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16 Mining art Niamh Ollerton meets with the artist bringing Leigh’s mining heritage to life. Some of you may remember the days when securely rooted in this place with a fresh view mining was at the forefront of our society. through contemporary art. Miners, engineers, and pit brow lasses would head “Mary has really scrutinised the place through to the colliery for a hard day’s work, a gruelling drawing sketches, learning about the history and task many of us can’t begin to fathom. But without then presenting it as a body of work. a working mine left in Lancashire, our heritage is “The link is real. The colliery closed in 1970. As the slowly being forgotten, and could soon be lost industry was starting to close down there was this forever. bold movement to open this art gallery in Leigh That’s where Manchester based artist and curator (which opened in 1971). Mary Griffiths comes in. Her latest exhibition ‘Wild “Almost like art was alive, when other things were in Honey’ at The Turnpike, explores the history of turmoil, as industry was making its way out. Leigh’s coal mines, bringing the town’s industrial past to life once more. “That’s what we believe, that art should have an important place in the heart of the community as Turnpike Director, Helen Stalker spoke with me well.” about the importance of art in Leigh: “We wanted to develop a range of exhibitions to tell Mary Griffiths’ ‘Wild Honey’ takes inspiration the story of this place and we asked from the former local colliery at Astley contemporary artists to tell the stories. Green, and the exhibition looks at traditional coal mining as a ‘raw’, “There are political elements as well, ‘elemental’ process. But how did she with a present contemporary way get started? of looking at it. We wanted it to be Photos by Livia Lazar
17 Mary said: “Helen invited me and introduced me to the people at Astley. The whole drawing here is about the Lancashire coal mining community. “I had a good grasp on the mining industry as I am from the North West, and I have a very good memory of the mines closing down. It was a part of the politics I was involved in. It’s been very important to me. “I was going sometimes once or twice a week and slowly getting to know the site. I got to know the people there and had some contact with the men who worked there so I learned a lot. “I have to mention Steven Eckersley, Gemma Atkinson, Trevor Barton who run the site, moving it forward. And Bob Bruce from the Red Rose Steam Society also allowed me to look at the archive. “I was becoming aware of these volunteers who come quietly and get on with their work. Like Marilyn Lancaster who’s been on-board with the project from the beginning. And Michael Shardlow helped us get things moving at the site where there are also two more pieces. “It’s a very peaceful place.” “Cliff Graham was the colliery mechanic and shaftsman, and he leads the team of engineers. He described the maintenance of the mines and different tasks at the pits. “I often watched him and the team go to the whistle engine and heard the whistle when I was there. People have been very welcoming and they’ve been very generous with me.” But with the inevitable change of seasons as Mary underwent her research of the site, she noticed some changes. Mary said: “As winter set in, the place had been taken over by the natural world. “The nature at the site has been the subject of my drawings, like the pigeons. There are lots of circular motions and activity in the art.” Featured in the exhibition, Upcast (2017) is a lyrical work that replicates the intricacies of the transportation and pulley systems used in traditional mining. Mary’s drawings have proven to be labour-intensive, as her abstract, geometric designs are made up of delicate lines carefully carved into a surface layer of graphite over white gesso. She presents gentle, intricate pieces created through a physically demanding and rigorous process. Her practice almost symbolises the labour of underground workers, pushing themselves physically to provide for their loved ones. Mary said: “There’s a team of us which is nothing like the labour of a pit, but it’s very labour intensive. “There were several live beehives at the site, there were some in old logs, and some in industrial machinery. That’s why the exhibition is called ‘Wild Honey.’ “It’s a very peaceful place where as it was full of activity once. Colliery Pigeon - Mary Griffiths