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Directors Blog: Solent Swim, Sandi Toksvig and Gnomes!

Posted 13th June 2013
Watts Contemporary Gallery

Last night there was summer in the air, the Watts Gallery Tea Shop, the Old Kiln group dining space and the new Toilets on the Watts Gallery Estate were opened by Sandi Toksvig.  Sandi has been visiting the Watts Gallery and the Watts Tea Shop since she was 18.  She remembers the former, former curator, Wilfrid Blunt and she continues to delight in the Welsh rarebit and the home-made cake in the Tea Shop.  As Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, Sandi Toksvig finds Watts Gallery, just a minute off the A3, is a perfect stopping point for a cup of tea, a quick visit to the gallery and a ‘comfort break’. 

With tiles from Farnham, plants kindly placed by Watts Gallery volunteers, homemade jams and honey on the shelves and a warm welcome from the staff, the Tea Shop and Old Kiln group dining space is the perfect space to welcome groups and visitors from 10.30am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday.  We are immensely grateful to the local community, particularly our neighbours, who have put up with the building work over many weeks.

I had the pleasure of dropping into a Watts family workshop, taking place in the Foyle Art for All learning studio during half term.  Filled with little people and their parents making terracotta gnomes, inspired by the fairy and fantasy paintings in the former exhibition of Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, the studio was a hive of industry.  In the year when Chelsea has at last accepted gnomes, Watts Gallery is not far behind in producing a cohort, perhaps even a terracotta army of gnomes which will be popping up in gardens all over Surrey!

We are always seeking your support.  Now is no different!  We have just until the end of July to save the wonderful portrait of Countess Cork, which has been on loan in the Gallery since last summer.  Talking with visitors, it is noticeable how animated they become when we discuss our need to raise over £60,000 to secure this unique full-length portrait of a high society woman.  The clothes are exquisite, the painting is on wooden board, which makes it very special, and Countess Cork provides evidence of the fact that Watts was one of the most successful society painters of his time.  Watts Gallery aspires to be a centre of excellence for Watts and his works and keeping Countess Cork is a must.  If you feel able to help please do go online:

As well as this, on Saturday eight intrepid swimmers took the plunge to swim the Solent to raise funds for saving the Watts studios.  This completes our efforts to raise £15,000 to unlock money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, any donations are very

I cannot miss this occasion to reiterate Watts Gallery Trust’s thanks for the generous support that we receive from so many people.  If you come into the shop you will be welcomed by a volunteer who is supporting the front of house staff; if you visit the gardens you will find a volunteer helping with the planting and weeding, when you come into the Gallery you are welcomed by a volunteer steward, if you take a tour of the Chapel or Limnerslease you are guided by a volunteer who has undertaken special training for their task, and finally if you join a workshop in the Foyle Art for All Learning Studio there will doubtless be a volunteer working with the workshop leader.  All this and much more makes us perpetually grateful for the fantastic support.

I do hope that all of you reading this will make sure to come to our next exhibition, Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows (18 June- 3 November).  Although in the process of emerging from the shadows, this painter is well worth a visit.  Watts certainly thought so as he passed on every portrait commission he was unable to complete to this eminent and dedicated artist. I look forward to welcoming you back to Watts Gallery for art and tea!