Steep wooded hills with an artists’ village nestling in the valley is not everybody’s vision of Surrey. Yet a few miles outside Guildford in the village of Compton you will find the Watts Gallery Artists’ Village. It was here that the prominent victorian artist George Frederic Watts and his wife Mary Watts had their country home.
At the heart of the village is the Watts Gallery built especially to house the artists’ work. The Hope painting by Watts hangs here and has inspired many people including Barack Obama.
Over the road in Limnerslease, the house that the couple had built for them, is G F Watts studio, complete with pigment bottles. Outside the studio is a fine display explaining telling more about the couple and their work, every object on display is accompanied by a PLEASE TOUCH sign which makes a pleasant change to the more normal hands off approach.
Just a little down the road is a cemetery with the Watts Memorial Chapel at its centre. Mary Watts not only designed the building and its lavish interiors, she also taught the locals how to make terracotta decoration and many of the surrounding gravestones.
These intricate panels must have taken a lot of skill to produce. Mary Watts hoped that sales of gravestones that the villagers had learnt how to make would give them a living.
The decor inside the church is many layered. All the art work is based on plaster slathered onto a chicken wire base, then shapes of thick felt were affixed onto the plaster and then the whole lot painted and guided.
Encouraging budding artists still continues. I loved these bags full of arty things to do for Watts Gallery’s youngest visitors. Makes me sad that the bags are not “5 things for the under 15s”!
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