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Ashington Group, The
Thirty eight students, mostly miners working in the Ashington Collieries, turned up to Robert Lyon’s Art Appreciation class in October 1934 (Feaver 2008). Amazingly, forty years later several of that initial group were still meeting, same time every week, to look at art and talk about it and show each other their latest paintings.
That’s because Robert Lyon had been inspired to get the men to appreciate art by doing it themselves. He instructed them to go home and use whatever materials they could scrounge, setting them subjects such as ‘Dawn’ or ‘My First Job’. They’d bring their homework to the next class and discuss one another’s efforts. It wasn’t long before Lyon decided that what he described as ‘An Experiment in Art Appreciation’ warranted a public viewing, so he organised in Newcastle the first of many exhibitions of paintings produced by the class. The Ashington Group, as they came to call themselves, found themselves lionised, condescendingly in some ways, as genuine working class artists. They shrugged this off. During the war Robert Lyon went off to run the Edinburgh College of Art and the Group resolved to carry on without even a nominal tutor. By the early Seventies there were only three members of the original class left, and no newcomers to continue. The paintings, however, were as fresh as ever and were shown in China, in 1980, and around Europe. Eventually the paintings found a permanent home in the Woodhorn Colliery Museum in Ashington. WF