The first works entered the collection during the Second World War when the university was still the South Wales and Monmouthshire School of Mines (established in 1913, at the peak of the south Wales coal industry). They included a wartime image of south Wales tinplate workers by Ceri Richards (1903-71), Roller at the ‘Bosh’ with Doubler and Furnaceman (1942). Dating to a similar period is Derailed Coal Tram (c. 1941), a painting by Vincent Evans (1895-1976) which shows miners at work underground. Both Richards and Evans were products of the exceptional, inter-war Swansea School of Art and Crafts.
In sharp contrast is the finger-and-rag-painted Miners (1984) by the self-taught painter Nicholas Evans (1907-2004) from Aberdare who was ‘discovered’ by Lawrence Gowing in the 1970s. Miners and mining in south Wales are captured too by the Lancashire painter Jack Crabtree (b 1938) who taught at Newport College of Art. One of his teaching colleagues there was the Abertillery painter-printmaker John Selway (1938 - 2018) who had been a student contemporary of David Hockney at the Royal College of Art and is also represented in the collection.
In 2002, on the tenth anniversary of the transition from Polytechnic of Wales to new university, the institution was awarded registered museum status and this enabled it to successfully bid for artworks gifted by the Arts Council of Wales and the Contemporary Art Society for Wales. Seven years later, the university gained fully accredited museum status. Acquisitions by gift and purchase are administered and coordinated by the university’s curator in conjunction with the museum art committee.