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Norman Cornish studio donated to Beamish Museum in County Durham

The studio from the Spennymoor home of Norman Cornish was donated to Beamish Museum in the months before his death

Norman Cornish
Norman Cornish

Celebrated artist Norman Cornish donated his studio to a North East museum, just months before his death.

The painter’s studio, from his home in Spennymoor, County Durham, was donated to Beamish Museum shortly before he passed away on August 1 this year at the age of 94.

The substantial donation includes dozens of unfinished works, as well as his chair, easels, paint pots, brushes and other objects.

Bosses at the County Durham museum said they were delighted to have received a collection belonging to such an important North East artist.

Mr Cornish, a pitman who became a painter, was the last surviving painter from the Spennymoor Settlement, which became known as the “Pitman’s Academy”.

Some of the objects, including replicas of his unfinished work, are now on display in the Open Stores in the Museum’s Regional Resource Centre.

Gemini Collection Pit Road by artist Norman Cornish which forms part of the Shafts of Light - Mining Art exhibition at The Bowes Museum
Pit Road by artist Norman Cornish which forms part of the Shafts of Light - Mining Art exhibition at The Bowes Museum

Beamish already has the Berriman’s chip van, that was used in Spennymoor which features in a number of Mr Cornish’s paintings.

Kate Reeder, head of social history and collections management at Beamish, said: “We are lucky enough to have been working with Norman’s family over the past year.

“This has given us a unique perspective into Norman’s life and we are extremely grateful that his family has so kindly donated such wonderful pieces of history to Beamish.

“Norman captured everyday life in the North East, from men working in the pits to women gossiping in the back lanes, which we hope to share with people through our own 1950s developments in the future.

“We want to tell the fascinating story of how men, such as Norman, and women joined organisations like the Spennymoor Settlement, the Ashington Group and others to represent their lives through media such as painting and writing.”

Norman Cornish with some of his sketches
Norman Cornish with some of his sketches

Beamish carefully recorded every aspect of Mr Cornish’s studio before the contents were moved to the museum. Dozens of detailed photographs were taken to record exactly how it was when he last used it.

Beamish has also been given up to 100 unfinished paintings, ranging from A4 size to about 3ftx5ft, and pencil and charcoal sketches, including a number that differ from his usual style.

There work includes a dog that he regularly worked into his paintings, as well as landscapes charcoal sketches and even scraps of paper with outlines on them.

Other objects collected from the studio include Mr Cornish’s chair, the paint-stained carpet, posters, empty tubes and tins of paint, pots and lids used for mixing, and brushes. Mr Cornish also made frames for his work and Beamish has the equipment he used, including his framing machine. Kitchen cabinets and furniture, including items from a bedroom, were also donated.

Norman Cornish in his home studio in Spennymoor

A spokesperson for Mr Cornish’s family said: “We are delighted to have worked in partnership with the staff at Beamish Museum to preserve Norman’s studio for the benefit of the nation. Rarely does this sort of opportunity come along.

“When the studio is displayed, it will provide a fascinating insight into the creation of his art and it will also form another piece of the legacy.

“Norman Cornish was one of the greatest and most acclaimed British artists of the late 20th century.”

The family added: “Often he would use an old 35mm slide projector to display a photograph of one of his paintings as a reference for a new painting he was working on.

“So much of the work seen in the studio is unfinished because he would often put work to one side, then return to it at a later date.”


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