Art exhibition captures the last days of the Black Country industry

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A scrap metal recycling plant at Rabone Lane, Smethwick, in 2006-08

The famous industries that made the Black Country the engine of the Industrial Revolution appeared to be in decline in the 1990s and early 2000s, as the region struggled to reinvent itself in a rapidly changing world. As recently as 1996, a third of the Black Country workforce was still employed in manufacturing. By 2010, this figure had fallen to 15%.

These last days of so many West Midland industries have been captured in the paintings of artist Arthur Lockwood, and many of those works are now on display in an online exhibition curated by the Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Working in watercolor and pen, Birmingham-born Lockwood captured the changing cityscape of the Second Town and the Black Country.

His paintings represented the degradation, demolition and redevelopment of many important industrial sites.

Artist Arthur Lockwood
Ready mixed concrete in Pear Tree Lane, Dudley, captured in watercolor and pen 2011-13
A mill at J&P Harper in Gornal, painted in 2000
Ruined offices in derelict offices in New Street, Wednesbury in 1998

Born in 1934 at the height of the industrial boom, Arthur developed an interest in art and painting from an early age. After studying at the Bournville School of Art and Birmingham College of Art, he moved to London to study at the Royal College of Art. For many years he worked as a successful book designer, but in the 1980s he decided to return to painting and in 1987 he returned to where he began to document the changing face of the region. .

As he traveled the region back and forth he saw for himself how factories, coal mines, foundries, and rows of terraced houses and shops rot in a state of terminal decay, or are demolished to be replaced by shopping centers, office buildings, new housing and roads.

He spent hours sketching on location, outdoors in the cold, or in empty, dusty, grimy and dilapidated premises, capturing on paper the last images of a way of life before the bulldozers arrived. The intricate designs were brought back to his studio where watercolor washes were applied, adding drama and poignant character to the scenes.

A few of these buildings, like the Harris & Pearson brickyard in Brierley Hill, were later restored to their former glory. Demolition work had actually started on the remarkable yellow brick building, made from the company’s own bricks, in 1996, when Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley ordered the work to be stopped. A total of £ 869,000 was then spent to restore the building to its former glory, with work finally being completed in 2005.

But while there was a happy ending for Harris & Pearson, many other buildings were left to rot, before disappearing altogether.

Lockwood was also intensely interested in the depiction of the region’s factories and the industrial processes taking place there, both in the form of his watercolors and also in detailed notations, which he often featured on the back of his art. .

He died in June 2019 at the age of 85.

A press at the Crown Nail Company, Wolverhampton, pictured in 2004
A closed factory and kiln at Crane Foundry, Wolverhampton, painted in 2005
The Harris & Pearson brickyard in Brettell Lane, Brierley Hill, which was saved from demolition
A working printer at John Neave in Wolverhampton, pictured in 2007

The exhibit, titled Arthur Lockwood: Documenting the Black Country, aims to highlight the various subjects that Lockwood has portrayed and his individual interpretation of areas and themes.

The exhibition’s organizers say his works are not only visually stimulating, but also help document a period in the region’s history for future generations.

Councilor Stephen Simkins, Deputy Head of Wolverhampton Council, said: “The industrial heritage of Birmingham and the Black Country is significant around the world and has played such an important role in the economy of the region.

“We are very fortunate that the heritage of the region has been captured by artists such as Arthur Lockwood and that future generations can revisit this important part of history.”

The works presented in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery collection were donated by the Lockwood family.

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