An Artists' Village, Liberating Fashion and the Big Issues project

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Posted 23rd February 2015

by Perdita Hunt

As the days lengthen and the noise of building increases, the evolution of Watts Gallery as part of an Artists' Village becomes ever present. In recent days we are rediscovering original features in the Wattes' studios across the lane from Watts Gallery, which we did not know were there: wooden recesses which were evident on earlier photographs and even niches that were hidden. At last we have reconnected the studios to the hall of the house, restoring the arch through which such eminent Victorians as Gladstone and Josephine Butler passed to sit to Watts. We have been undertaking more work on the landscape, and with historic pictures available to us we know that we need to find some more Compton pots as whit was the key way of decorating the garden with flowers. It is exciting to think that the daffodils around the cross commemorating Watts who used to walk the Pilgrims' Way will shortly be in bloom.

On Monday we opened Liberating Fashion: Aesthetic Dress in Victorian Portraits. It's a delight. Beautiful women in stunning frocks, displaying an artist-led revolution in women's and men's attire. We are so grateful to the lenders who have enabled Watts Gallery Trust to bring together for the very first time an insight into the different portrayals of aesthetic dress. I hope visitors will be charmed and perhaps muse on those fashion trends which have been instigated by art: Mary Quant and pop art? Vivienne Westwood and punk?

It has been a great treat to show the work of another group of artists: those who have participated in The Big Issues project. Young offenders, prisoners, those at risk of offending, homeless, reformed drug users and those with mental health difficulties have all together, through workshops with artists and inspired by the Watts Collection, created a feast for the eye in the annual Big Issues Exhibition. We are thrilled that more works have been sold in the first week than ever before. Next week, on Tuesday 24 February, the show opens in London at Gallery Different in Soho. As part of the Big Issues season, Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, is giving a talk on the big issues of the 19th Century and the 21st Century in the Art Workers Guild, Queen Square at 7.30pm on 3 March. A must for those interested in social change, education and the impact of art.

As we embark on further change with the impending opening of Watts Studios, we are deeply engaged with Trustees, volunteers, staff and all our stakeholders in coming to terms with the fact that we have become much more than a gallery. The first thing that every visitor says to us is 'Oh, there is so much more here than I thought!' How do we describe this larger campus of buildings? The Gallery, the Pottery, the Chapel and the House and Studio: an Artists' Village.

It is true that we could not have come this far without the support of generous donors, Friends, volunteers and supporters. We are hugely grateful.

This week I had the pleasure of showing David Pike, who has given and named the David Pike Conservation Studio, a hard hat tour of his studio. The vision of a graduate from City & Guilds of London Art School being able to have a year's use of the studio, plus mentoring from City & Guilds and an opportunity to work on the collection as well as develop private work, is a unique opportunity. David Pike has made this possible together with the bursary from the De Laszlo Foundation. This philanthropy is so appreciated.