Kurt Schwitters' last Merzbau: The Elterwater Merz Barn

Merz Barn update: May 2017

MzB 1.11.16

The Merz Barn, autumn 2016 

2017 is the 70th anniversary of the year in which Kurt Schwitters created his unfinished but truly great installation in the Merz Barn in the lovely valley of Langdale in the English Lake District.

The Hatton Gallery in Newcastle, which houses it, will be unveiling the Merz Barn artwork in the autumn, restored as closely as possible to its state in 1965, when an extension was built to house it there.  And at Cylinders too we will be celebrating the anniversary with a special programme of artists’ events and festivities.  The scale of these will depend on the outcome of our bid to the Arts Lottery for funding, and we will be releasing the programme in a separate update once we know what this is.  Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile the year has got off to a good start, as those of you who have been visiting the Merzbarn Langdale FaceBook site will know.

Reparations at the Merz Barn and the Cylinders site to date

with deep gratitude to:  Galerie Gmurzynska (Zurich), the Cumbria Community Fund, Cumbria University Department of Fine Art, the Dulverton Trust, Hadfield Trust, Sir John Fisher Foundation, Merzfunder donations, KitschKunst, and all our valiant volunteers.

Some of the funding from trusts included a component for work with youth groups, refugee groups, schoolchildren, and the community, and this is also under way.

Site Works

The Littoral Trust has completed all the emergency repairs to the Merz Barn, and carried out essential débris clearance and tree felling/removal to enable us to re-open the site to artists, school groups, and the general public.   We have employed Andrew Shepherd, conservation architect, to prepare drawings and submit planning proposals to the L.D.N.P.A for the repairs to the Shippon and the Drawing Office.  This took several site visits, and therefore more time than anticipated, but we are hoping that acceptance of the proposals will come through soon, upon which work will start immediately on these two buildings.

The first stage (emergency) restoration work enabled the Merz Barn and most of the Cylinders site to be re-opened by July 2016.  The main workshop programme was postponed until summer this year (2017), and the site and buildings have been made ready.

Sam and Ben replacing the Merz Barn skylight


Re-styling the outdoor workshop area


 We are delighted to announce that artist Heather Ross has been awarded a 3 year PhD scholarship at the University of Newcastle to carry out research into the women artists in Langdale associated with Kurt Schwitters.

Heather & press

Heather Ross with artist Gwyneth Alban’s vintage printing press

Heather Ross and print-maker Lukas Hornby have been awarded a Heritage Lottery grant to create a complex new artwork using artist Gwyneth Alban Davis’s old printing press, housed in the Shippon Gallery at Cylinders.

LARP NEWSFLASH!    ‘The Kindred’   A 3 day larp exploring the tensions between the idyllic Kibbo Kift Kindred, and Art students living in exile alongside Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn during WW2.    With artist Adam James

Late summer 2017, watch this space….

Bar & Smoke Room

Evacuee Royal College of Art students in Ambleside, c. 1943

Summary of events at Cylinders since January, with some photos.

 January was almost entirely taken up with writing a bid to the Arts Lottery for the 2017 celebratory programme.  The outcome should be with us this month, and the programme will then be released.

February 10th to 12th  30 Royal College of Art students at Cylinders, staying in the TOC H bunk barn at Chapel Stile.

.. such a lovely evening with our first group residency of the year. 31 RSA students arriving tired from their 7 hour journey. Soup, sausages, and a crisp evening with a full snow moon, and a gigantic bonfire that started with an explosion to blow your eyebrows off, faded to a despondent ember, and then was miraculously revived (well, I say miraculously, but a gallon or two of diesel plus all the candle ends from the Merz Barn may have helped) into a memorable conflagration. Steve Grundy, musician and performer, infused the evening with Cumbrian, Irish, Scottish, joy, melancholy, joy.. What a night!

A beautiful image from the first night of the RCA residency at the Merz Barn last month, ‘His Glowing Self’. Musician Steve Grundy contemplates the raging bonfire before launching into one of the renditions, sung and spoken, that made the evening memorable.

RSA 'Glowing'

Photo by Myha Baum.

February 25th to 26th

Merz Rubbish:  Michael Holland Exhibition in the Shippon Gallery.

Michael Holland

Michael Holland with his exhibition in the Shippon Gallery

Exhibition of work made using recycling bin and street pickings between 2013 and 2017 during the artist’s time at Islington Mill in Salford as well as residencies in La Escocesa Barcelon, and work made on the streets of various other European cities.

March 21st to 23rd

Manchester School of Architecture students workshopped at Cylinders, staying in the TOC H bunk barn at Chapel Stile

MSA group

M.S.A. at Cylinders, March 2017

March 22nd:  Merz North Conference, University of York.  Presentations by Heather Ross and Jackie Haynes.Merz North 2017 copy

March 24th:  artist Alice Wilson began a 3 week residency at Cylinders, sponsored by Dolph.

Alice 2

March 27th to 29th:  17 University of Salford students were in residency at Cylinders with tutor artist Jill Randall, staying in the TOC H bunk barn at Chapel Stile.

March 23rd to April 3rd:  20 Fine Art MA students from Goldsmiths, University of London,  in residency, staying in the TOC H bunk barn at Chapel Stile.

RSA in MzB

MA students from Goldsmiths in the Merz Barn on April 2nd, preparing for a hilarious first-and-only performance of the ‘Ursonate’. Who needs rehearsals!

April 17th to 24th:  Heather Ross and Lukas Hornby were in residence in the Shippon Gallery working on the preliminary stages of their HLF funded project.   With the help of expert Giles Hovenden they restored Gwyneth Alban’s ancient printing press, catalogued and cleaned her 120 original print blocks, and began the process of printing the first series of images from them.

Giles Hovenden adjusting the Merz Barn printing press yesterday for the start of the project by Heather Ross and Lukas Hornby (left).

April 25th   Members of the Coppice Association visited Cylinders to discuss the  Gunpowder project planned for September.

Confirmed future event

The Ambleside Art Society will be mounting an Exhibition in the Shippon Gallery during June and July 2017.



Many of you may know that the designer of the Merz Barn Langdale website, MARTIN CAMPBELL, died very suddenly last year.  Martin was a friend as well as our webmaster, and we still feel his loss very deeply.


Martin Campbell at Cylinders, 2015

As a consequence we lost editorial control for a while, only righted yesterday when Martin’s widow Cecilia was able to make the site over to Littoral, and Celia Larner can now begin to fill in the gaps in the record.

A brief update on events at Cylinders so far this year (2017) will follow soon, and after that Celia will begin again to add to the pages proper of the website.

A fairly full record of the period that was without website updates is also to be found on the Merz Barn Langdale FaceBook page, and also in the occasional newsletters that are sent out to those who have signed up as Friends of the Merz Barn, of which there are now over 800!

If you would like your name to be included amongst the Friends (and we have promised that you will never be asked for money!) just send an email to us at <littoral@btopenworld.com>.

KS16: MerzHerbst Guest Lecture, Saturday October 8th, 7.30 pm

Barbecue in the marquee, Autumn School 2013

Barbecue in the marquee, Autumn School 2013

The Merz Barn, Cylinders Estate, Elterwater, Cumbria LA22 9JB

Saturday 8th October Workshops and Seminars

10am – 5pm   Rural craft demonstrations and Merzbau architecture seminars:

  • MAM Merz Art Museum – future plans for a Merzbau/Kurt Schwitters Art Museum;
  • MERZSHED – Zaha Hadid MerzShed project – proposals for a new centre for contemporaryrural art design and architecture;
  • Lakes Pioneer Garden Design – introduction to the Harry Pierce Lakeland landscape gardendesign project (1940s/60s) and environmental reserve at the Cylinders Estate.2 – 5.30pm Seminars:  Schwitters and Dada, Gwyneth Alban printmaking project

Dada 1003⁄4 the Merz Barn Project as a Power Station, generating artistic output around the legacy of Kurt Schwitters and Merz.  Jackie Haynes Kurt Schwitters PhD scholarship artist researcher at University of Cumbria Institute for the Arts, will provide information about a variety of interconnected art events occurring in this centenary year of Dada.

7.30pm Annual Kurt Schwitters lecture:

‘The Afterlife of Dada’ (The fate of Dada under Nazism) Professor Michael White, History of Art, University of York

9pm  ‘The Reading of the Names’

10pm+  MerzHerbst Party music and readings with invited musicians, poets and performers

Sunday 9th 11am – 1pm:  informal seminars and walks in the hills nearby – departure 2pm.

Registration fee: £10.00 (for workshops, seminars, party, and free on site accommodation Friday & Saturday nights) *BBQ dinner extra – suggested donation £5.

Accommodation: Free accommodation available on site (Friday and Saturday nights) in a yurt, two caravans and there is plenty of free camping space on the site. The site also has kitchen, marquees, toilets and a shower. Limited bunk barn accommodation available on request.

For more information please contact Ian Hunter or Celia Larner at the Merz Barn: T. 015394 37309 e. littoral@btopenworld.com w. <www.merzbarn.net>

*Not all artists declared Entartete Kunst were active anti-Nazis. Some like Emil Nolde were pro-Nazi, and continued working, albeit in private, under the Nazi regime. But most were prevented from publicly exhibiting their work, and many departed Germany and sought refuge in Britain and the USA.

All the better to hear you with…my dear, Gwyneth   Heather Ross, Artist and Lecturer at

The University of Central Lancashire. The re-activation of Gwyneth Alban’s letterpress, in conjunction with the book ‘Kurt Schwitters in England,’ by Stefan Themerson, and ‘on being out of touch’, which explores the tension between sound/language and visual/written description, in relation to ornithology.

6 pm BBQ and dinner in the open air (weather permitting) BYO food and drink

MERZWORD FESTIVAL Saturday September 3rd, 2016

Event promoted by Kunst-Kitsch Art Collective


Tickets are £5.

All proceeds from tickets/food/booze etc. on the night go directly to the Merz Barn fund.

Please share and promote the event, and help to raise awareness for the Merz Barn and Kurt Schwitters, the man who made it happen.

Artist Charlie Whinney at the Merz Barn


CW at Merz Barn Poster A4
Monday 22nd – 25th August
Charlie will be making a series of new works in and around the Merz Barn, including large-scale steam-bent wood installations.

Friday 26th August
A Longboard-making course in Charlie’s studio in South Lakes LA11 6SH. Make a unique high-performance longboard to your own design and learn about steam-bending and laminating wood. £125 each, please see http://www.charliewhinney.com/courses for more details.

Saturday 27th August 11am – 5pm
High Speed Trees – Fulfil the basic human need of transportation using found materials including trees in ingenious ways. Ages 7+, children must be accompanied by an adult, free of charge, just turn up.

Sunday 28th August 11am – 5pm
Seminar – ‘Stupid Apes’. A series of short talks exploring haphazard urges and complex creative thoughts that have lead humans to dominate the natural world. BBQ at 7.30pm. All welcome, please email info@charliewhinney.com to book.

Monday 29th August 10am -12pm and 2pm-4pm
‘The Solutioniser‘ – Tell us your problems and we make you a fine art object to help. Sessions 20 minutes each, free of charge. Ages 16+, just turn up.


Architect Andrew Shepherd led a five day workshop programme at Cylinders planning a temporary pavilion at the Merz Barn.


Architect Andrew Shepherd (seated centre) with some of the Merz Barn conservation workshop participants today.

Groups of young architects, artists and writers took part, staying in the TOC H bunkbarn by the river at Chapel Stile, and thoroughly enjoying the opportunities for working outdoors.



Workshop with Dominic Sagar, tutor at the Manchester School of Architecture


Planning session at Cylinders: architect Andrew Shepherd with Ian Hunter, discussing the current programme of renovations, and future possibilities for the Merz Barn site.

The visit gave Andrew Shepherd, the chief architect for the Merz Barn project for nearly ten years now, a chance to meet and advise the contractors carrying out the conservation work, and also (above) to go over and refine the whole project with Ian Hunter.


In anticipation of July’s comprehensive reparations to the Merz Barn site, preliminary work began today on the Barn itself:


John and Sam preparing the area behind the Merz Barn for the rebuilding of the damaged wall. 30.06.16

Sam and John making the site ready for rebuilding the wall, and Tom Branton beginning to remove the damaged roof.


Tom Branton beginning to remove the damaged roof of the Merz Barn prior to replacement.

Thanks to all our wonderful supporters: Galerie Gmurzynska (Zurich), the University of Cumbria, the Cumbria Community Fund, the Dulverton Trust, and the Sir John Fisher Foundation.


Architectural Workshops at The Merz Barn

Zaha Hadid and Kurt Schwitters

Workshops & seminars – for architecture, art, design and built heritage students

Monday 11 – Friday 15 July 2016;   Cylinders Estate, Elterwater, Langdale Cumbria LA22 9JB

A five day programme and introduction to some of the key architectural issues and practical conservation work involved in the restoration of the site of Kurt Schwitters’ last Merzbau, the Elterwater Merz Barn.   <www.merzbarn.net> <www.facebook.com/MerzmanProject?fref=photo>

Accommodation will be available on site.

Conserving a pioneering modernist experimental site in a rural location

Following considerable damage to the Merz Barn and site during last winter’s storms the Kurt Schwitters Merz Barn project site will be undergoing restoration and conservation work over the summer.  As a preliminary to this work, Dr. Ian Hunter Director of the Kurt Schwitters Merz barn project and Andrew Shepherd Dip.Arch., Dip. Cons., R.I.B.A., F.R.S.A, I.H.B.C., formerly Head of the Architectural Association Building Conservation Dept. will be leading the workshops.  These will involve hands-on work experience, and an introduction to the design and planning issues relating to the recovery and conservation of a pioneering early modernist architecture experimental site, in a National Park location.

Seminar – Zaha Hadid and the Merz Barn.

Part-funding for the conservation work has been contributed by the Galerie Gmurzynska, with the support of Zaha Hadid Architecture London, following a recommendation from Hadid, before she died earlier this year in Florida, that Kurt Schwitters Merz Barn project should be supported and and conserved.   Reference will accordingly be made to Zaha Hadid’s current Merzbau architectural installation at the Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich.<http://uk.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1428258/kurt-schwitters-meets-zaha-hadid-at-galerie-gmurzynska>.

For more information on fees and registration please contact:  Celia Larner or Ian Hunter

t. 015394 37309   e. <littoral@btopenworld.com>

Schwitters in Zurich



Galerie Gmurzynska is proud to announce Kurt Schwitters: Merz, a major retrospective exhibition that builds and expands on the gallery’s five decade long exhibition history with the artist, bringing together a unique selection of seventy works across all media. These include key works of each period, some of which have been especially loaned from significant collections.

Kurt Schwitters: Merz will be presented in a fully transformed gallery space designed by the late Pritzker Price winning architect Zaha Hadid. This collaboration results from the idea of an architectural homage by Zaha Hadid to the famous “Merz Bau” of Kurt Schwitters. Having successfully realized a similar project seven years ago, where Hadid transformed Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich into a Suprematist space in reference to Kasimir Malevich, this collaborative project pays tribute to the second important artistic influence on Hadid’s work – Kurt Schwitters.

Since Galerie Gmurzynska, Zurich is in the same building complex that once housed the famous Galerie Dada run by artists Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball, and with Zurich celebrating 100 years of DADA this year, this retrospective is both overdue and extremely timely. The exhibition will be realized in curatorial collaboration with Adrian Notz, the director of Cabaret Voltaire where the DADA movement originated in 1916 and one of the main locations of this year’s centennial festivities. Adrian Notz will create sections devoted to archival documents covering Schwitters’s important ventures into poetry, theatre, stage design and sound which complement and further contextualize his unique visual praxis.

The retrospective will also shine a light on Kurt Schwitters’s significant influence on a whole range of artistic generations succeeding him – from David Bowie to Damien Hirst – or as the renowned curator Norman Rosenthal put it: “there is no artist working today that has not been influenced by Kurt Schwitters”.