woodhorn Museum and The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle University