Artwork from East Durham pitman goes on display

Artist Jean Spence, second right, with Colin Kays, son of Jimmy Kays, and left to right, Christina Borrill, Elsa Kyle and Lynn Walshaw (granddaughters of Jimmy Kays).
Artist Jean Spence, second right, with Colin Kays, son of Jimmy Kays, and left to right, Christina Borrill, Elsa Kyle and Lynn Walshaw (granddaughters of Jimmy Kays).

A family have told of their pride after artwork by a former East Durham pitman went on display.

The work of Jimmy Kays features an evocative series of cartoons, greetings cards and pictures for calendars, offering a glimpse into the life and language of the East Durham coalfield in the early 20th century.

Colin Kays, the son of East Durham pitman and artist Jimmy Kays, having a look at the exhibition of artwork.

Colin Kays, the son of East Durham pitman and artist Jimmy Kays, having a look at the exhibition of artwork.

It is being exhibited at the Horden Heritage Centre, in Welfare Park, Horden, which is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The prints will be on display until July 31 before moving to the Centennial Centre, in Horden, and the Heritage Centre now has a Victorian tea room so visitors can enjoy tea and cake as well as the art.

The exhibition was opened by Coun June Clark, who used to live in the Heritage Centre when it was a house, and by Mr Kays’ family. Jimmy died when son Colin, now 76, was just 12, but he has fond memories of him and his passion for art.

He said: “My father was a wonderful man. I remember him drawing often.

I’m very proud to see his art on display like this. My dad was my hero

Colin Kays

“Sometimes he’d have me and my friends pose for him so he could get figures right for Christmas cards and things. He was an intelligent man, and like so many at that time, had limited education and left school at 13.

“That never seemed to hold him back, and I love the pitmatic language he used in his pictures.

“I’m very proud to see his art on display like this. It’s wonderful that he’s getting recognition for his talent after all this time.

“I thought the world of my dad. He was my hero.”

Jean Spence with a selection of Jimmy Kay's work.

Jean Spence with a selection of Jimmy Kay's work.

A book containing Jimmy’s art – called ‘The Lost World of Jimmy Kays: Miner Artist’ – was produced for the East Durham Artists’ Network exhibition, held in Seaham earlier this year to mark the 30th anniversary of the miner’s strike of 1984-85.

Jean Spence, author of the book and a committee member of East Durham Artists’ Network, added: “This collection of drawings and cartoons, some of which are lino prints used to make Christmas cards and calendars, are the work of a talented artist who had to work hard to earn his living in the mines.

“They show an amazing ability to capture the characters of people who lived in East Durham and especially the wry humour of the men pitmen in this area.

“It’s a shame that his work is not more widely known, but it seems that James Kays was a very modest man and so did not seek publicity in his lifetime.”

Jean Spence looking over her exhibition taken from work by East Durham pitman and artist Jimmy Kays.

Jean Spence looking over her exhibition taken from work by East Durham pitman and artist Jimmy Kays.

Artist Jean Spence, second right, with Colin Kays, son of Jimmy Kays, and, left to right, Christina Borrill, Elsa Kyle and Lynn Walshaw (granddaughters of Jimmy Kays).

Artist Jean Spence, second right, with Colin Kays, son of Jimmy Kays, and, left to right, Christina Borrill, Elsa Kyle and Lynn Walshaw (granddaughters of Jimmy Kays).