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Queen Katherine School Student shines in museum research role

Charlotte Dawson, a student at Queen Katherine School, Kendal, provided us with fantastic support during the summer, as our ‘In the Picture’ Junior Research Assistant. We asked her to sum up her experience…

‘I can’t quite believe that my time as a junior research assistant at the Armitt has come to an end. I have really enjoyed working on the project but the skills I have learned and the experiences gained will undoubtedly last longer than my short six weekends at the museum.

My task was to support project coordinator Becca and curator Deborah during the first phase of ‘In the Picture’, a project which aimed to improve access to the Armitt’s vast collection of historical photographs, while trying out a new approach to outreach (taking digitized images out and about in Ambleside!).

I really enjoyed exploring the ‘pool’ of images taken at the Brunskill brothers’ Bowness studio in the mid nineteenth century, and gaining an insight into the early days of photography. It’s fascinating to think that whilst I can snap a bunch of high-quality photos on my smartphone in a matter of seconds, in the late 1800s sitters had to wait patiently for minutes to get a good picture. The shift in photographic conventions is something I found really interesting too: smiling wasn’t the done thing then.

One part of my role was to do independent research and draft labels for images I’d chosen. I found this tricky as I’ve never really done anything like it before, but I feel that the challenge was also what made the task especially enjoyable for me: it was all the more satisfying to see the finished captions!

We hope to appoint a Research Assistant from a local school for a six-week placement next summer too: if you are interested in gained experience working in a museum and developing research skills, watch this space for more details!

‘In the Picture’: come and browse our historical photographs!

Over the last six months, we’ve shared more of our historical photographs with the community than ever before as part of our ‘In the Picture’ project. Thanks to everyone who has taken part! Now the digitized photographs that we’ve been displaying at host venues in Ambleside can be viewed together on tablets in the Armitt Library.

‘In the Picture’ concentrated on sharing three groups of photographs with strong local links that had been hitherto hidden in our store. New tablets allowed us to invite people to browse digitized images in and beyond the museum. At Ambleside Climbers’ Shop, we showed climbing photographs from the 1890s-1930s; at Ambleside Library, we showed portraits of visitors and residents taken at a Bowness studio in the 1860s; and we brought Herbert Bell’s record of life in the region home to Bell’s Pharmacy. Now you can see them all at the Armitt — and we’ll be adding more images from different collections in the future. “It’s a great way for us to share collections that are too fragile for display,” says curator Deborah Walsh.

Want to get involved? We’re looking for Digitization Volunteers who would be willing to lend a hand with the ongoing digitization of images in our collection… if you have good computer literacy, an interest in local history and enjoy working as part of a friendly team, get in touch with Sue at for more information.

Writer in Residence at the Armitt Museum

In June 2016, Cumbrian born artist Nathan Walker will undertake a two-week residency at the Armitt Museum Library, Ambleside.

Nathan is an artist and poet whose practice takes the form of performance, publication and exhibition. During his residency at the Armitt, Nathan will explore both the remarkable collection of books and artworks relating to the German modernist Kurt Schwitters and the archive of the Cumbrian Dialect Society. Through this process, Nathan will draw poetic connections between the sound poetry of Schwitters and the language of Cumbrian speech and dialect, activating the legacy of Schwitters in the Lake District.

During the residency (20th June – 1st July), visitors are encouraged to engage with the artist and the artistic process, which will culminate in the publication of a book of poetry, including performance scores, concrete poems and collage, available thereafter in the Armitt Museum shop and library.

The residency is funded by the National Lottery, through Arts Council England.
Armitt Curator, Deborah Walsh has said:

We are delighted to have Nathan in residence here at the Armitt. We feel that this project not only supports our own objective, to highlight cultural interconnections, but takes it a step further. The project works with the idea of history revisited in unpredictable ways, its object, to create fresh dialogues and potentially new insights that we believe our audiences will find both intriguing and exciting.

When the poet Thomas Gray visited the Lake District in October 1769, he wrote in his journal describing the view down to Grasmere from Dunmail Raise as “one of the sweetest landscapes, that art ever attempted to imitate”. A little further on in the journal, he expanded his description of the view – “not a single red tile, no flaring Gentleman‘s house, or garden-walls, break in upon the repose of this little unsuspected paradise, but all is peace, rusticity, & happy poverty in its neatest most becoming attire”. This passage reached a public audience in The Poems of Thomas Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings, published in 1775. Successive generations of artists, writers and tourists have visited the Lake District since this date, and all have been, to a greater or lesser extent, inspired by those seminal words.

The artists who produced Lake District views from the late 18th century onwards were either tourists themselves or were responding to the demands of the tourist industry. Together, they vastly increased the visual vocabulary of Lake District landscape. Some, like Thomas Sunderland, were born and lived locally, some, like Edward Lear, came as fleeting visitors, and some came to visit and ended up staying, such as Alfred Heaton Cooper or W.G. Collingwood. The tourist industry, and the marketing and merchandise associated with it, was the fuel that powered the enormously productive engine of Edward Thompson’s work during the first half of the 20th century.

This small exhibition of watercolours by a range of amateur and professional artists shows a variety of responses to the Lake District landscape from the 18th to the 20th century. Most of the works are the property of private collectors local to Ambleside, and we are grateful to those who have made them available for this exhibition, which has been supplemented by sketchbooks, case material and some framed works from the Armitt’s own collection.

The exhibition continues in the Armitt Library until September 2016.


JAAP BLONK at the Armitt

The Armitt Museum and Library is honoured to host a rare appearance by the world-renowned exponent of phonetic poetry, Jaap Blonk. Jaap will perform Kurt Schwitters’ most famous sound poem Die Sonate in Urlauten (Sonata in Primeval Sounds) 1922-32.

2pm Tuesday 5th April 2016 in the Schwitters Gallery

Armitt Museum and Library
Rydal Road
LA22 9BL

015394 31212

14th March 2016

Untitled (Old Ambleside)

Untitled (Fairfield)

Untitled (View from Blue Hill, Ambleside towards High Pike)

Untitled (View from Peggy Hill, Ambleside o wards Loughrigg) 1947

Untitled (Silver Howe, Grasmere) 1945

These paintings have been acquired this year through the generous support of the V&A Purchase Fund, the National Art Collections Fund, the Friends of the Armitt and our local supporters.

The Armitt began to acquire work by Kurt Schwitters as early as 1953 when the portrait of Dr Johnson came to us. This long term commitment has grown significantly and we now have the largest collection on permanent public display in the country.

The acquisition of these works takes us closer to our ultimate goal of becoming the designated collection for Kurt Schwitters in the UK. We are supported in this by the Art Fund and V&A, the Sprengel Museum (home of the KS archive in Hanover) and the Kurt Schwitters Society. This aim is also very much in tune with the Lake District National Parks bid for World Heritage inscription under the cultural landscape category, with its key ideas of outstanding universal value derived from the Romantic engagement with the Lake District, the sustainable relationship between man and nature and the value of landscape for restoring the human spirit. In relation to this, these works hold the key to an identifiable continuity in all of Schwitters’ works: that of an undying reverence for the natural world. Schwitters’ own description of art as ‘a spiritual function of man which aims at freeing him from the chaos of life’, exemplifies his time in Ambleside.

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The Armitt Museum and Library re-opened today Friday 11th March 2016 after three months closure following flooding on Sat 5th December 2015.
Deborah Walsh, the Armitt Curator, said ‘The ‘once in a hundred years’ floods of November 2009 had at least prepared us for the likelihood of a Storm Desmond six years later. We had installed floodgates, and these together with temporary external barriers to divert the main flow of water, gave us time to move the exhibits to the safety of our first floor library by the time the water started to come in. Our floodgates worked but unfortunately the water found another way in. Although the ingress was not as bad as 2009, the ground floor carpets were ruined and we suffered some loss of shop stock. So in the end, despite a desperately anxious day, we managed to avoid damage to any of the collections.
Chairman of the Trustees, Charles Nugent, said, ‘It was heart breaking, after suffering in the storm of 2009, that we have been faced with the same problem again. However, we have been greatly warmed by the support and goodwill we have received from both individuals and organisations in response to our plight. In particular, both the Cumbria Community Trust and the Cumbria Business Hub have been very supportive. But, more than anything, I wish to pay tribute to the staff and volunteers who avoided a worse disaster, and have since worked hard to ensure our recovery and opening before Easter. The Armitt is an independent charity relying on visitors to cover its costs, so like everyone else in the Lake District, we are hoping that we can quickly regain momentum with a good summer. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that this can never happen again.’
Our main exhibition ‘Beatrix Potter: Image and Reality’ opens again in this the 150th Anniversary year of her birth. We have recently acquired five new works by Kurt Schwitters with support from the V&A Purchase Fund, The Art fund, and generous local donations, and these will form part of our permanent exhibition ‘Kurt Schwitters: The Ambleside Legacy’. We are proud that our collection of work by this towering figure of 20th century art is now the largest on public display in the UK. In addition, from May we will be mounting an additional summer exhibition of Lakeland landscapes, largely from private collections, with a particular focus on the Ambleside area.
I would also like to thank the Museums Development North West team for their financial support to develop our visitor base. Becca Weir has been working hard to develop a learning and outreach programme in addition to helping us become ‘family Friendly’. And we are intent on continuing this project . In support of this we will be holding a number of Family Days throughout the year. So, we are looking forward to a busy summer.

Disruption caused by Storm Desmond - Armitt curator Deborah Walsh surrounded by the contents of the shop and gallery.

STORM DESMOND: Flooded Armitt Museum at Ambleside appeals for funds
From The Westmorland Gazette 18 December 2015

Disruption caused by Storm Desmond – Armitt curator Deborah Walsh surrounded by the contents of the shop and gallery.
Things were going well at Ambleside’s Armitt Museum as plans progressed towards one of the most important acquisitions in years.
But then it started to rain on Friday, December 4, and the rest is history.
For curator Deborah Walsh, it was a case of déjà-vu, with vivid flood memories from 2009 when more than 1,000 photographic glass plates were lost.
But things were very different this time, as the Armitt’s emergency plan swung into action. Volunteers removed all the permanent exhibitions, books, artefacts and paintings off the wall in the downstairs gallery to the safety of the floor above, out of reach of Storm Desmond’s deluge.
But nothing could have halted the wall of water flowing down Nook Lane from eventually finding its way into the Armitt, where it wrote the carpets off as well as stocks of catalogues, posters and postcards.
Although insurance will cover most of this loss, the Armitt must pay an excess of £5,000 – all this with only days to go before a vital meeting with the Art Fund in London which could determine the Armitt’s future plans.
Much may rest on whether they can buy five iconic local landscapes by the famous German artist Kurt Schwitters. The paintings, from two private collections with strong local associations, are particularly good according to KS experts: “There are two of old Ambleside painted from Peggy Hill, one of Rydal Park and a huge landscape of Silver How from Grasmere,” Deborah said. “We already have a grant promised by the V&A covering 50 per cent of the cost, but we also need to obtain an Art Fund grant. We’re taking two of the paintings down to London for a trustees’ meeting and if successful, it would leave the Armitt with only £7,500 to find. However, that was before it started raining.
‘It couldn’t have come at a worse time, and every passing week the museum is closed while the floor dries out means there’s no income coming in.’
If the Armitt is able to acquire the works, together with a pair of KS collages, it is in a strong position to become the designated collection for the work of Kurt Schwitters in England, which could bring yet more benefits:
‘This designation could help us even further, possibly towards lottery funding for our planned extension,’ continued Deborah.
‘This would accommodate our important Schwitters collection, also giving us more space for local history and in particular the work of late 19th, early 20th century photographers including Herbert Bell, J W Brunskill and Thomas Garside.’
The Armitt’s plans may have taken a bit of a beating from Storm Desmond, but Deborah is undeterred, ‘Our emergency plan worked very well – but it still left us with an extra bill for £5,000. What we need now are energetic volunteers and fund-raisers, maybe with help from our young student neighbours too, to help us through the aftermath of Desmond.’

Untitled (View from Peggy Hill) by Kurt Schwitters 1947

Untitled (View from Peggy Hill) by Kurt Schwitters 1947

Untitled (View from Blue Hill, Ambleside) by Kurt Schwitters 1945/7

Untitled (View from Blue Hill, Ambleside) by Kurt Schwitters 1945/7

Untitled (Old Ambleside) by Kurt Schwitters 1945/7

Untitled (Old Ambleside) by Kurt Schwitters 1945/7

Untitled (Silverhowe from Grasmere) by Kurt Schwitters 1945

Untitled (Fairfield) by Kurt Schwitters 1945/7

Untitled (Fairfield) by Kurt Schwitters 1945/7

The floods won’t stop us! Our first free family Saturday is going ahead on December 19th at the Ambleside Parish Centre on Vicarage Road. Come and join us for object handling and activities from 11am until 2pm. (Please note change of time and venue.) Our theme is the Great Freeze . . .  get ready for some festive family fun. Contact with any questions.

Thanks to all our great volunteers who helped us clear up after the recent floods. Our flood defences protected the collections, but our carpets got soggy. The museum, shop and gallery will be closed until we get new carpets fitted. The museum will be open for our second Family Saturday on 16th January 2016. In the mean time, you are very welcome to come and use the library upstairs; just give us a call on 015394 31212 before you visit, to make sure that access is possible.

Get ready for Hands on History: a programme of free family Saturdays at the Armitt. We’ll run object handling sessions and activities on the third Saturday of the month, from December until March. Come along between 10.30am and 3.30pm to have fun exploring our collections. No need to book. Our first Saturday will be on December 19th and the theme is the Great Freeze. Brrr! saturdays_min

Thanks to everyone who took part in our pop-up library and ‘Books and Boats’ event last week. We had a great time celebrating World Book Day with you. Here’s our collection of ‘shelfies:

You’ve heard of ‘selfies’… what about ‘shelfies’? The Armitt Museum and Library is celebrating World Book Day on Thursday 5 March with a pop-up library created by you! Keen readers of all ages are invited to take snaps of the books they love, and email the photographs to Volunteers will add the snaps to the Armitt’s website for everyone to browse. The pop-up library event will run from Thursday 5 March until Saturday 7 March. Everyone who adds a ‘shelfie’ to the collection will get free entry to the Armitt between 5-7 March. The celebration will culminate on Saturday 7 March, with a day of drop-in activities for families inspired by stories in the collection, including Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. ‘Books and Boats at the Armitt’ will run at the Armitt all day on Saturday only, from 10.30am until 4.00pm. Make a boat and sail on a voyage around the museum; create your own storybook characters; share your favourite stories in our story corner; discover objects and stories in the Armitt’s collection; add ‘shelfies’ to the pop-up library. (Please note that all children must be accompanied by an adult.) World Book Day is a worldwide celebration of books and reading. One of the Day’s main aims is to ‘encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading’ — as those pleasures are at the heart of the Armitt’s mission, World Book Day is the perfect opportunity to take a fresh look at some of the museum’s literary treasures, including letters written by Beatrix Potter. For more information about World Book Day, see


2015- January Important sale of mountaineering literature. The Armitt Museum Bookshop is having a major sale of  LAKE DISTRICT/MOUNTAINEERING/CLIMBING books. These are duplicates from the Library of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club and include quite a number of rare books. One of our customers described this book sale as a once in a lifetime opportunity for those with an interest in mountaineering literature. The book sale will continue into the Spring – we have more FRCC books arriving next month.


The full list of books are online to view LAKE DISTRICT MOUNTAINEERING & CLIMBING BOOKS 2014- In brief Winter 2014 The Shop  The year began with our shop refurbishment, funded through a sustainability grant from the Association of Independent Museums. The object was not only to create more space but also a much more welcoming atmosphere, largely by repositioning the counter from its central island to the back wall. To make the grant stretch, much of the joinery work was undertaken by volunteers, staff and friends and we are delighted with the results (although there is still heated debate over the very green carpet!). We also took the opportunity to renew the CCTV system. The Library At the same time as the shop refit, we were reorganizing the Library to accommodate the collection of the Fell Rock Climbing Club. This involved the truly massive task of relocating a large proportion of the library collection, both physically and on our database. However it turned out to be a very useful exercise and gave us the opportunity to devise a much more logical arrangement with all local material and the FRCC library in one space and everything else- literature, history, education etc. in the other. It was also useful in bringing to light a number of rare and valuable books which had been lurking unnoticed in the general collection. Local joiner Paul Edmondson built and fitted an impressive range of new bookcases to match our originals – the work was financed by the FRCC. The Arrival of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club Library. The library collection, of around 1500 books was delivered (in a great many boxes) from Lancaster University to its new permanent home, where it has been reunited with the collection of former FRCC president Robert Files and his wife Muriel and also with the important collection of 17th-20th century Guides to the Lake already held at the Armitt. In addition to the books, over the past century the club has accumulated an important archive relating to all things mountaineering, this includes early equipment much of it donated by famous former members which shows the progression from sturdy tweeds and hobnailed to boots of the late 19th/early 20th century to the sophisticated technical gear of today. The FRCC archive also includes many of the original Abrahams bros. glass plate negatives and of particular interest a collection of photographic images on glass slides from the 1921 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition. It is of great satisfaction to both the FRCC and the Armitt that these significant collections have come together in the heart of the Lakes and are now accessible to all.

The Media

The early part of the year saw the Armitt well represented in the media. Articles for the Westmorland Gazette, Lancashire Life, Ambleside Life and the Journal of the American Society of Botanical Artists were produced in-house as well as another appearance on BCC TV Countryfile (broadcast 9th Feb). Spring 2014 The Portico Library Exhibition During May our colleagues at The Portico Library, Manchester, held a very well received exhibition of 25 of our Beatrix Potter mycological watercolours and associated books, manuscripts and ephemera. In June we loaned our Charles McIntosh letters to the Birnam Institute for an exhibition which coincided with the Beatrix Potter Society Conference held in Dunkeld. Summer 2014 Beatrix Potter: Image and Reality Our ‘permanent’ Beatrix Potter exhibition is proving to be very popular. The visitor’s is book full of extremely positive comments including one from Prof. Richard de Marco where he described the Armitt as ‘the nodal point of cultural life in the Lakes. It is good to see this unique celebration of the genius of Schwitters, Potter and Ruskin, all under one roof.’ It is very satisfying that our visitors are making these connections. Charlotte Mason During the Summer we had a Charlotte Mason study visit from our friends in North America including Dr. Deani van Pelt (Redeemer University, Ontario), Prof. Caroll Smith (The University of North Carolina), Margaret Coombs (Oxford) and John Thorley. A thoroughly interesting and enjoyable time was had by all!


Old Mill Ambleside Kurt Schwitters 1945









Autumn 2014 Schwitters Purchase In September the Armitt was delighted to announce that through the generosity of the V&A Purchase Fund, The Art Fund and a number of private supporters it had acquired two further paintings by the internationally renowned German émigré artist Kurt Schwitters. The Armitt holds the largest permanent collection of Schwitters works on public display in the UK. The two paintings, The Old Mill, Ambleside (1945) and Bowl of Flowers (1946) are rare and important examples of Schwitters’ Lakeland work, and as such represent an important addition to the Armitt’s collection. The paintings were purchased from the family of Schwitters’ great friend the late Harry Bickerstaff. Described as a slight, quiet man, Harry Bickerstaff was a teacher at Ambleside elementary school and first met Schwitters while working in his allotment on the Gale, near Schwitters’ lodgings. The acquaintanceship developed into friendship and when Schwitters suffered a stroke in late 1945 and was in bed for five weeks, Harry visited him daily. He records in his diary ‘When Schwitters began to recover he asked me a lot of questions about the subjects I was teaching; then he taught me to play chess and painted my portrait’. The following Spring Harry helped Schwitters and his companion Edith Thomas, to find new accommodation close to his own home on Millans Park as the stiff climb onto the Gale had become impossible for him. They moved into rooms in number 4, the home of the recently widowed Mr Creighton, the local blacksmith. Mr Bickerstaffs’ daughter commented that ‘she felt sure it would have been her father’s wish that the pictures were returned to Ambleside where they would be available for all to see’. The Armitt works to actively promote Kurt Schwitters and his links to Ambleside and is developing a long-term plan to extend its current facilities. Curator, Deborah Walsh commented that, ‘It is our ongoing plan to bring a wider audience to the importance of his work and, in particular, the scale of his labours in Ambleside. We are keen to acquire works by Schwitters, particularly those that are representative of his time in Ambleside and we are grateful to the V&A, The Art Fund, the Friends of the Armitt and our private patrons for their continuing support. Schwitters and Ambleside are irrevocably linked.’