Watch: the mesmerising faces and voices of the last generation of coal miners
A remarkable series of recordings of former miners and the women of the coal mining communities of south Wales forms the basis of a major exhibition at Swansea’s National Waterfront Museum.
Kings of the Underground is a community-based heritage project capturing oral histories and full 3D portraits of the last generation of Welsh coalminers.
Created by Cardiff based company, Vision Fountain, which works with museums, galleries, and artists to create immersive audio-visual storytelling and interpretation, the project uses gaming technology to bring their testimony to mesmerising life.
Working across the south Wales coalfield, Vision Fountain captured forty colliers’ faces in 3D using a process called photogrammetry which converts 2-dimensional images into 3D images.
As well as recording their facial features, the “last generation of Welsh coalminers” and the women of their communities were also interviewed.
The result is an archive featuring a range voices and recollections spanning decades of mining history, from the days of young teenagers working bare-handed underground, through to the devastating impact of the miners strikes under Margaret Thatcher, and onto the testimonies of the remaining miners at Aberpergym in the Neath valley.
Also recorded are the stories of the wives, mothers and daughter of the mineworkers, many of whom worked from dawn til dusk to support the menfolk.
They tell of living with the ever present anxiety of an accident or disaster underground, and in the case of one daughter, earning a ‘penny a toe’ to clean the coal dust from her father’s feet, as they sat and talked at the end of the day.
Audio-visual presentations mix the miners’ 3D portraits with snippets from their interviews and eight-foot high printed 3D portraits form the heart of the exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum, which runs until 19 of March.
Prior to the exhibition the project engaged with primary schools in ex-coalmining communities in the valleys. The technology Vision Fountain used in the outreach is popular amongst gamers and created immediate interest amongst the school children.
A series of school workshops introduced 3D modeling and portraiture to the children, who also experienced a virtual reality Welsh drift mine.
After listening to the miners’ recordings each school created a collage of a coal-miner, seven of which are part of the exhibition in the National Waterfront Museum.
Richard Jones, founder and creative director at Vision Fountain, grew-up in a coal-mining community, but spent 25 years living in China and Japan, working in the media industry.
He was struck by the erasure of the last remnants of the coal mining landscape he grew up with during his time away, and the need to capture, what will amount to be the last testimony of the “last generation of coalminers” was the initial driving force behind the project.
The importance of the project was made more poignant with the passing of several of the miners as the project progressed.
Mellard Lloyd, was 95 years old when he sat down in the photogrammetry studio that was set-up in the Winding House Museum, Rhymney. Sadly, Mellard died just months after the recordings.
Mellard was born in 1923 and entered the mining industry, to become a Blacksmith, a week after his 14th birthday.
When Richard attended Mellard’s funeral, he was surprised to hear the project was mentioned in the eulogy.
He said: “That really hit home how important retaining these faces and recording are for generations of families and Welsh culture in general. Whist using gaming technology, something that most kids are familiar with, seemed an obvious way to leverage them towards their heritage.”
Several Welsh coal-mining museums partnered on the project during its production phase, including the National Waterfront Museum, Big Pit National Museum, Rhondda Heritage Park and South Wales Miners Museum.
The long-term partner for the project is the National Museum of Wales’ archive and Swansea University’s South Wales Miners Library, who will store the recordings and the portraits for posterity, enabling future generations to listen-to and engage with their past.
The exhibition runs until 19 March and you can find more information here
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