Daughter of Wigan artist Theodore Major agreed to show his large collection of work after she 'fell in love' with Haigh Hall
Mary Major has agreed to permanently loan the £200m collection of work to creative directors Al and Al for exhibitions at the historic building.
Her father famously refused to sell much of his work, as he did not want it to be seen solely by wealthy people, so she believes he would welcome it being displayed at Haigh Hall.
Dr Major said: “I am hoping he would be absolutely thrilled. I know it’s hard to say when someone has passed away, you are never quite sure, but I have a feeling he would be over the moon with this. I can’t think he would ever think it wasn’t a good idea.”
The exhibition of his large collection of work – believed to be around 2,000 pieces – forms a key part of Wigan Council’s plans for the future of Haigh Hall.
Working with Al and Al, town hall bosses are bidding for £20m from the Government’s Levelling Up fund to turn the building into a centre for arts, culture, hospitality and more.
An application for funding will be submitted in July and if approved, work could soon start on transforming the hall.
Dr Major has looked at other historic venues, but feels Haigh Hall is the perfect place for her father’s work.
She said: “When I first came to see the hall with Al and Al and walked around, I was absolutely mind-blown with it. I visited lots of places, National Trust halls and other places all over the country. When I came here, I saw the wonderful areas of undecorated walls with lovely ceilings and the staircase with plain areas of huge expanse of wall that you could hang wonderful pictures on. It seemed to be that they were waiting for it.
"I was absolutely struck with it and fell in love when I first saw it.”
Dr Major was born at nearby Wigan Infirmary and remembers walking past the Plantation Gates as a child, before the family moved to Appley Bridge.
But she was not able to visit the hall at the time and is delighted to finally be able to go inside.
She said: “It was so magic to come into the hall and find out how lovely it is. It is so beautiful to my eye. Other halls I have visited seem to be full of wood panelling and elaborate things that I couldn’t move and hang our pictures on, but this is almost a blank canvas waiting for pictures. It’s remarkable.”
Her father once spoke about not being able to see a painting by Rembrandt at Haigh Hall, as it was a private residence at the time.
Al Taylor said: “The idea of having something like that on the doorstep and not being able to see it is sad. Also, Theo didn’t like to sell his paintings because he wanted them in a public gallery and for the people to see them. For Mary, Theo’s work now has a home where it can be seen.
"He would be so delighted. He couldn’t see the masterpieces when he was young, but he is enabling the next generation to see those masterpieces. There’s really lovely circularity to it.”
Al and Al have become good friends with Dr Major and want her to be involved in the exhibitions of her father’s work and the transformation of the hall.
Al Holmes said: “We intend to work really closely with Mary. The fundamental part of the Levelling Up bid is that we have this collection that puts treasure in the hall.
"Mary will be fundamental to that process. We will make films with Mary where we capture her own memories and thoughts and that will become part of the people’s archive we want to create.”
Dr Major, who has been looking after her father’s work since he died in 1999, also hopes to visit the exhibition and give talks about his life and work.
Major was such a prolific artist that some of his work has never been shown in public before.
There are so many paintings that there will be rotating exhibitions at the hall, allowing art lovers to keep returning to see something new.
Major painted many industrial scenes of Wigan, showing the mills and the smog that once enveloped the town, before looking at other themes including nudes, monsters and flowers.
He knew LS Lowry and Dr Major fondly remembers returning home from school one day when she was around 14 to find Lowry in her father’s studio.
She said: “He was sitting on a little rickety chair. He never said a lot, he was a very quiet man, but it was great. I was thrilled to meet him.”
Al and Al hope Haigh Hall will become a destination for visitors wanting to see Major’s work, in the same way Salford has become popular for fans of Lowry.
It will not just be Theodore Major’s work on display – his wife Kathleen was also an artist and her paintings will be shown too.
The pair hope other important works of art and artefacts will also come to Wigan once Haigh Hall opens, with talks already under way with the Imperial War Museum for items to be loaned.
Children will also be able to learn about art under the plans, with a younglings gallery where they can create and exhibit their own work after seeing the Major masterpieces.