Art exhibition celebrates Durham Miners’ gala history

The colorful and emotional Durham Miners Gala has inspired not only the huge crowds it attracts, but artists too over the years.

Now a new exhibition at Bishop Auckland’s Mining Art Gallery celebrates the Gala which returns on July 9 after being canceled for the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Organized by the Durham Miners Association since 1871, the gala, attended by more than 200,000 people from across the region and beyond, will be dedicated to key workers.

Unity Is Strength: Durham Miners’ Gala, brings together mining art from North East lenders with pieces from the Gallery’s Gemini collection, including works by artists such as Tom McGuinness, Norman Cornish and David Venable. The Gemini Collection, which includes 420 works by mining artists, has a permanent home at the Mining Gallery, which opened in 2017 to preserve an artistic record of an industry and a memorial to an ancient way of life.

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The works also celebrate coal heritage achievements. The exhibit captures the community spirit, pride, solidarity and identity that has been celebrated by the biggest annual event on the labor and trade union movement’s calendar – also known as the Big Meeting – since its inaugural gathering. took place at Wharton Park in 1871.

It includes the earliest known image of the Durham Miners’ Gala, Durham Racecourse from around 1880 by an unknown artist. Other works in the exhibition include Norman Cornish’s Big Meeting (1942); The Years of Victory (1947), by John Bird; and Tom McGuinness’ Durham Big Meeting (1968).

John Bird’s 1947 painting The Victory Years. On loan from the Durham Miners Association

Easington Banner by George Robson, administrator and gala organizer who retired in 1993 and became a full-time entertainer
Easington Banner by George Robson, administrator and gala organizer who retired in 1993 and became a full-time entertainer

Anne Sutherland, Assistant Curator of the Auckland Project, which manages the Mining Art Gallery, said: “The Durham Miners’ Gala remains an important reminder of the proud mining communities of the North East and we are honored that the Mining Art Gallery can play a role helped mark his comeback.

“Mining artists used art as a means of expression and communication, as well as social documentation and a record of the day itself. The artwork that has been collected in Unity is Strength documents the unfolding of the day, capturing the spirit of the great reunion and demonstrating its significance to the people of County Durham and the wider mining communities in the region.

Over its proud history, the Big Meeting has grown and evolved to include political speeches, a procession of banners through the streets of Durham and the Miners’ Festival service at Durham Cathedral.

Ross Forbes, Director of the Durham Miners’ Association, said: “The Durham Miners’ Gala is the biggest event of its kind in the world. On the second Saturday in July, tens of thousands of people take to the streets with their flags and banners. They celebrate the strength of community and unity that has united the people of County Durham since the gala was first held in 1871.

“It is fitting that the Mining Art Gallery exhibition showcases the depth and breadth of this unique culture in this year when the Gala celebrates the role of key workers during the pandemic. The Gala may have been on hiatus for two years, but it will return stronger than ever on July 9. It is an annual reminder of the resilience and dignity of workers who cherish their collective values ​​in the most spectacular way.

Unity Is Strength: The Durham Miners Gala is being held at the Mining Art Gallery, Bishop Auckland until the end of 2022. For more information visit gallery/.


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