Woodhorn Museum exhibition will showcase paintings and Ellington Colliery banner by Ashington Group artist Oliver Kilbourn

A new exhibition will open in Northumberland on Friday to celebrate the work of Ashington Group painter Oliver Kilbourn.

Running from Friday, March 29 until Sunday, September 15, Woodhorn Museum in Ashington will showcase the miner and artist’s work with Oliver Kilbourn: My Life as a Pitman, including 39 paintings from the Pitmen Painters artist.

The exhibition will also display a faithful remake of a banner designed by Kilbourn for Ellington Colliery, alongside the painting that inspired the design.

Rowan Brown, chief executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “When the Ashington Group of painters first began their exploration into the world of art in 1934, I am sure none of them imagined they would go on to receive worldwide fame and that their work would become an important historical record of twentieth-century coal mining in Northumberland.

“This collection of Oliver Kilbourn’s work documents 50 years of his life, from the beginning of his career at Ashington Colliery, to the decades he spent working at the Big E, Ellington Colliery.

“It is a poignant look at the life of a pitman and the role art has played in capturing, documenting, and celebrating this important part of Northumberland’s history.”

Born in 1904, Kilbourn followed his father in becoming a pitman, beginning his working life aged 13.

He participated in the Ashington Group’s first show at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, in 1936. He passed away in 1993.

Speaking in an interview in the early 1970s, when asked about his paintings and his 50-year career as a miner, Kilbourn said: “I could not express myself so well in words but I found that I could express my feelings and what I wanted to get over in drawing and painting.

“I would not say I had a driving ambition to get down the pit. I just stayed down there fifty years, a working life. After a lot of groaning and grumbling you took pride in your job, you know. It is a very skillful job.

“I was a damn good miner, though I say it myself. I was strong and I liked the life. That was the life I painted.”

Ashington Group 90, the year-long programme of exhibitions and events marking 90 years since the formation of the Ashington Group, continues at Woodhorn Museum until January 2025.