©Yamamoto Family 田川市石炭・歴史博物館所蔵
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 became an apprentice colliery blacksmith at the age of twelve. He was a mine blacksmith and coalminer until the age of 63. Later he became a colliery security guard when he started painting his memories of the coal industry.
He had little formal education. However, from his early twenties he began keeping the notebooks and diaries which 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 became part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme.
This exhibition focuses on a small selection of his 2000 drawings and paintings. They are very Japanese in style but any Welsh mineworker will recognise the type of work and the characters depicted.