Norman Cornish lived and painted North East mining life. He captured his hometown of Spennymoor on canvas.

Sid Chaplin, the novelist from the Durham railway town of Stanley and Cornish’s contemporary, once described him as a “mystic with a total grasp of what makes matter vibrate, from coal to colliery rows, from the workings 1,500ft below ground to the bus stop and the chapel at the end of the street. In himself as well as in his work a prime example of being with it and staying with it”.

norman cornish

Cornish part of the artistic seam that ran throughout the Great Northern coalfield and produced pitman painters and writers. Here’s his obituary from The Guardian and his official website

If you’ve seen Lee Hall’s Pitman Painters or read William Feaver’s book then you should read A Way To The Better by Robert McManners and Gillian Wales. The book charts the story and explores the legacy of the Spennymoor Settlement, which incubated the talents of Cornish, Chaplin plus artists Tom McGuinness and Robert Heslop.

Cornish’s death on August 1st comes shortly after Bob Abley’s. Bob was a local historian and art lover with what I saw as a great eye for how to display art. I met him last year at Spennymoor Town Hall and he showed me splendid examples of the work that came out of the Settlement, including work by Tisa Hess.

Bob was also instrumental in the setting up of Tynemouth Station’s legendary Book Fairs. I wish I’d had the chance to meet with him again.

Norman Cornish and Bob Abley contributed to North East culture and both leave legacies.