Legendary artist Bob Olley celebrates 80th birthday at South Shields Museum

Legendary artist Bob Olley has begun his 80th birthday celebrations among old friends at South Shields Museum.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 16th January 2020, 1:30 pm

The much-loved painter, who turns 80 on Thursday, January 16, was overcome when staff from South Shields Museum and Art Gallery surprised him with a birthday cake on Wednesday, January 15 to thank him for his generous contribution over the years.

He has now donated an additional 12 works to the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Development Trust to help with future fundraising.

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Bob Olley celebrates his 80th birthday at South Shields Museum with the additional paintings he has donated.

The paintings are all inspired by Bob’s mining career and life underground. Before becoming an artist, he spent 11 years at Whitburn Colliery and was one of the last men on shift before it closed 50 years ago.

“The museum is a big part of my life, it means a lot to me,” said Bob.

“From when I was seven years old we used to come to the museum on a Saturday to look at the exhibits.”

When he left school, Bob became a painter and decorator until he was old enough to go down the pit.

Artist Bob Olley in his studio with one of the paintings from the King Coal exhibition. Photo credit: Victoria Page.

“I never regretted the coal mines but I’d had enough when the Colliery closed, so I moved on to become a professional artist,” he said.

“I’ve been very lucky, it’s paid for a hobby.”

Bob added: “I’ll never stop painting, I’m lucky to reach this age but I don’t see the point if you’re not going to do anything. I’d rather drop off with an easel and brush in my hand.”

As of summer 2020 the museum will have a new space dedicated to Bob’s work on a permanent basis.

Drilling the Coal Face by Bob Olley, one of the pieces from the King Coal exhibition and part of his donation to the museum.

Geoff Woodward, manager of South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, said: “We would like to wish Bob a very happy birthday. His continued support for this museum and the region’s heritage is priceless.

“We’ll be dedicating a permanent space to Bob’s work in the museum this year to showcase the significant and powerful pictorial record that they present. We’re safeguarding this wonderful historical resource for future generations to engage with and enjoy. We are extremely grateful to Bob.”

Bob Olley celebrates his 80th birthday at South Shields Museum.
Bob Olley with friends and museum staff (left-right) Jack Payton, Catherine Kirkham, development officer, Katie Cagney, database and research architect and Sol Wilson.
Bob Olley with old friends Sol Wilson and Jack Payton.