An examination of the work of the Ashington Group, the practicalities and position of Robert Lyon's tutelage

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of Arts and Cultures


1. Through studying primary and secondary sources establish a clearer understanding of the execution and practicalities Robert Lyon's 'Seeing Through Doing' ethos and critically evaluate it's successes.

* Lyon's 1942 MA dissertation 'The Appreciation of Art Through the Visual and Practical Approach'
* Research other Informal Education projects undertaken by Lyon.
* Arrange access to Mass Observation archive located at The Keep, Brighton.
* Contact Bensham Grove and Edinburgh College of Art and research any other notable tutees, conduct interviews in order to garner available information about Lyon's teaching.

2. Consideration of the effect that the materials used may have had on the artistic progression of the Ashington Group and of the effects materials might have had both on the execution & appearance of the paintings and by extension, the potential contradictions of the 'Seeing Through Doing' methodology.

Beyond a few anecdotal lines in William Feaver's writings, there is little publicly available material or conservational analysis of the paintings themselves. Much could be learned about the painting methods by simple up-close inspection under conservational conditions.
* Working with Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives, locate any primary accounts or evidence of material provenance (purchase legders, receipts etc. ) Locate the writings that the Group contributed to The Ashington Colliery Magazine, particularly Oliver Kilbourn's "An Approach To Modern Art".
* Analysis of the works and their physical composition, what are they made from and how, if possible remove works from their frames etc. Access any existing condition reports and conservational records.
* Research whereabouts of other extant works and arrange viewings.
* Contact Sarah Richardson Keeper of Art at Laing Art Gallery, access to Oliver Kilbourn work and any other work in their collection.
* Contact the Ashington Group Trustees, in particular William Feaver, for any potential anecdotal evidence of painting methods/materials etc.
* Arrange access and visit Crown Paint Archive in Darwen, Lancashire (original manufacturers of Walpamur) to gain a better understanding of what Walpamur was, what the colour range was, the binder, pigments and fillers used (all of fundamental importance to handling and appearance)
* Contact independent paint historian Patrick Baty, who has previously published work touching upon Walpamur.
* A call out to the local community in Ashington for anyone who may have memories of the group and their methods - Mik Critchlow, (documentary photographer) friend and relatives etc. (George Laidler, son of Fred Laidler, also a trustee)

3. Using the information gathered, make a body of new work using supports, methods and materials close to those of the Ashington Group.
The handling properties of commercial paints on cheap, ill prepared supports would be hugely different to those of good quality art materials. This has the potential to fundamentally question the 'Seeing Through Doing' methodology.

Having gained a certain confidence and approach in my own work using high quality materials, I would propose to switch to materials as close as possible to those used by the Ashington Group. Recreating supports (sized or marouflaged plywood, cardboard etc) painting methods and materials.
Effects, difficulties and successes will be documented as they progress.

4. Contextualise the Ashington Group with a broader consideration of the development of Informal Education provision in the North East historically and politically with reference to my own experience in the sector.


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Price Narbi (2018) The Ashington Paintings

Title Pitmen Painters Unseen 
Description As I became increasingly familiar with the collection and deeply entrenched in the research, it struck me that there had to be many more examples of what the Pitmen Painters did than the familiar works in the Permanent Collection, on display at Woodhorn Museum. The exhibition brings together works from various private collections local and nationwide (mostly with direct familial or personal links with members of the Ashington Group) side by side with pieces from the archives at Woodhorn. Some of these works had not been exhibited for more than a generation and some never at all before. For the first time, works made later than those included in the Permanent Collection are shown alongside works made at the very beginning of the project in the 1930s. William Scott's iconic The Bedlington Terrier, featured prominently in Lee Hall's renowned play The Pitmen Painters, is exhibited here for the first time in close to fifty years. Len Robinson's Open Cast and Wansbeck Bridge document the mechanisation of the mining industry and a key moment of infrastructure change in Ashington. Some works have had expert conservational attention, giving them a new lease of life and revealing colours as fresh and vibrant as when the paint was wet. This exhibition clearly shows the Ashington Group's focus and drive as they evolved and matured as artists. There is sophistication, sensitivity and subtlety in the handling of materials and the choice of subject matter. Mik Critchlow's recently rediscovered photographs taken in 1982 show two of the last members, Oliver Kilbourn and Jack Harrison, in the final months of the Group shortly before their hut was demolished in 1983. In addition to paintings, we feature sculptures made by Jimmy Floyd, Fred Laidler and Harry Wilson. The familiar mining subject matter in the works by Floyd and Wilson, is complemented by Laidler's striking geometric piece, showing the Ashington Group's continuing engagement in pushing their artistic boundaries. It was a privilege to meet the people who came forward with Pitmen Painters works, and I was touched by the openness, pride and generosity of everyone who shared their stories with me. This exhibition together with the Permanent Collection, cements The Ashington Group's position as unique, cerebral and passionate, both about art and about life 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Again the exhibition was extremely popular, locally and nationally, with more than 18,000 visitors and significant local news coverage in print and television 
Title The Ashington Paintings 
Description A body of 30 new paintings made in response to the work of the Ashington Group 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact These formed the popular The Ashington Paintings exhibition at Woodhorn Museum 
Title The Ashington Paintings 
Description The Ashington Paintings is a body of thirty paintings made between late September 2017 and May 2018. They take influence from and share key elements with, the work of the Ashington Group; they are all 50 x 70cm, painted in acrylic on sealed and cradled plywood panels. The size and support are a reference to the Ashington Group who painted at home chiefly on thin wooden boards, and took their work to the World War One army hut where they met to discuss and critique it, so necessarily carried it under an arm. As well as sharing a similar size and support, in certain cases The Ashington Paintings retain the colour of the bare, unpainted wood of the painting board as a compositional device in the finished work. They are painted thinly, using little paint, with an economy of application, as is the case with an overwhelming majority of the oeuvre of the Ashington Group. The Ashington Paintings also respond to the flaws and disadvantages of the construction and methodologies of the Ashington Group works, and aim for a better model of sound painting practice. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The show was extremely well received by the public and the Arts Council, receiving over 18,000 visitors 
Description There are many practical findings of the research that have extended and enriched the story of the Ashington Group and have the potential for engagement in an academic and public context. I have rediscovered the previously lost 1942 MA thesis of Robert Lyon, a key text of both the narrative of the Pitmen Painters as well as a valuable document in the development of informal education. My Pitmen Painters: Unseen exhibition will be the first new exhibition of Ashington Group work for more than a generation, providing social, academic and leisure benefits for the local region and beyond.
Exploitation Route I have negotiated loans of artworks that haven't been shown for over 50 years and had brought back into the publicly available realm key texts that were previously thought be lost. There will be accompanying publications available during the exhibitions and after the project reaches completion.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description My practice led PhD is one of three AHRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Awards at Newcastle University, responding to Tate's Art School Educated series, looking at Art education in the North East between the 1930s and 1970s. My thesis considers informal Art education using the Ashington Group as a case study. It reconsiders existing dominant narratives through a study of the materials & methods, and will also result in a new body of paintings. A key part of the project is twin exhibitions at Woodhorn Museum in May 2018, the major part of their programme during the Great Exhibition of the North. One show will be a solo exhibition of my paintings made in response to the working methods of the Ashington Group (using close recreations of their supports and taking sites of post-industrial development in south-east Northumberland as their subject). Alongside this, and working in collaboration with a small team at Woodhorn, I will be curating the first new exhibition of Ashington Group work for a generation, Pitmen Painters: Unseen. Following a popular call out to the media last year for work by the Pitmen Painters in private collections, this show will bring together paintings that would never have been shown publically at all, seeking to enrich and complement the existing Permanent Collection of Ashington Group work at Woodhorn Museum and further the discourse around the legacy of the Group. It aims to keep the collection active, engaging and secure for future generations. There will also be a programme of public engagement and work with community groups in the area through the bait programme, further extending the reach and impact of the venture.
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal