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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Colin Telfer (1938–2016)

Sculptor born at Fothergill near Flimby, Cumbria, the son of a miner. His father died when he was a baby and at 15 he trained as a winder, responsible for the safe descent of the miners, at three successive pits, after which he was a recorder at Chapel Bank steel works; each job ended in redundancy. At Carlisle College of Art, he was influenced by Arthur Milne (1945–2008), his sculpture tutor. Much encouraged by his wife Maud, Telfer worked as a sign writer at a workshop in John Street, Maryport, Cumbria. Later, spotting a discarded coal tub near Crosby Villa, he was motivated to model from memory a miner at work. Using a mixture of resin and coal dust, he developed a series of editions of small figures – advertised as Memories – including miners, a pigeon fancier, a netmaker, a shrimper, children crabbing, and domestic scenes. Exhibitions at Whitehaven Museum and the Lowes Court Gallery (1990) led to his first commission: a life-size sculpture, Haematite Worker (1992), in resin and haematite dust for the Egremont Heritage Society, Cumbria, hailed by Lady Egremont at its unveiling in Main Street, Egremont, as ‘powerful and evocative’. The following year saw the unveiling, also in Egremont, of his group of three chatting miners, “When I was a Lad”. Other figures of miners followed: at Flimby, Waiting for the Cage (c.1995) and at Whitehaven, a group of three miners and ‘a pit lass’, entitled The End of an Era (2005). This series, being a tribute to the tireless efforts of the miners, effectively captures the huge physical effort involved. Among non-industrial subjects in Cumbria are The Lamp Lighter (1993) and A Fishy Tale (1999), both at Maryport; a figure of the legendary anchoress St Bega (2000) standing by her coracle, at St Bees; Soldier and Nurse (2005) at Cleator Moor; The Hiker (2007) for the Coast-to-Coast Walk at Moor Row; and The Uppies and The Downies (2010), celebrating Workington’s anarchic football game. Beyond Cumbria, his Fishermen Memorial (2003) may be seen at Portavogie Harbour, Portavogie, County Down, Northern Ireland. Private collections hold his work in Luxembourg, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Borneo. Telfer was the sculptor counterpart of the pitman painters of Northumberland and at his funeral the wreath was designed as an artist’s palette.

Sources include: Conversations between Colin Telfer and the author, 2015.

Bibliography: D.A. Cross, Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, Liverpool, 2017, pp. xix, xx, 177–78, 187, 192; Cumbria Life, November-December 1993, p. 76; Cumbria: (i) November 1992, pp. 26–27, (ii) September 2010, pp. 40–43; N. Curry, Cumberland Coast, Carlisle, 2007, pp. 73–74; News and Star (Carlisle), 16 December 2005; C. Telfer, Memories (undated leaflet; Carlisle Library, Jackson Collection); Times and Star (Workington), 26 January 1996; J. Wells, Maryport: the Passing Years, Kendal, 2007, pp. 148–55; Whitehaven News: (i) 22 February 1990, (ii) 3 February 2006.

David A. Cross, 2017