Darning Socks and Courting
There were two attempts made to help Cornish go to art school. The first in 1939 was an application to the Slade in London. The second in 1942, was to Newcastle University where Robert Lyon, who had crucially supported the Ashington Group, was Head of Painting. Both applications for financial assistance were rejected by the Miners’ Welfare Fund which claimed that such help was ‘not part of their brief’.’
The setbacks may have been a blessing in disguise. Painting the life he knew with integrity was fundamental to Cornish’s motivation and ‘dabbling’ in alternative theories and modern art may well have damaged his approach, which was based upon the advice of Bill Farrell at the Spennymoor Settlement.
Denied this opportunity to attend a prestigious art school was, in hindsight, to become a blessing in disguise, as his young wife Sarah became his muse and the subject of many paintings and drawings. They met at a ballroom in Spennymoor in 1944 and following two years of ‘courting’ they married in 1946. Life drawing classes were a foundation of art college teaching but his observations of ‘real life’ happening at home, at work and in the community were to become the hallmark of his approach to painting and drawing. Cornish was surrounded on a daily basis by Sarah going about the typical tasks within a young family: preparing the vegetables, knitting, ‘bathing the bairns’ in the tin bath, scrubbing the front door step, a bedtime story, words of comfort. They all became subjects of interest following, ’hold it there.’ or ‘don’t move,’ as the position was held while the drawing was completed.
In his own words: “ Many times I drew and painted pictures of my wife Sarah, when she was busy with household chores, especially when she was knitting. I felt that her prayer-like attitudes gave the pose a sense of sanctity, and knitting was her way of praying, really doing her best to keep our home and children together.”
Little did Sarah know that her daily tasks , including ‘darning socks’ would eventually become the subject of her husband’s work as an artist and that she would grow into a pivotal role in his journey to become a professional artist. Sarah encouraged Cornish to leave mining in 1966. He was offered a part-time role at Sunderland Art College where one of his responsibilities was to teach ‘life drawing,’ although there was some resentment from some staff and some students because he didn’t have an academic background !
Please explain ‘courting’ and ‘darning socks’ to the younger members of your family.
Throughout the centenary year, an interesting range of themed exhibitions is planned in order to commemorate Norman’s life and to celebrate his work.
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