Our latest Curiosity of the Week is a small and unassuming stone barn, with an artistic heritage, hidden off the beaten track in Cumbria. The Merz Barn, located in the Lake District’s pretty Langdale valley, once belonged to little known artist Kurt Schwitters.
But who was Kurt Schwitters? Schwitters was a German artist who was exiled in Cumbria during the second world war, and eventually made his home here.
As an artist, Schwitters didn’t just produce paintings and was rather prolific, dabbling with collages, paintings, poetry, performance, photography, sculpture, architecture and installation projects. His art didn’t really fit into a single category, and the word ‘Merz’ is what Schwitters called his art. The barn itself was designed to be an art installation, hence its name, although he never managed to finish it.
Sadly, since Schwitters’ death, supporters of the Merz Barn have struggled to raise the money needed to preserve this hidden piece of art heritage. In the 1960s, one of the walls containing Schwitters artwork, was removed and is now preserved in Hatton Gallery in Newcastle. The barn is still under threat from lack of financial support to maintain it, despite the best efforts of the Littoral Arts Trust, and may yet end up in the hands of developers.
Today, inside the barn you will find a small room containing information on Schwitters’ original plans for his artwork and the history of the barn. The other room contains a canvas depiction of the wall art which was removed, perhaps a sad reminder of what happens when we don’t invest in our cultural history. Outside, the trust have created an area to sit, rest and share ideas, called the Merz Platz.
The Merz Barn is free to visit and usually open daily. It is located opposite the Langdale Hotel & Spa; head through the green gates and follow the signs along the track to the barn. Don’t miss the painted sticks above the door!
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