Re-introducing the Artist's Studio Museum Network
A short history of our international museum network
With the launch of the new Artist's Studio Museum Network website we wanted to look back at the formation of the network in 2016. At Watts Gallery - Artists' Village the network formation coincided with the addition of their own studio museum and the discovery of this world of wonderful museums.
If you visited Watts Gallery - Artists' Village prior to 2016 you might have wondered about the private house that overlooked the site. What had become a collection of private dwellings was, at one time, the home and studios of G F Watts OM, RA (1817 – 1904) and Mary Watts (1849-1938). Prior to 2016 visitors could explore the gallery they had built together (Mary built it really as a homage to G F) , filled with George's paintings, and marvel at the fresco's in the Arts & Crafts chapel built by Mary. But the house stayed out of reach.
Unexpectedly coming up for sale in 2011 the house was purchased with the help of significant public and private fundraising and the kind supportof Prince Charles himself. After significant restoration work to uncover the artists' studio and home; Limnerslease was opened to the public.The reunification of was an incredible moment for the Watts Gallery - Artists' Village: the story of the site is once again complete.
Whilst the journey to secure and open Limnerslease was relatively dramatic, the circumstances aren't unique. Unless preserved during the lifetime of the artist or shortly after their death many of these extraordinary spaces were modernised, adapted and lost. Those that remain today are often reconstructed in new environments or carefully restored in situ using photographs as guides - or even, as in the case of The Mackintosh House, from the memories of former visitors.
These are the Artist's Studio Museums, as unique, individual and eclectic as their former owners. Dotted across the world Studio Museums can go from state run institutions like the Ticho House in Israel to personal labours of love like Lo Studio Simi in Italy which is owned, restored and run by two dedicated art lovers.
After the opening of Limnerslease, what became apparent was not only the importance of these spaces to our cultural heritage and understanding of artists' work but also the relative isolation of so many of these institutions. In 2016 there was no centralised body to connect these museums. Meaning these often out of the way, hidden gems were not only difficult for the public to find; but struggled to connect with each other.
So, alongside the opening of Limnerslease, the Artist's Studio Museum Network was launched. The network was conceived as a place to raise the profile of the museums and a way to connect them to each other in order to build a wider cultural map of artists' homes and studios. Limnerslease was an amazing addition to the Watts site; we hope that the Artists' Studio Museum Network equally becomes an incredible addition to our communal cultural landscape, shining a light on these spaces filled with the 'raw materials of [the] past lives' of our greatest artists.
The museums that make up the network are unique, yet united in their work to preserve the memory of the artists who used to live and work there. These magical places offer us a glimpse at the world of the artist beyond the artwork. They ask us to step inside and catch the artist in the process of creation. It is as if they have just left through a side door and perhaps, through these museums, we might be allowed to follow them.