Kurt Schwitters' last Merzbau: The Elterwater Merz Barn


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Pip Hall’s beautiful  carving at Cylinders

On Saturday October 27th 2018 Pip Hall finished carving the inscription of a saying by Kurt Schwitters on a found glacial erratic boulder at Cylinders.

The work was finished in time for the annual Reading of the Names of the artists ridiculed by the Nazi régime in the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich in 1938.  This moving ceremony was led by the vicar of All Saints church, Chapel Stile, George Wrigley, and, in a departure from our usual practice,  took place in the candlelight inside the Merz Barn.

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Pip at work sm

Pip Hall at work



Annual Commemoration at the Merz Barn


Hitler degen 1

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 could have been partly inspired to produce the Elterwater Merz Barn in response to the utter destructiveness, barbarism and racism of the Nazis.

It’s never too late..!

Artists and community gather to commemorate the many artists who were declared degenerate (entartet) by the Nazis, and to honour the countless other artists, gay people, Roma, Seventh Day Adventists, Black Africans, Anabaptists, and people with disabilities who perished in the Nazi death camps*. 

7 – 9 pm, Saturday 27th October 2018

At Kurt Schwitters Merz Barn, Elterwater LA22 9JB

*This year, inspired by Professor Simon Schama’s wonderful The Vital Spark, (Civilisation No. 9, BBC TV documentary) we will be remembering the little Jewish girl Helen Mandlova, who was murdered by the Nazis in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.  We will also be honouring the ‘unquenchable creative fire’ of the other child artists of Theresienstadt and their courageous and gifted art teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

Cylinders Estate (opposite the Langdale Hotel) Elterwater, Ambleside, LA22 9JB 

BBQ (free soup and home-made bread, BYO bottle) – all welcome!

Tel. 015394 37309  littoral@btopenworld.com   <www.merzbarn.net>

Merz Barn 2018 – 70 years since the death of Kurt Schwitters

1 the old infirmary for web

Memorial tribute 7.1.2018, Strickland Court Kendal, site of the hospital where Kurt Schwitters died

In Memoriam K.S.

The 70th anniversary of Kurt Schwitters’ death in January 1948 fell on January 8 1948.  The occasion was marked by a short memorial programme in the Queens Hotel, Ambleside on Sunday, January 7th, with performances  by Florian Kaplick and Ian Hinde on and about the Ursonate.

2 Florian, Ian, &amp; Fiddlers for web

The Lakeland Fiddlers pay tribute to K.S., 7.1.18

This was followed by a dash to Strickland Court in Kendal, the site of the old county hospital in which Schwitters died.  The Lakeland Fiddlers braved the bleak weather to play a memorial tribute, flowers were placed on an approximation of the site, and then everyone retired to Cylinders where there was a barbecue with performances by Steve Grundy and his various instruments.

Looking at alternatives for the future of the Merz Barn

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Article in The Guardian, 8.1.18   N.B. The Merz Barn photo used was taken in 2007.

On January 8th an article appeared in The Guardian reporting the possibility that the Merz Barn might be sold to an arts entrepreneur in China if funding to keep it going were not forthcoming in England.  It is the case that the Littoral Trust has received several enquiries about the possibility of buying Cylinders, one of which was from China. The article, together with a filmed piece on ‘Look North Tonight’, helped to raise public awareness about the future of the Merz Barn.

4 NW Tonight 9.1.18 for web

Happily the issue has been resolved, for the next two years at least, and the Trustees are actively pursuing various avenues for the safe-guarding of the buildings and the site after that.

Holocaust Memorial Week

Traditionally we mark the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Week in January with a celebration of our own, remembering all the groups persecuted for ‘deviance’ by the Nazi regime in Germany:  beside the Jews they attempted to annihilate Black people, anyone with mental or physical problems, Gypsies, Seventh Day Adventists, and artists working in Modernist genres.  On the evening of January 26th we invited our regional Rabbi to join in a memorial event in the Merz Barn, together with the vicar of All Saints church, George Wrigley, a Buddhist, an Adventist, and others.  A small exhibition was opened featuring a rug, hand-woven in Afghanistan to a design by artist Jim Ricks ‘Tread Carefully!’, based on a slogan by George Grosz displayed at the First International Dada Fair in Weimar in 1922. Translated, the text runs:  ‘Take Dada seriously, It is worth it!’ (www.jimricks.info).

7 Nehmen Sie Dada Ernst for web

Restoration work at Cylinders

As usual the winter gales saw the fall of several of our vintage birch trees. Self-seeded, these have a short life of around 70 years, and are especially vulnerable when they stand on shallow earth.  Mike Edmondson’s team came in during February to log the crop of fallen trees, happily finding no major damage this year to neighbouring beeches or conifers, or to the ancient dry-stone walls.

9 Tree maintenance for web

February was also the month during which Steve Grundy finished work on the new glasshouse behind the Merz Barn, a replica of the one to be seen in old photographs of Cylinders, built by Harry Pierce during the 1940s.

The original Glasshouse in the 1950s       Steve Grundy with the new glasshouse gallery and    reading room

Restoration of the Drawing Office – Cumbria Fells & Dales LEADER+ Grant

We are happy to announce that Littoral has been awarded a grant by LEADER/RDPE to completely rebuild Harry Pierce’s old Drawing Office at Cylinders this autumn.  The architect is Andrew Shepherd, and the work will be undertaken by Cook & Lakin of Ambleside and Windermere. The ‘drawing office’ rebuild will include new gallery display space and micro museum and reading room  devoted to the work and life of local garden designer Harry Pierce. Who had first supported Schwitters while working on the Merz Barn in 1947.


Arts programmes for students, artists and young people at the Merz Barn site

The artistic programme at Cylinders during 2018 has continued to expand. There have been residencies and visits for student groups from the Royal College of Art, Manchester University and Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Salford, and the University of Cumbria Institute of Arts.

Installation by a student from Salford Uni.    Drawing in the Merz Barn.

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MA students from the Royal College of Art showing their work in the Merz Barn, July 23rd

KSDIY 18  Summer School    14 – 24.07.18

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Summer School Workshops

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Dry-stone walling with Steve Grundy

16C Danny Clahane 2018-07-18 for web

Stone-carving workshop with artist Danny Clahane

The KS18 Summer School was organised by members of the RCA Students’ Union led by Cat Robertson. They attended workshops on drystone walling with Steve Grundy, stone-carving with sculptor Danny Clahane, woodland crafts with Dave Middleton, collage with artist Mike Healey, and – a popular choice – trench-digging on Mike Edmondson’s digger.  The weather for once was perfect.

Mike Healey’s Collage workshop: loose re-creation of a work by Schwitters, now lost, (Das Merzbild 1919) included (upside down) in the 1939 Munich ‘Entartete Kunst’ Exhibition of 1939.

Degenerate-Hitler-Ziegler (1)

After Mike’s workshop the ‘re-created’ collage was carried in procession to the Merz Circle where it was hung right side up on the Merz Barn wall, sections of his ‘Ursonate’ piece were read by Ian Hinde, and the event was crowned by an impromptu country dancing session to the accompaniment of Steve Grundy’s accordion.

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RCA Student Union Benji taking instruction from Mike Edmondson


Exhibitions at Cylinders 2018

Peter Symonds exhibition   INDIGENOUS.

New and recent paintings by Peter Symonds.  A response to the work of Kurt Schwitters.   April 7 until April 28.

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Minimalist Collage display by Peter Symonds in the Shippon Gallery (detail

Mike Healey  ‘Collage’ Exhibition.  May 6 to June 3rd

25 Healey Merz Poster for web

Statement – Mike Healey

For the last five years I have lived and worked on a Greek island.   Corfu, away from the tourist sites, is a lush expanse of olive groves, secret lakes, dark forests and unyielding mountains – a landscape where ancient gods and goddesses once walked, spreading fear and veneration in equal measure.   It is, therefore, a haunted island, and any artist worth his or her salt must recognize the indefinable presence of these pagan forces.

 Many of the paintings in this exhibition therefore have their origins in Greece, and reflect the veneration I have for ‘place’ – wherever it may be. This takes many forms, including close study of indigenous plant forms, rock formations and specific landscapes.

‘Merz in the Moment’ Exhibition in the Merz Barn and Cake Room,   August 3rd & 4th (Abbott Hall Dementia Arts group).

Shannon Quigley, Curator of the ‘Merz in the Moment’ Exhibition;  Donna Campbell hanging the Exhibition with Warren (MMU

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‘Merz in the Moment’ Exhibition Opening, August 4th 2018

‘Merz in the Moment’ is a long-term collaborative art project initiated by Abbott Hall Art Gallery in collaboration with the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, with people coping with dementia and their carers.  They took as their theme inspiration from Kurt Schwitters’ collages, and we were delighted when they were able to bring their project to Cylinders and display their own artwork in the Merz Barn.  The artists and their carers will be returning in the new year to produce a major installation and exhibition.

Chris Roberts (UAL) Collage Exhibition in the new Glasshouse gallery

Chris Roberts, Head of Foundation Studies UAL, Glasshouse Exhibition

Chris Roberts, Head of Foundation Art Studies  at the University of the Arts London, was funded by UAL to undertake a week-long research residency at Cylinders in August.  The main purpose of the residency was to look at future possibilities for residencies and research work at the Merz Barn for UAL students.

Ouroboros Exhibition  Shippon Gallery, Aug 5th to 31st

‘Ouroboros, ‘the snake that eats its tail’, is an exploration of the transformative power of collage.  It includes recycling, upcycling, the personal and the universal, the implications of ‘selfie culture’, the relationship between art and time, part and whole’.

31 Ouroboros Flyer for web

The Ouroboros ‘Transformation of the Discarded’ exhibition features the work of OPAO (All Possibilities Are Open), a recently formed group of artists based in Kendal – Steve Trevillion, Annie Coxey, Delcia McNeil and Rosie Wates.  The group has been working in and around the Merz Barn throughout the year to produce the current exhibition for the Shippon Gallery and the Merz Barn Cake Room.

At the opening on August 5th, which was graced by brilliant sunshine, cakes and tea were served from the Merz Barn Cake Room, and dance and spoken improvisations took place in the Merz Circle and the Shippon Gallery.

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Ouroboros Exhibition in the Shippon Gallery

Cakes on display in the Cake Room window    Ouroboros Performance in the Merz Circle

OPAO:  The Future

The Ouroboros exhibition was the first stage of a longer term project in which the artists will be working in and around the Merz Barn to prepare a series of artworks, performances, and educational projects involving other artists and young people in the region.

OPAO  have a related Ouroboros exhibition opening at Kendal Museum on September 12th, Private View 3 – 6 pm – all welcome.  The exhibition continues until October 3rd.

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‘Sweet Dreams!’  Found Photo-Collage (Cake Room)

Keep an eye on the Merzbarn Langdale FaceBook page for details of future events!


MERZ BARN Exhibition Openings

August 2018

‘MERZ IN THE MOMENT’ – Exhibition by members of the Abbott Hall Dementia Group.  

PRIVATE VIEW:  Friday, August 3rd 2018 at 2pm.

The ‘In The Moment’ Exhibition goes up!


CHRIS ROBERTS:  COLLAGE-BASED EXHIBITION of works produced during his week-long July residency at Cylinders.

PRIVATE VIEW:  Saturday August 4th, at 6pm

Chris Roberts:  images in progress at Cylinders


‘OUROBOROS’ EXHIBITION:  APAO (All Possibilities Are Open), Kendal

Ouroboros Flyer

APAO Artists:  Steve Trevillion;  Delcia McNeil;  Rosie Wates

PRIVATE VIEW:  Sunday, August 5th 2018, 3 – 6pm

K.S. Summer School in progress

The first night bonfire:  students from the Royal College of art round the bonfire with Steve Grundy and his concertina performing a selection of Cumbrian and Irish traditional songs and tunes.

1st night bonfire for web

Drystone walling with Steve Grundy and Ian Hunter, July 15th;  and Charlie Whinney, steam-bender and artist, with Steve Grundy, July 16th.

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The Summer School project for July 19th was to ‘reconstruct’ the lost collage created by Schwitters on July 19th 1919. The original was hung derisively upside down at the 1937 ‘Entartete Kunst’ exhibition in Munich.

Degenerate-Hitler-Ziegler (1)

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The ‘rediscovered’ collage was ceremoniously hung in the Merz Circle, displayed next to a tapestry depicting George Grosz’s original Dada slogan (also used in the Degenerate Art exhibition): Take Dada Seriously: it’s worth it!’

Project master-minded by artist Mike Healey (in hat), here seen with Ian Hinde, who performed a version of Schwitters’ ‘Ur-Sonate’, and Steve Grundy, who provided the music.

2018-07-19 dance circle 2

Impromptu dancing display by the RCA students, with Steve on the accordion.

More KS18 pics:



COLLAGE – an exhibition featuring the work of Mike Healey


Healey Poster May 2018

Exhibition of the work of Kendal Artist Ike Healey

Shippon Gallery

May 6th to June 3rd 2018

open daily 10am to 5pm

Artist’s Statement:

For the last five years I have lived and worked on a Greek island.

Corfu, away from the tourist sites, is a lush expanse of olive groves, secret lakes, dark forests and unyielding mountains – a landscape where ancient gods and goddesses once walked, spreading fear and veneration in equal measure.

It is, therefore, a haunted island and any artist worth his or her salt must recognize the indefinable, ineluctable presence of these pagan forces.

Many of the paintings in this exhibition therefore have their origins in Greece and reflect, I hope, the veneration I have for ‘place’ – wherever it may be.

This takes many forms, including close study of indigenous plant forms, rock formations and specific landscapes.

Here, at the Merzbarn, similar concerns shape my thinking.

While the Lake District may not immediately summon up Greek landscapes, the close affinity one feels with nature is at work here too, not least in the drawings I plan to complete during this residency.

Schwitters used collage in fresh and original ways. We are all in his debt for although he may not have been the first (I suspect that Picasso and Georges Braque can make that claim) he refined and enriched this technique of abrupt and unexpected visual juxtapositions.

For me, Max Ernst too was a formidable influence, especially when I started as an artist, some fifty years ago.

Here, in this small exhibition, there are numerous examples of my own struggles with this genre. Although I avoided bus tickets and the like, the juxtaposition of images in my case may derive in part from my professional career as a stage and film director. Film is fundamentally a medium in which, in one twenty-fourth of a second, it is possible to change visual direction, creating dramatic contrasts and tensions.

Collage, at its best, does just that.

For an artist like me to share – if only for a week or so – the place where a great Modernist once worked is itself a thrill.  We are lucky that he passed this way, pausing – before an untimely death in Kendal in 1948 – to spread his magic and imbrue the barn and the surrounding estate with some of his aura.

Kurt Schwitters may not be an ancient Greek god but here, at the Merzbarn, he is a living presence.

Mike Healey



Kurt Schwitters 70th anniversary memorial events on Sunday 7th January 2018, in Ambleside and Kendal

Kirkwood Cover Image

One of the great modern artists of the 20th century, Kurt Schwitters, died almost penniless and largely forgotten on the 8th January 1948 in what was then the Kendal Workhouse infirmary after spending his final years in Ambleside.

Sunday 7th January – 70th anniversary memorial programme:

2 pm:  Kurt Schwitters Dada poetry and Ursonate recital – Queens Hotel, Ambleside

It is said that Schwitters would from time to time perform his poems and recitations in some of the Ambleside pubs.   In honour of this, and also the award of his British citizenship papers on 7th January 1948*, we have invited Florian Kaplick and Ian Hinde to perform the Ursonate and other poems by or about Kurt Schwitters at the Queens Hotel in Ambleside.   Lunch 1 – 2 pm, and performances 2 – 3 pm.

4 pm:  70th anniversary memorial event – Caroline Street, (off Windermere Rd.) Kendal
Artists, poets, musicians and writers in Cumbria will gather at Caroline Street Kendal at the site of the former Workhouse Infirmary, at 4 pm on Sunday 7th January 2018 to lay a wreath in Schwitters’ honour and read poems in memory of the artist, on what is the eve of the 70th anniversary of his death in Kendal (8th January 1948).   All welcome.

6 pm onwards: BBQ at the Merz Barn, Elterwater, LA 22 9JB.

All are invited to a BBQ event (BYO) at the Merz Barn in Elterwater, with music and song provided by the ever-talented and joyous Merzmusos Carolyn Francis and Steve Grundy.

The Merz Barn – Cylinders Estate, Elterwater, Cumbria LA 22 9JB

T. 015394 37309

littoral@btopenworld.com <www.merzbarn.net>


*Kurt Schwitters was awarded his British citizenship papers just the day before he died; 7th January 1948.  Unfortunately he was by them too ill to sign them.