In 1941, after release from internment on the Isle of Man, Schwitters moved to London until the end of the war. In 1945 he moved with his English partner Edith Thomas to live in Ambleside in the Lake District. There, largely unknown and unrecognised, he struggled to earn a living by painting portraits of local people and Lake District landscapes.
The Merz Barn circa 1953. Photo Sprengel Museum Archive
In 1946 he met Harry Pierce, a local horticulturist and landscape gardener, whose portrait he had been invited to paint. Pierce was the owner of Cylinders, a parcel of land in Langdale which had once formed part of the Elterwater Gunpowder Works. Schwitters later negotiated with Pierce to rent a small farm shed on the Cylinders estate as his studio.
Kurt Schwitters outside the Shippon (Summer 1947), with Edith Thomas and Bill Pierce jnr. in the background.
Frustrated in his efforts to return to Hanover to recover and repair the remains of the bomb-damaged Merzbau, Schwitters considered returning to Oslo to finish work on the Lysaker Merzbau. As a German national however Norway and the Lysaker Merzbau were also closed to him. By early 1947 Schwitters had decided to begin work on a completely new Merzbau project in England. Schwitters first expressed his idea about creating a new Merzbau In a letter written to his son Ernst written in March of that year:
'It is no use to finish the studio in Lysaker. I will suggest starting a new Merzbau here in England or in USA. I simply have to live as long as necessary for a new Merzbau'
With an initial $1000 award from New York1, part of a MoMA fellowship negotiated (in 1946) by Alfred Barr and James Johnson Sweeny, Schwitters was able to commence work on the fourth Merzbau (the Merz Barn) during the summer of 1947. Harry Pierce repaired the shed roof and windows and Schwitters began making models of the projected interior plan and structure using stones, twigs and branches obtained locally. The four walls of the barn were later whitewashed and Edith Thomas and Pierce's son Bill helped Schwitters prepare the basic armature and plaster for the end wall art work.
Cylinders Farm (the Shippon) in 1948. Photo courtesy of the Pierce family.
Outside the shippon at Elterwater; c.1947; l. to r. Gwyneth Davies, Wantee, Jack Cook, Schwitters, Harry Pierce, and Hilde Goldschmidt.
Also helping Schwitters at this point were Wantee (Edith Thomas), and a local Langdale gardener Jack Cook. Edith Thomas also worked on formal elements of the end wall, and it is thought that Harry Pierce may have made minor additions and alterations to the work after Schwitters' death.
Interior of the Merz Barn, c. 1948
THE MERZ BARN PROJECT.
International fundraising campaign to restore and preserve Kurt Schwitters' Merz Barn.
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