Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft is a finalist for UK Museum of the Year 2014 following a major design and refurbishment by Adam Richards Architects. The existing museum buildings have been restored, a new entrance, shop and café have been created along with an introductory gallery with a Wunderkammer, the exhibition spaces reimagined, and a dedicated learning space and reading room set against the backdrop of Ditchling’s village green and the Sussex countryside.
Eric Gill moved to Ditchling in 1907 and the village became established as an important place for the visual arts and crafts in Britain. The artist community founded The Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic in 1921, based on a medieval guild system, a community of work and Roman Catholic faith. It was also a centre for Distibutism – a social and economic ideology, opposed to Godlessness and capitalism, related to Socialist political thinking and Catholic teaching. Its ambitions were stated in a stone plaque:
Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses
The Museum collection includes work and artefacts by many of the artists and craftspeople associated with Ditchling – the typographer and sculptor Eric Gill, designer of the London Underground font Edward Johnston, printer Hilary Pepler, weaver Hilary Bourne and others including Frank Brangwyn, Joseph Cribb, Desmond Chute, David Jones, Valentine KilBride, Charles Knight, Ethel Mairet, and Dunstan Pruden. The gallery exhibits the Stanhope Press, a still-working printing press, placed at the end of a chapel-like space, surrounded by displays of works-on-paper, once used to disseminate the ideas of Gill and his followers.
The Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft feels like a secular Landmark Trust building, and is reminiscent of the domestic scale of Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. It was also inspired by Peter Zumthor’s Kolumba museum in Cologne, where new and existing architecture merge, and the belief in “the inner values of art, its ability to make us think and feel, its spiritual values. This project emerged from the inside out, and from the place,” Peter Zumthor.
The museum has emerged from a series of ramshackle structures, the old village school, sheds and outbuildings and a converted listed barn. Adam Richards Architects solution was to link the existing structures with two new buildings. The exterior, largely in a palette of red and black, pays homage to the local vernacular architecture. References include the shape of tradional Sussex barns, the red and black livery of the Kidd and Hotblack Brewery, and a village house, Cotterlings, with black glazed mathematical tiles and red window surrounds, and a zig-zag pattern is inspired by Victorian railway architecture. The Link Building, between the entrance via Cart Lodge, and the galleries, is the principal new building on the site, constructed using engineered timber, and clad with black zinc on a base of black glazed bricks. The interior is pure and homogeneous echoing a sacred intentions of the Guild through the creation of Chapel-like shapes, spaces, light and views. The Link Building contains the introductory display of the Wunderkammer, a cabinet of curiosities from the collection. The galleries offer a narrative journey through the collections presenting personal and poetic interpretations of the objects. The reading room, includes new arts and crafts bookshelves and simple tables and chairs inspired by the library at Kettle’s Yard.
The site was originally founded by sisters Hilary and Joanna Bourne in 1985 as a place to display their collection of local artworks, but in 2012 a £2.3 million grant from Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors paved the way for a major renovation project.
Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Lodge Hill Lane, Ditchling East Sussex BN6 8SP. t. 01273 844744. Open Daily 11am – 5pm (Sun from 12pm). Admission £6.50