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Cornish mines feature in vibrant Durham exhibition

Artist and mining enthusiast John Scott Martin is showing his paintings of tin and copper mines in Durham

Going underground was an experience once common to many in the North East where coal and lead mining were staple industries.

The same can be said of the South West where Cornish tin and copper mines kept many in employment.

It’s all receding into history now but artists like John Scott Martin are helping to keep the memories alive.

Deep Down, an exhibition of his paintings of mining in Cornwall, struck a chord when it was seen by ex-pitmen from the North East and it opens today in Durham.

John was born in 1943 in Hucknall, a Nottinghamshire pit village, when it had four working coal mines. It sparked a lifelong interest in the industry.

He recalls: “My first recollection of Cornish mining was in the early 1950s when I saw a newsreel at the cinema.

“This was before they were called documentaries. I recall very little of it apart from an intriguing reference to ‘tin mining beneath the sea’.

“I’ve been visiting Cornwall since I was a boy and in fact only just missed being born in Cornwall. My father was stationed on the Lizard but because of bombing raids on Plymouth and Exeter my mother was sent to Nottinghamshire.”

But the county intrigued him. As a student at Nottingham Art College, he made the first of many visits to Penwith in 1961, taking a copy of The Cornish Miner by Hamilton Jenkins.

Although an accomplished artist, he didn’t want to paint underground scenes from photos. Then, in 2001, he was able to make a first trip underground and has made several since – and has also worked as a guide at a mine in Derbyshire.

“So I hope I have been able to convey some of what it is like to spend so much of your life below the surface,” he says.

“I had thought that the subject might have been regarded as dark, dreary and somewhat depressing.

“But mining and the Cornish miner are a part of worldwide cultural heritage.”

John’s surprisingly vibrant paintings can be seen at the World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, 7 Owengate, Durham, until July 30 (open daily, 9.30am to 6pm).

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