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George Abbot School in Guildford inspired by the Watts Chapel in Compton

Posted 11th July 2009
Watts Contemporary Gallery


During this past week there have been five hard hat tours of the Gallery. We have hosted visits from the staff of the Florence Academy of Art with whom we hope to co-host a summer school next year in Compton, the Trustees of the George John and Sheilah Livanos Trust, our patrons, our Trustee and lead patron, Isabel Goldsmith and the Heritage Lottery Fund monitor. On each visit, it is exciting to see the changes – more insulation on the roof, the return of the tiles on the Sculpture Gallery roof, which looks magnificent and untouched, new drains dug, new ventilations shafts created, and the orchard car park, to the rear of the building, which is now taking shape. The chimney for the kiln has been erected beside the Education studio, bringing back to the Watts Gallery Estate the ceramic heritage of its past.

I was most honoured to be invited to the unveiling of work carried out by Year 7 pupils at George Abbot School in Guildford inspired by the Watts Chapel in Compton. Taking the theme of The Tree of Life, following their visit to the chapel, the pupils created felt and decorated the felt with images. Their work has now been replicated on weather proof boards which are on show on the hoardings at the Watts Gallery Estate. Our Head of Learning Helen Hienkens Lewis, with the help of partners such a George Abbot, MLA and Surrey Museums Consultative Committee, and the Peter Harrison Foundation, has really achieved our vision of a Gallery without Walls, during this restoration period. We continue to be so grateful to all our donors, benefactors, friends, volunteers and the local community for supporting the Hope Project. We must not lose hope as we travel towards our goal of a restored Gallery, a national gem, a place which will be enjoyed for another hundred years to come.

In one sense it seems that we are creating more holes in the Gallery building, while in other areas we are creating new spaces. To improve the ventilation and environmental controls for the Isabel Goldsmith Patino Gallery we have had to cut four incisions along the base of the outside wall to allow for ventilation. We have also dug deep trenches in the floor to bring in the environmental controls. Outside the Gallery at the back we are rapidly constructing a new building alongside the Education Studio to house the plant as well as a lobby, toilets, kiln and wet room for education activities. Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the removal of the laurel hedge along the back lane, which we are now naming Pottery Lane, which has revealed the imposing and majestic form of the Gallery and its impact on the rest of the Watts Gallery Estate. So many people have said to me in the past that they have visited Watts Gallery Estate and never found the Gallery – now it is there for all to see. At last, we are beginning to grasp Watts’s and Mary Watts’s ambition to offer art for all in a rural setting to provide an enlightening and enjoyable experience for all who visit and engage with the collection. 

Once again, my thanks must go to all those generous donors and funders who have made this possible. I was most honoured to be able to take a Trustee and the Administrator of the Garfield Weston Foundation right up to the top of the roof to see progress on building the replaced lantern and to enjoy the extraordinary roofscape. In this way, we can show our generous supporters the dramatic effect their gifts have enabled. Thank you to them and to you all.