Catrin James, Archive Intern at the Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru, shares her experiences working on the Mining Josef Herman project as part of Archives & Access.
I was a child when I first acknowledged the work of Josef Herman. It was at The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea. The huge panels he created for the Festival of Britain in 1951 stood out. The mask-like faces of the miners crouching fascinated me.
Fast forward 25 years to Access & Archives – Mining Josef Herman. I am now working directly with Josef Herman’s work in Ystradgynlais. It is the vibrant and perfectly formed ex-mining town at the top of the Swansea Valley where Herman lived and worked prolifically between 1944 and 1955.
It is unique to be working alongside a collection that is so indicative of the area it was created. As I walk around Ystradgynlais I see the figures in Herman’s work, the shoppers carrying their groceries, residents socialising on street corners, busy buses and people at work. The work Herman created in Ystradgynlais is alive with a sense of place which is still evident today.
The first 5 months in my role of archive intern has exceeded my expectations. I have become emotionally involved as well as mentally in the project. The Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru (JHAFC) trustees are inspiring people, they work diligently and with passion in carrying Herman’s legacy forward. It’s hard not to have that enthusiasm rub off on you. I’ve recently met local figures, artists and writers and collected their first hand memories via oral history recordings. This experience has given me a deeper understanding of the man himself and the town that he was so fond of.
I am currently working on a catalogue for the JHAFC which contains a large collection of ink drawings which were donated to the foundation by Josef Herman’s wife Nini. Many are of men working, toiling and women in domestic scenes, themes that continue throughout this collection.
My recent training days at Tate Britain has given me the confidence to plan and manage the correct documentation for this collection held in Ystradgynlais. The library and archive team at Tate are always available for guidance and have been hands on and supportive throughout. I’m looking forward to utilising their expertise towards the next phase of this project and my future as an archivist. I feel so fortunate to be working on such an exciting project that will give Josef Herman’s work a wider audience.