Steve Hamilton – Working Class Culture and Art

Steve Hamilton, ex-miner and painter from Mexborough, speaks to us about his creative process and how he got back into painting.

I have for most of my life had a love for model making, sculptures and painting; dabbling in both oils and watercolour. I think in some way I do follow after my late mother in this satisfying hobby. Mum was left-handed but had a clever talent of drawing portraits of family with both hands at the same time, unique in itself. She even could write backwards too. Besides drawing she was a speed knitter, making baby clothes for local families as well as jumpers and cardigans. 

I always wanted to do something artistic. It was something to be remembered by while attending Conisbrough Northcliffe School that I got the chance to prove my abilities from painting, poetry and model making with encouragement from my art teachers, Mr Green and the head of art, Mr R Charlton. I was given a task at the age of 15 to make a life size model of a man looking through a telescope with a smaller model of a dog by his side. This model stood in the most northerly quadrangle at school for over 20 years according to the former teacher, Neil Fitzgerald. After leaving school in 1966, I was taken by my father who was a Denaby Main Colliery miner down the Conisbrough Craggs to Cadeby Main Colliery for a job.  It was a few years after I had finished my coal face training that my family encouraged me to paint having bought me an easel and oil paints and brushes for Christmas in 1974. I painted on hardboard, art board and advanced to canvas.

I had been exhibiting my paintings in Doncaster, Denaby Main Library, Blackpool and Barnsley. I had been featured at once in miners papers The Yorkshire Miner and Cool News who were interested mainly for my painting with my little white long-haired Jack Russel Terrier dog, Fluff, as my trademark in every picture.

I still occasionally would draw pencil on paper sketches of my fellow workmates during snap time breaks to use for painting ideas at home. One day a miner I know said that I couldn’t do a picture of my dog underground. I proved him wrong. I told him I already have – if you look closely in the picture, there’s a miner eating his sandwiches and reading a newspaper that reads “Denaby Dog Is In The Picture”. It was a head drawing but he was there. I had also done a vase of flowers as a task for a lady at a security firm – she too had thought she had caught me out – until I pointed at the dog’s head amongst the blooms in the vase. 

My paintings were sold for a time at a fine art shop in Conisbrough owned by a former miner and workmate, David Horne and his wife Lorna. After a shed fire at my mum’s home due to sparks from an unattended garden rubbish fire destroyed a number of stored painting and materials, I eventually gave up painting in 1987. The cost of art materials had risen and I was now out of work between jobs with family to fend for.

I did the odd watercolour painting pre 2018 as a personal favour to an elderly friend who worked on a Ted Hughes project that I was involved with. However, it was not until I got a present from my daughters of oils and brushes for Christmas 2018 when they said “no excuses Dad, get painting!”. Not having painted properly for some time I started a drawing of Cadeby Pit miner’s pickets of 1984/5 strike and put the drawing up on Facebook asking advice whether I should make it into a painting. David Horne’s daughter, Rachel, was one of the first to encourage me before I went ahead and completed this painting in November, 2019 despite having new health problems.

2020 came along and so did the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. I did a few jobs about the house to keep myself busy until one of my daughters said “come on Dad, we bought you the art materials. You’ve got some canvases and you have the time at home now you’re indoors to keep busy painting”. May I say it has been a pleasure to paint in oils again and with more time on my hands to have the opportunity to add more details in my paintings. 

Thanks to friends and family painting has been a pleasure, especially keeping my safe throughout the pandemic.

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