Posted 5th September 2011
Watts Contemporary Gallery
Returning to Watts Gallery after a refreshing break, I was delighted to find that the daily wave of visitors had not ceased! Watching visitors arrive at the top of the lane leading to the Gallery, and pausing as they take in the refreshed face of the Gallery, the green ceramic gables, the restored roof tiles, the new Mary Watts sun dial, the lovingly tendered sunken garden, and the surviving Wisteria, I can see both the anticipation and the relief. Anticipation for what lies inside, and relief that this precious building still creates a feel of wonder, settled as it is, in the hollow of the Surrey hills. From my window looking out over the front door of the Gallery, I can enjoy hearing the different guides sharing their passion and knowledge with groups from Oxford, London, Hampshire, Kent and further afield. There is a tour booked in every day this September! Inside the Gallery, thanks to the dedicated efforts of our Estate Assistants, the restored parquet floor continues to gleam a rich golden colour and the warmth of the red wallpaper never fails to delight.
But we are more than a restored re-opened Watts Gallery. We are a national gallery in the heart of a village offering a vibrant programme of exhibitions and events. I am delighted that very shortly we shall be issuing a new programme of events which goes right through to February 2012. To ensure that you get an early booking I strongly recommend that you join the Friends of Watts Gallery. There are some real treats in store.
I could not believe it when the Visitor Services Manager informed me that we had 300 volunteers. This is humbling and proof that the vision of Watts and Mary Watts attracts the interest and passion just as much today as when the Gallery was founded a hundred years ago. It is for this reason that we are seeking now to save Watts’s house and studio which are currently up for sale. Limnerslease, across the road from Watts Gallery, and built by Watts as his winter studio, would provide the final piece of the Watts story and offer a fascinating insight in to the life, society and work of two leading artists at the end of the 19th Century and at the beginning of the 20th Century. Already many have pledged support but if we can achieve a positive response from the Heritage Lottery Fund at the end of this month, we have a far stronger likelihood of saving this unique building for the nation. Then we can really dream of Compton becoming an artists’ village of international importance.
All very well, but we could not have come this far if it had not been for the generosity of so many and the daily support of our neighbours, local community, volunteers, donors, Friends and patrons is the lifeblood of Watts Gallery. A huge thank you to all as ever.