One for the Royal Collection

It’s the headgear that does it. Gives it away completely. Without it you’d be none the wiser. But the miner’s lamp makes it beyond any doubt. This is the Professor of Drawing at work on her most important finished presentation piece yet, a celebration of the Wigan pit girls of the 19th century. Such economy of line, every mark counts, each and every one assertive, the impact one of dedication and duty, such superb proportion and foreshortening. It’s as though she was born to draw. So exact is its depiction you could have that miner’s lamp made by an artisan in an afternoon. Every detail is there. Likewise the smock. What seamstress couldn’t run up that durable uniform. She looked exhaustively at hundreds of photographs of pit girls in order to get the portrayal just so. Another triumph for the professor. “People have forgotten how hard these girls worked for a living wage what kept em in grinding poverty,” said the Professor in expansive mode. “They got a lot of stick for being manual but they were amazingly hard working and very glamorous,” she added.

The pit girl is included in the latest exhibition put on by the professor – she has not after all enjoyed a show of recent work for upwards of six weeks. The new exhibition is in her home town, Margate, which is said to be reborn as a result of its association with her. “She is good for the town,” said Mrs Margi Doonham of Nottingham. “The cake shop has never been busier. And there’s more condoms in bus shelters than ever before. It’s as though the 1950s are back again with crowds piling in on Bank Holiday specials. Long live the Professor. She’ll be Dame Professor soon, and why not?”

David Lee

The Jackdaw June 2012