Ashington Group

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Alfred Wallis (1855—1942) artist


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A group of British amateur painters, active in Ashington, Northumberland, from 1934 to 1983. The group originated when Robert Lyon (1894–1978), master of painting at King's College, Newcastle upon Tyne (then part of Durham University), was asked to run an extra-mural class in art appreciation in the nearby mining town of Ashington under the auspices of the Workers' Educational Association (founded 1903). About twenty people, all miners or associated with the pits, generally attended the classes. The art appreciation lessons were quickly dropped in favour of practical instruction, and the group held its first exhibition at the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, in 1936. Lyon, who was regarded as an inspiring teacher, encouraged the members of the Ashington Group to ‘paint what you know’, and their pictures mainly featured scenes of their working, domestic, and social lives. Their work soon became known outside their immediate locality, partly because it attracted the attention of Mass-Observation (founded 1937), ‘an early endeavour to apply a form of casual social anthropology to the contemporary culture of Britain’ (Charles Harrison, English Art and Modernism, 1981). In 1938 the Ashington painters featured prominently in the ‘Unprofessional Painting’ exhibition organized by Mass-Observation in Gateshead (Alfred Wallis was among the other artists shown), and in the same year an article on them by Lyon appeared in the Penguin book Art in England, edited by R. S. Lambert.

Lyon left Newcastle in 1942 to become principal of Edinburgh College of Art, but the Ashington Group continued to flourish through changing times and fluctuating membership, holding several substantial exhibitions outside the region, including one at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, in 1973. There were even exhibitions of the group's work outside Britain, including one in Beijing in 1980. The best-known figure in the group was Oliver Kilbourn (1904–93), a founder member who was still working as a painter at the time of revival of interest in the group in the 1970s. It disbanded in 1983, but in 1991 a permanent collection of its work was established at the Woodhorn Colliery Museum, Ashington.

Subjects: Art.

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