Kurt Schwitters' last Merzbau: The Elterwater Merz Barn


The Harry Pierce Micro-Museum and Reading Room

The Cylinders estate in Langdale, heart of the South Lakeland National Park and home to Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn, opens a new attraction to the public on June 20th 2019 at 2 pm.

Thanks to a grant from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, supported and administered by the Cumbria Fells & Dales Local Action Group, the old Drawing Office at Cylinders has been completely rebuilt on the site of the derelict original.

The original little building was built by Landscape Designer Harry Pierce, owner of Cylinders, in the early 1940s, as a place in which to create his garden plans for Mawson’s of Windermere, for whom he was the chief designer.  The new building is designated as a micro-museum, and will hold a selection of Pierce’s plans for his own garden at Cylinders, plus his writings about his experiences and dreams, and photographs taken at the time.

The Drawing Office museum will open to the public from 2 pm on June 20th, when there will be a reception, and guided tours of the museum and site.  

Thereafter The Drawing Office will be open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, free of charge.  There is ample parking inside the gates.  

Please keep dogs on the lead, and remember that Cylinders is a wildlife and plant and fungus sanctuary.


From 6 pm, July 7th 2021

Shippon Gallery, The Merz Barn, Cylinders, Langdale, Ambleside LA22 9JB

Invitation to Film Screening & a Talk celebrating Prism Arts 2 year outreach arts programme exploring the life and times of Kurt Schwitters

The Fragments Lost & Found film documents elements of 10 years of Schwitters’ life in exile, interspaced with a fictional narrative of two Jewish children on the run from Nazi Germany.

Fragments Lost & Found film screening:

6.30 pm July 7th 2021

followed by a Talk by Vicki Maxfield and Ali McCaw (LAL)


Invitation to the Opening of FRAGMENTS LOST AND FOUND, an Exhibition by Prism Arts which coincides with Schwitters’ birthday on June 20th, and in conjunction with Refugee Week. 2 pm, Sunday June 20th at the Shippon Gallery, Merz Barn, Elterwater, Ambleside LA22 9JB.

THE EXHIBITION celebrates a two year project with Mayfield School and Distington Community School exploring the life of Kurt Schwitters and the impact of the Second World War.

Exhibition opens daily from 10am to 5pm, until July 7th 2021.


The Merz Barn in May


From Friday April 30th Cylinders, the Merz Barn, and the Harry Pierce Drawing Office will be open from 10am to 5pm daily

We are happy to announce that Cylinders, the Merz Barn, and the Harry Pierce Drawing Office will re-open for individuals and small groups from Friday, April 30th 2021, 10am to 5pm daily.

Please observe national guidelines on numbers and distancing, and wear masks inside the buildings.  Children should be warned of hurtful or hazardous plants, and kept away from the ponds. 

Visitors will notice that we have acquired a pair of young peacocks, Lancelot and Pearl.  They are nervous birds, living entirely free, and will take time to adapt to noise or disruption.  Please do not allow children to chase them.  The new hens, however, Rosie, Lulu, and Bella, are friendly and gregarious.  Our beautiful and beloved cockerel, Fortinbras (Forty) died just before Christmas at the age of nearly twelve.  He is survived by his sister Hilde, now rather ancient and rickety but intent on asserting her status as Boss of the Flock..

Cylinders is also a reserve for native animals, birds, fungi, plants and trees.  Keep strict control (short leads) on any dogs so as not to disturb the wildlife, and clean up after them.  Even in the course of art-making please do not pick fungi, flowers, fruit, plants or mosses, climb or damage trees, or make fires, without asking permission beforehand.

peafowl at Cylinders
Lance posing for Pearl


November 2020

Lancelot and Pearl have joined the Merz Barn team, and are providing much entertainment during lock-down

It has been a long time since we have issued an update on the Merz Barn.  Like the rest of the country we have been hoping for a let-up in the Covid-19 pandemic, or the arrival of a viable vaccine, in order to issue an up-beat report.  Since this is not yet in sight we have decided simply to send out a personal message to our Friends and Supporters.

Ian and Celia spent January visiting relatives in Australia and New Zealand, and arrived back at Cylinders in February tanned and relaxed and unaware of the impending health crisis.  When we discovered what was happening we remembered the Cultural Documents of FMD project we ran during the Foot-and-Mouth epidemic of 2001-2, and the Pandemics and Society exhibition and conference in Manchester in 2006.  These two programmes had put the Littoral trust in contact with experts from Britain and the US in the fields of epidemiology and related medical studies.  Some of the papers read during the conference had contained dire forecasts of the possibilities of new pandemics caused by the interaction between animal and human viruses.

Two things were exceptionally clear as the virus spread across Europe and to Britain:  that old people and those with existing medical conditions were particularly at risk of requiring hospitalisation if they contracted the new Covid-19 virus, and that the consequent strain on NHS facilities could swiftly bring hospitals to a standstill.  By March 2020 it was evident that this was already happening.  Our Government was slow to take action at a national level.  Ian and Celia took what they at that point hoped was a sensible temporary measure, a decision to go into immediate self-shielding at Cylinders, and close the Merz Barn site to the public from March 13th, ten crucial days before the whole country was forced into lock-down.

Since then there has been no moment at which it has seemed safe to relax vigilance.  What has the reality been so far?

As most of you know, aside from being a site dedicated to Kurt Schwitters’ memory, to refugees in general, and to the artists and emergent artists of our own day, Cylinders is seen by us as a stronghold for native Cumbrian wildlife.  Before the trust acquired the site at the end of 2006 it had been left untouched for almost thirty years, and during that time had become a refuge for birds, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates, and our local wild plants and fungi.  In a normal year the winter months are not especially welcoming to casual visitors so that in spite of occasional irruptions by groups of artists or students there are enough quiet times for our natural residents to maintain their trust in the site.  2020 has given them a summer respite welcomed by all species, although the necessity to improve our boundary walls and fences to combat the increasingly athleticism of the hordes of Herdwick sheep on the fells may have cut down the numbers of the roe and red deer normally resident or visiting here.

So much for the site.  How about Ian and Celia?  Have they simply been taking life easy?

Celia is now 83, and it has to be said that she has welcomed the change of pace that leaves her time, after attending to the book-keeping and report-writing, for her own pursuits.  

Ian on the other hand has been very busy indeed.  With the impossibility of travel to meetings and conferences he has had time to work intensively on future programmes for Cylinders and the Merz Barn, including celebrations for the 25th anniversary in 2022 of Schwitters’ Merz Barn art installation.  At the same time he has returned to the Littoral Arts parallel programme The Arts and Agricultural Change, and the linked Creative Rural Economy strand.

As a counter-balance to this desk work Ian has spent the last seven months looking after the Cylinders site and buildings, upgrading the cottage, mending the dry-stone walls, dealing with flood and storm damage, and much more.  Some of these jobs have necessitated outside help – mainly the felling of trees that have half-fallen and become dangerous – but it is also amazing how much Ian has managed to achieve completely without help.

It is now November.  Following promising updates on the imminent availability of an anti-Covid vaccine we are waiting to find out if and when we may expect to receive it, but we are alive to the fact that there are many people who will require to be treated first, and it seems likely that we will have to wait until next spring to be able to re-open Cylinders for visits and residencies.

We are also waiting awhile to publish our plans for future projects, and in particular for the summer of 2022 when we hope to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn installation.  There are exciting projects, proposals, and partnerships in the pipe-line which will be unveiled in due course.

In the immediate future we hope to be able to re-launch artist Lizzie Fisher’s project and exhibition ‘Metzger at the Merz Barn’, supported by Cumbria Community Council, in 2021, and we are also working on an HLF assisted project with Ali McCaw, Prism Arts Carlisle, and children from Dissington Primary School, for the summer of 2021.

There is a Future and Littoral Arts and the Merz Barn will be there for it!

Snapshots from the Borders

‘Take DADA seriously!’ Cumbrian artists and Royal College of Art students – performance 2017 in the Merz Circle.

Workshops, exhibitions, talks and film screening: ‘To the Four Winds’

Saturday 19th October 2019 at Kurt Schwitters’ Merz Barn, Cylinders Estate, Elterwater LA22 9JB

Programme:  Saturday 19th October 2019

2 – 3 pm   Guided tour of the Merz Barn site and exhibitions

  1. Children’s art of the Holocaust
  2. Entartete Kunst and the Nazi Declaration of war on modern art 
  3. Prism Arts at the Merz Barn exhibition
  4. Harry Pierce – the Drawing Office Garden History micro museum

3 pm         Tea and biscuits for all

3.30 – 5 pm Workshops.  

  • Children’s ‘magic snake stick’ art workshop
  • Workshop on the themes of the ‘Snapshots from the Borders’ project, a Communities of Philosophical Enquiry approach to engage us all in thinking about migration, and empathising with people who choose or are forced to migrate and recognise the values we share.

6 – 7 pm    Bonfire & BBQ – hot soup, sourdough bread and cheese for all

7 – 8 pm    Talk, and film screening at the Merz Barn

                 Screening of the film ‘To the Four Winds’

 and two talks at the Merz Barn: Kurt Schwitters and Gustav Metzger by Lizzie Fisher; The story of Merz and Entartete Kunst by Rosie Galloway-Smith

At the 1937 Munich exhibition of ‘Degenerate Art’ a painting by Kurt Schwitters is hung deliberately upside-down and at an angle, as seen here above the Führer’s head.  Schwitters may have been partly inspired to produce the Elterwater Merz Barn in1947 as a response to the destructiveness, and racism of the Nazis

8.30 pm   The Reading of the Names ceremony – the artists’ memorial

We conclude the evening with the ‘Reading of the Names’ ceremony, an annual event honouring the memory of the many artists who were declared ‘degenerate’ (‘entartet’) by the Nazis, and the many other artists who died in the Holocaust or were forced to flee into exile.  In the final part we read out the names of all the artists featured in the infamous Nazi exhibition which opened in Munich in July 1937 (see above).  People are invited to chalk each name on one of the stones in the end wall of the Merz Barn.  Our vicar George Wrigley will lead the dedication.

The memorial is also dedicated in the memory all artists who have suffered persecution, imprisonment, or lost their lives due to their religious beliefs, political affiliations, sexual orientation, gender. or ethnicity.

Sunday 20th October:  To the Four Winds film programme, 2.30 to 4 pm

Over two years To the Four Winds follows an activist smuggler between the Italian/French border in his attempts to ease the migrants’ plight.  The result is a portrait of a group of modern heroes who want to show that Europe is more than its strict immigration policies.  We see Herrou’s crowded backyard, and follow him on his journeys across the border into France or on his way to court.  At the same time the rebellious farmer talks about his motivation and experiences, with the soundtrack weaving together the action, scenes and interviews.

For information on the Sunday programme please contact:   Ian Hunter Celia Larner.

T  015394 37309.  e. littoral@btopenworld.com.  w. merzbarn.net

For the Saturday workshop programme and registrations see: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/snapshots-from-the-border-19th-and-20th-october-2019-tickets-75590554383

A Merz Barn partnership with Cumbria Development Education Centre and No More Bricks in the Wall

The Merz Barn project is organised by LITTORAL Arts
Reg. Company No. 02526443    Reg. Charity No: 1002365
Reg. Office:  The Merz Barn, Cylinders Estate, Elterwater, Ambleside LA22 9JB




Portrait of Harry Pierce by Kurt Schwitters, by courtesy of Mr. William Pierce

to be opened by Harry’s Grandson


Saturday, September 14th, 2019, from 2pm

Cylinders, Elterwater, Ambleside, site of the Merz Barn



Tea and Biscuits will be provided