At the age of seven years old, Sakubei Yamamoto (1892–1984) moved with his family to the coal mines of the Chikuho region in Kyushu. He was apprenticed to a colliery blacksmith at the age of twelve, and later worked as a mine blacksmith and coalminer until the age of sixty-three in 1955. He then became a colliery security guard when he started painting his memories of the mining industry.

He had little formal education but, from the age of 21 in 1913, began keeping notebooks and diaries in which he recorded events. These influenced his later painting.

"The yama [the miners' term for the coal mines] is fading away, leaving 524 mountains of rubble in the Chikuho region; and as for me, I'm no spring chicken. I've decided to leave behind something of the work and feelings from the yama for my grandkids. It'd be faster just to write something down, but after a couple of years, who knows, maybe the notes would just get thrown out during spring cleaning. With pictures, though, so much can be taken in just with a single glance – I've decided to paint."

In 2011, Sakubei Yamamoto’s coal mining paintings and drawings were registered in UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme.

This exhibition focuses on a small selection of the 2000 drawings and paintings by the artist. They are very Japanese in style but any Welsh mineworker can recognise the type of work and the characters depicted.


Peter Norris
30 August 2020, 14:32
What amazing notes and artwork.
Thank you what a wonderful collection!
Juan F. Schwarze
19 May 2020, 16:30
Thank you for sharing!

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