Art goes under the hammer

Tinsley Viaduct, by Peter Watson. Among the works being auctioned.
Tinsley Viaduct, by Peter Watson. Among the works being auctioned.
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A string of renowned Yorkshire artists have donated art works for a special auction at Barnsley’s Cooper Gallery later this week. Chris Bond reports.

WE don’t tend to associate ex-mining towns with art, but the Cooper Gallery has long been at the heart of cultural life in Barnsley.

The gallery opened to the public in the summer of 1914 and a century on artists from across Yorkshire have donated paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and handmade ceramics, for a unique auction this Friday to help safeguard its future.

The money raised will go towards the gallery’s 100 Appeal, which aims to raise £765,000 to transform and extend the town centre building, conserve its existing collection, and develop its range of events and exhibitions by 2016.

Would-be buyers can visit the gallery to view the collection, which includes work by Ashley Jackson, Graham Ibbeson and Peter Watson, who has donated a painting called Tinsley Viaduct, featuring the iconic cooling towers demolished in 2008. Each lot has an estimated value of between £100 to £500 to allow local people to own a piece of artwork without having to re-mortgage their house.

Paul Elmhirst, chairman of the Cooper Art Collection Trust, is delighted that so many well known artists have come forward to offer their support. “This is a fantastic opportunity to take home an original artwork, so we’re encouraging art collectors everywhere to join us and get bidding.”

Barnsley-based sculptor Ibbeson, best known for his statues of Eric Morecambe and sport stars like Fred Trueman, has donated a miniature sculpture depicting famed 19th Century engineer Joseph Locke from his personal collection.

“He was one of the greatest engineers of all time and it seemed poignant to donate this because he went to school at the site where the Cooper Gallery is today. It’s a century since the gallery opened and this just seemed appropriate to me.”

Ashley Jackson has provided a limited edition of Underbank Old Road, the original of which belongs to Barnsley Council. The Holmfirth-based artist has close links with the gallery which has supported him during a career that spans more than 50 years. It hosted his one-man exhibition Here’s to you Dad, featuring watercolours of Penang and Yorkshire - part of a private series of paintings in homage to his father.

“It’s fantastic that the Cooper Art Gallery Charitable Trust is committed to providing a public art space for the people of Barnsley that engages with the community. This is what art is all about, being inclusive and accessible to all whether you are an artist, appreciate art or wish to visit a warm friendly community space.

“It is for the people of Barnsley and the Trust to decide how best to lead it into another 100 years of public art and I wish them all the success in doing so, for it is an achievement that the whole of Barnsley can play a part in celebrating.”

Ibbeson, too, has benefitted from the gallery’s support. In the early 1980s he had a two-man show there that led to a high-profile commission which helped raise his profile not only in Yorkshire but beyond. “It’s important to the town because it has a fantastic collection and it brings in international artists and exhibitions not just local artists, so it reflects what’s happening in society.”

The gallery has also given Barnsley kudos in the art world. “This is an ex-mining community, a market town in the middle of South Yorkshire, and it’s got a gallery like this, which is something to be proud of,” says Ibbeson.

He says it’s not just the quality of the artworks that makes it special. “Some galleries can be quite austere but this isn’t, it’s the kind of place where people say, ‘come in love and have a cup of tea.’”

* For further details call the Cooper Gallery on 01226 242905.