'I am a retired Art teacher, living in Hull, East Yorkshire, who now spends his seemingly endless spare time painting, taking photographs and involving himself in activities generated via his membership of the Lockdown Still Lifes Group, again based in Hull. The group, as the name suggests, was formed in March 2020 and has proven an invaluable life line for both myself and other creatives individuals.'
‘Lucky Coal from Nant-y-Moel’ is primarily a written account of the reasoning behind my creation of a small, largely light-hearted art work involving a fragment of coal, which I constructed as a gift, for a now forgotten recipient, approximately ten years ago.
The mystique of coal first came into my life one spring morning in 1962. It was the day of the Eleven Plus examination and I was feeling pretty nervous. Just before setting off for school, which was in the next row of terraced houses, our neighbour, Mrs. John summoned my mother and I to the back garden wall, by knocking on the party wall with an empty milk bottle. This was the accepted manner of attracting a neighbour's attention and was most commonly utilised when rain threatened the Monday morning's washing. Quite ceremoniously, Mrs. John presented me with a piece of coal " to give me luck" in the potentially life-changing examination that I was about to undertake.
It proved to be powerful stuff, as not only I, but an unprecedented number of children in my class succeeded in passing the exam, which made it possible for us to attend the local grammar school in Neath. I suppose that I must have thought that after that magnificent and not to say generous effort, all the good luck in that piece of coal must have been exhausted as it was not kept for future use.
Needless to say, the memory of the incident survived and many years later, I felt the need to pass on some good fortune. I cannot for the life of me remember the exact circumstances, but I had definitely decided that someone close to me was in need of some luck, but not any old luck, they needed coal luck. Nor was the recipient going to fall into the same trap as me and lose the powerful talisman. This luck would to be packaged in a conveniently portable format so that it could always be at hand. I set about gathering the components I required - a carefully opened container of a pair of boot laces from Shoefayre in Hull city centre, a detail from William Eugene Smith's portrait of ' Three Generations of Welsh Miners', shot for Life Magazine in 1950 and crucially, a small piece of anthracite, found along with a hoard of spiders in the corner of our long-abandoned coal bunker. All that remained was for me to set to work with Photoshop, during a lunch break at school and the final product, 'Lucky Coal from Nant-y-Moel' was complete and ready to be bestowed upon the now, forgotten recipient.
Coming from Wales, I inevitably have a love / hate relationship with coal. Its industry destroyed the once beautiful environment and stole the health of countless generations. Hardly the stuff of dreams, but it is remains an indelible part of the nation's heritage. Did our neighbour really believe that coal was lucky or was she just wanting to do something nice for me? I will never know for sure, but there must have been something to it - after all New Year first-footers in several countries still arrive carrying a piece of coal. So, in these days when coal is quite rightly demonised, it still holds a special place in me, remaining something that I like to think, in its own special way, played a pivotal part in my life.
LUCKY COAL FROM NANT-Y-MOEL