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Merz Kendal

Merz Barn artwork

Kendal’s links with one of the most influential artists of the 20th century are to be celebrated at a seminar at the Town Hall.

The seminar will kick-start public consultation of how best to mark the 75th anniversary of his last great work of art, known as Merz Barn, in 2022.

It will also pay tribute to the people who strived to keep his legacy alive.

German-born Kurt Schwitters who fled the Nazis and ended up in the Lake District died in a paupers’ hospital off Windermere Road, now demolished, in January 1948.

The previous year he had embarked on a walk-in sculpture in a barn at Cylinders Estate, at Elterwater, in Langdale.

Schwitters is famed for his installations, collage, paintings, poetry and sculptures. He used discarded objects in much of his work and has been described by Lake District art historian Russell Mills as one of the three most influential artists of the 20th century, along with Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamps.

Schwitters coined the name Merz for his multi-media works. Previous installations in his home city of Hanover and Norway were later destroyed.

He finished one wall of the Langdale barn, which was later rescued for preservation by 1960s Brit-pop artist Richard Hamilton and taken to the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where it can still be seen.

The Kendal seminar will feature a performance of his sound poem, the Ursonata, by Workington-based artist Ian Hinde and a performance of a specially written Merz Fiddle tune by Carolyn Francis Lakeland Fiddlers, before discussion of the future of the Cylinders site.

Ian Hunter and Kurt

It is currently owned by arts charity Littoral Arts, whose director Ian Hunter is organising the seminar.

“Schwitters is revered by leading international artists, academics and architects. Many want to see the Cylinders site preserved and developed as a site of great national and international contemporary artistic and regional historic and cultural importance,” he said.

“We are proposing a major programme of new art work commissions, exhibitions, educational community engagements and new architecture projects to mark the 75th anniversary of the Merz Barn’s creation.

“But we want to consult as many people as possible about how best to do this. After Kendal we plan similar events in Ambleside, Manchester and the Tate in London,” said Mr Hunter.

Among contributors to the Kendal event are Ali McCaw of PRISM Arts of Carlisle, Dr Lizzi Fisher, former curator of Kettles Yard, a gallery at Cambridge University, and Kendal-based artist Rosie Wates.

The seminar will pay tribute to the work of Mary Birkett, Helen Capp and Vicky Slowe, all early directors of Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal who were instrumental in the 1960s in reviving interest in Schwitters’ period and works in the UK.

All are welcome to attend the event in the Town Hall Georgian room at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 10. Entrance is free.

More details about the programme can be found at

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