Talk: Wrong end of the stick? The muddied waters between craft, design and fine art – what is the difference and does it matter?

Saturday 13 July 2019

Saturday morning brought the opening of a new exhibition in the barn at Messums Wiltshire, featuring New York’s Hudson Valley based Christopher Kurtz’s work, titled, ‘The Traveller cannot see North, but knows that the needle can’.

The exhibition opened up a conversation that has long been discussed: where are the boundaries between fine art; craft; design or should there be any such categorisation at all? We invited Grant Gibson, former editor of Crafts Magazine, Emma O’Kelley, Editor-at-Large of Wallpaper magazine, to talk alongside Christopher Kurtz and Messums Wiltshire curator Catherine Milner, to discuss the extent of cross collaboration between these disciplines.

Catherine Milner opened the discussion using a quote from Glenn Adamson, a leading US commentator on this topic, from his essay precursing this exhibition. ‘For all of its undoubted benefits, modern industrial life has also entailed many losses,’ going on to add that craft is one of the many things that has been lost, certainly in the education system in this country.

Throughout the talk there was a variation of opinion on why the boundaries between art and craft were perhaps muddied, some views more sceptical than others. Grant Gibson refers to a current phase, whereby craftsmen are entering into the fine art world in order to add a few more zeros to their price tags. Although it is inevitable to talk of craft as a dying trade, it was noted that we are seeing an increasing number of people in the sphere of fine art using a variation of materials, one only needs to look at Grayson Perry and Edmund de Waal to see the trend.

Emma O’Kelley argued that this was an increasing movement, certainly not of temporary status, that looking at events such as the Milan Furniture Fair, craftsmen show their works as pieces of design or perhaps even art. Likewise at the Venice Biennale, artists and artisans alike are displaying their cross collaboration of works all together in the same context.

Christopher Kurtz spoke from personal experience, noting, “the distinctions have never really meant much to the artists themselves”. As much as fairs and exhibitions would like to categorise pieces, eventually for craftsmen such as himself, the motivations that bring him to create a chair or table, are the same to those that motivate him to create what would traditionally considered as ‘art’. For Kurtz, it is fairly black and white when it comes to classifying his work. Simply, good or bad, successful or not.

Christopher Kurtz fervently argued in defence of crafts not being a lost art. He spoke of his own story, first learning basic traits from building an extension on his family home during his childhood, then the early years of his career working in his basement with basic tools. “Speaking to young people, I would say, there is a huge appetite for being able to manipulate materials with your hands.” He asserted that despite what might seem the reduction of services for makers, there is something to be said for the rebellious streak that many artists possess. That not having the perfect facility might actually aid the development of a craftsman or artist, rather than hinder it.



Artists-in-Residence Sonia Leber and David Chesworth’s blog – Week 1

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“Sonia Leber and David Chesworth are cultural investigators, landing lightly in foreign territory, weighed down only with a mixed bag of pre-entry research, a camera, some sound equipment and a couple of laptops. The work they are going to make is out there waiting; images and events to be re-interpreted, re-framed, recorded and edited.” – Fiona Gruber

“As Messums first artists in residence, we have arrived in Wiltshire via projects in the arid Australian outback, post-Soviet Russia, a factory that used to print the daily news, a Finnish fortress and the futuristic house of an Australian progressive society. The diversity of settings for our past projects has enabled us to create vastly different projects, mostly involving video, but always with a deep concern for sound and listening.

Here in Wiltshire, we have encountered an isolated hillside covered in an array of mounds that turned out to be anthills. Hidden colonies of yellow meadow ants create these temperate mounds to attract their food source from aphids, allowing the ants to remain inside, stealthily unseen and nurtured by the incoming aphids.

As we travel about, we have returned to this lumpy hillside twice, and it serves as a metaphor for our forthcoming project – a prompt for the unseen activity that lurks beneath the visible. Our project will emerge from the reality of Wiltshire, but it will be developed in the realms of the imaginary, sensation and concept.

We have also been out traversing the chalk pathways with local bike riders, encountering edgy flint and a whole range of flora including masses of spikey and stinging plants, as though the right to walk has first got to be negotiated through these challenges.“

Arts journalist, essayist, broadcaster and radio documentary maker Fiona Gruber will be interviewing the artists in residence on Friday 19th July at 6:30pm at Messums Wiltshire.

Leber and Chesworth’s works have been shown in the central exhibitions of the 56th Venice Biennale ‘All the World’s Futures’ (2015) and the 19th Biennale of Sydney ‘You Imagine What You Desire’ (2014); and a parallel exhibition of the 5th Moscow Biennale (2013).

A full project history can be found at

Festival of the Spoken Word 2019

Friday 5 – Sunday 7 July 2019

Jade Cuttle

The rawness and direct power of the spoken word can make for some sensational goose-bump moments. With that in mind, our festival of spoken word began on a balmy Friday evening with our audience, surrounded by the ancient structure of our thirteenth century barn, seated informally around scattered tables, glasses of wine in hand. It was in this spirit of an open-air jazz café that Jade Cuttle performed her ‘poem-songs’, composed from the inspiration she draws from nature, accompanied by her guitar. Ben Norris seamlessly followed this with a few of his performed poems, both personal and relatable, his work was amusing and sobering and is testimony to the power of good story telling. Friday evening culminated in the excellent food of the Mess Restaurant laid out in the barn, poets, performers and audience members dining together.

Suede bassist & author Mat Osman

The relaxed atmosphere and good weather flowed over into our Saturday events which began with a fascinating workshop lead by Tristram Fane Saunders equipping us with some creative exercises for producing some unique metaphors. ‘Why speak when you can sing’ with Tariq Goddard, Ryan Donnelly and Nathalie Olah comprised of a fascinating panel discussion following a performance by Ryann and a reading by Nathalie. In the afternoon Tristram, winner of the 2018 new poets prize and commissioning editor for the Telegraph, performed from his new chapbook ‘Woodsong’ published this June. Jade joined with some more dulcet sung verse which culminated in a Q & A.  Next, Matt Osman, the bassist and founding member of Suede, discussed his new book ‘The Ruins’ with publisher Tarriq Goddard. This insightful discussion revealed Matt’s writing process and his experience of performing music as opposed to the intimacy and honesty of writing. As Saturday afternoon turned into evening Ben Norris performed more from his book ‘Some Ending’, the honesty and beauty of which ignited the focus of the room.

Poetry Takeaway

Though The Poetry Takeaway worked tirelessly throughout the day creating personalized poems they still managed to inject a superb energy into their performances which were funny, chippy, sexy and truly wonderful. This was followed by the talented Sugar J and Bump Kin, a truly singular duo that fuses hip-hop with poetry, musical beats and spoken rhythm. The final performance of the day was the warm and witty Laurie Bolger. Laurie’s poems capture those relatable moments of sharing something with someone you have never met, a moment or a meltdown, they are the stories of ordinary and extraordinary life.

Our festival of Spoken Word was beautifully ended by a truly engaging workshop by Caroline Goyder. After two days of being submerged in the joy of listening it was perfectly fitting that the audience left equipped with the tools for bringing their own voice to life.

Representation of Australian Artist Daniel Agdag


We are delighted to announce that Messums will now represent the Australian artist Daniel Agdag in Europe and North America. Following his sell-out show here at Messums Wiltshire, Daniel’s collection of intricate scalemodels can be viewed at our sister gallery Messums London in Cork Street until this Friday 12 July.

Daniel is an artist and filmmaker based in Melbourne, Australia, whose practise sits at the nexus of sculpture and motionography. He creates highly detailed sculptural pieces that have been described as architectural in form, whimsical and antiquated in nature and inconceivably intricate.

Daniel predominately works in cardboard. Drawn to its utilitarian origins and monochromatic presentation, he creates a paradox of fragility and strength with structures that resemble architectural forms and machines by utilising a medium that is essentially paper and preserving them under glass vitrines or bell jars.

Whilst his work is predominantly realised in cardboard he has made work in steel, wood and glass in recent years as part of translating his elaborate ideas into large scale public art sculptures, in 2014 he completed a large-scale public commission ‘The Inspector’ in Abbotsford, Melbourne.

The son of Armenian immigrants, Daniel Agdag studied Fine Art before his interest in moving image drew him to filmmaking. He received a Masters in Film and Television from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2007.

He has exhibited solo shows in Melbourne and New York and been presented at several international art fairs: Melbourne Art Fair; Sydney Contemporary; Art Central Hong Kong; VOLTA Basel; Art Fair Tokyo. His work is held in private collections in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and Europe. He has completed several private commissions, notably for Hermès Paris.

See more of Daniel’s work
Daniel’s exhibition at Messums London

Our First Artists-in-Residence at Messums Wiltshire

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From 26 June this year Sonia Leber and David Chesworth will be the first artists-in-residence at Messums Wiltshire. During their five week residency the artists will create work in response to the thirteenth century tithe barn and it’s surroundings to be exhibited as part of the Image show in 2020.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth are known for their distinctive installation artworks, using video, sound, architecture, and public participation. Developed through expansive research in places undergoing social change, Leber and Chesworth’s works are speculative and archaeological, responding to architectural, social, and technological settings. Their highly detailed, conceptual videoworks emerge from the real, but exist significantly in the realm of the imaginary.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth’s artwork has been shown extensively internationally at exhibitions and Biennales as well as in their home country of Australia.

On Friday 19 July, towards the end of their stay Sonia Leber and David Chesworth will join us for a talk hosted by Fiona Gruber, a Melbourne and London-based arts journalist, essayist, broadcaster and radio documentary maker. She’s written on the arts for many of the major Australian and UK newspapers and art journals including the Australian, Art World Australia, the Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. Her work for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National includes a ten part series, Australian Portraits and Art After Death, a look at how the art world deals with the legacy of artists and their works. In 2018 she made the documentary “Creative Couple; Sonia Leber and David Chesworth.” about Messums Wiltshire’s 2019 artists in residence.

Click here to book a ticket for the talk.

Camden Town Group Paintings Come to Messums Wiltshire

A Very British Collection
Until Sunday 7 July

A pop-up exhibition of important paintings by memebers of the Camden Town Group is on show in the Long Gallery until Sunday.

This collection comes directly from one source and represents one man’s lifetime obsession with the Camden Town Group. Christopher Mason-Watts has been collecting since he was four years old. He began with the colourful little picture cards that appeared in the boxes of Brook Bond tea. He bought his first artwork when he was seventeen and his first serious purchase was a pocket sized painting by Walter Sickert, bought when he was twenty three, it cost him almost a third of his annual salary. He has loved the Camden Town Group since he first discovered their work as a teenager and it was this group that he focused much of his collecting efforts towards. Though they held only three exhibitions between 1911 and 1912, the Camden Town Group was one of the most vital, exciting and well-known collectives of the twentieth-Century British artists.

Upon Sickert’s return to London from Venice in 1905, Harold Gilman, Frederick Spencer Gore, Lucien Pissarro (son of French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro), Augustus John, Henry Lamb, J.B. Manson, Robert Bevan, Walter Bayes, and Charles Ginner, all recent visitors to Paris, assembled unofficially at Sickert’s studio. There they engaged in lively discussions about the developments in contemporary French art. Their meetings brought a sense of French bohemianism into the English art world of the time. When the critic Frank Rutter joined the group in 1908, he proposed that the group organize itself after the French Salon des Indépendants. They thus formed the Allied Artists Association, completely independent of the established art societies such as the Royal Academy. The association held its exhibits of French and English Post-Impressionism at the Royal Albert Hall. In 1911 Sickert’s circle officially became the Camden Town Group. At the three important exhibitions held at the Carfax Gallery and sponsored by the Camden Town Group in the years 1911 and 1912, early French Fauve and Cubist paintings were introduced to the public.

The Camden Town artists knew the Impressionist technique well but were also open to the influence of Post-Impressionists such as Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne. Because the group was primarily interested in pictorial structure, it particularly turned to Cézanne for inspiration. Their subject matter was derived from the everyday life of an English industrial town. Despite a somewhat expressive use of colour, their paintings remained representational and realistic, reflecting an interpretation of a modern aesthetic different from the more formally daring developments emerging in Paris at the same time. The Camden Town Group was absorbed in 1913 by the London Group, a combination of several smaller groups of contemporary English artists.

Works in the Long Gallery include those by Walter John Bayes, Harold Gilman, Sir Robin Philipson (pictured above) Wendela Boreel, Percy Wyndham Lewis, James Bolivar Manson, Therese Lessore and Sylvia Gosse.

For more information on the full collection, visit our Messums London website

Observational Drawing Course with Nesta Fitzgerald


Saturday 29 June 2019

‘A drawing is simply a line going for a walk’ said the artist Paul Klee and in our drawing class we spent quite some time walking around too, seeking inspiration for what we wanted to draw. Nesta suggested that we might do some rubbings of the hexafoils etched into the  walls of the barn but in the end, two teenagers on the course  walked down to the river for inspiration while the rest of the group positioned themselves on the lawn in front of the barn to sketch the buttresses and stubby thatch of Messums magnificent medieval building.

It was a beautifully sunny day and Nesta was an inspiring teacher whose infectious enthusiasm emboldened even the most timid of the draughtsmen.

Putty rubbers were used as a tool for drawing through charcoal, HB pencils hatched the most subtle of delicate lines; some used pen and ink. The air was filled with a cacophony of scratchings and murmurings as Nesta hovered between us with a steam of unbroken eulogies.

We stopped for a delicious lunch in the Mess Restaurant before continuing for a further two hours, culminating in a critical assessment by Nesta of all our works.

The variety was remarkable – illustrating the  diversity of observation of the same subject; something worth noting in all aspects of life, not just drawing.

Nesta was a great champion of us all in a way that particularly affected the younger students, who had started the day reluctant to leave their Instagram accounts and mobile phones, but ended it beaming with satisfaction.

Model Audition for ‘Textile in Motion’

Sunday 14 April, 10am – 4pm

The model casting call has now closed for our Fashion Show but we have scheduled an audition for any additional new faces on Sunday 14 April.

We are looking for boys and girls of all ages and ethnicities, to join us as runway models for our Textile in Motion: Fashion Catwalk Show on Friday 26 April, 7-9pm, walking for designers Sadie Williams, Joshua Millard and Henrik Vibskov.

If you are interested in being part of a unique event please come to the audition on Sunday 14 April 10am – 4pm at The Space, Caro, Grove Alley, Bruton, Somerset BA10 0ET.

You will need to be available on Thursday 25 April for fittings at Messums Wiltshire, Tisbury and Friday 26 April for rehearsals and the live shows.

Please email hannah.hooks@messumswiltshire to register your interest and confirm your place at the audition.

Please note:
Minimum height of 5’8 for girls and 5’10 for boys
Minimum age 16
If you are unable to attend but want to apply, please send full length images along with your measurements to hannah.hooks@messumswiltshire

Models Casting Call for our TEXTILE IN MOTION: Fashion Catwalk Show

Do you have a passion for fashion? Would you like to walk for one of our designers?

We are looking for talented people, of all genders, ages and ethnicity, to join us as runway models for our Textile in Motion: Fashion Catwalk Show on Friday 26 April. If you are interested in being part of a unique event here at the gallery contact us with your details and a full-length recent photograph at and we will pass on to fashion designers Henrik Vibskov and Joshua Millard.

The deadline for applications is Sunday 31 March. Successful applicants will be contacted shortly afterwards.

The final act of our eight week long exhibition dedicated to artists working in tapestry and textile Material: Textile will close with a celebration of fashion as art, with the AW19 couture collections by British womenswear designer Joshua Millard and Danish mens and womenswear designer Henrik Vibskov.

Henrik Vibskov is a graduate of Central St Martins back in 2001, Henrik returned to Denmark where he opened a fashion label under his own name. His work has been shown in publications such as The Face, Brutus, Dazed & Confused, i-D and Wallpaper and he regularly shows at Paris Fashion Week.

Joshua Millard established his London-based womenswear brand in 2016. After graduating from London College of Fashion in Bespoke Tailoring, he gained experience at Jonathan Saunders and on Savile Row. He designs a transitional wardrobe of longevity, born from his clients desire to seek tailoring and outerwear that suggest something new, lasting beyond fast trends.

An Evening with Ceramicist Patricia Low

Friday 1 March 2019

Patricia Low creates timeless, archaic pots that, in their clean white simplicity and large bold illustrations, are also very contemporary.
Educated as a painter, first at Swindon art school and then at Chelsea school of art, her love of making pots emerged when she came to live in Wiltshire in the 1980’s and met the distinguished ceramicist, Joanna Still, who taught her to make pots.
Building each pot by hand with white building clay rather than on a wheel, her vessels have a clean creamy finish and are embellished by turtles, rhinoceroses, eagles, moths – a whole range of animals.
In a talk she gave at Messums Wiltshire she explained how each pot takes her between two months and five months to complete, depending on their size. She starts with white builder’s clay rather than red clay as she says she likes “a cleaner finish’ and cradling them in her lap, begins by painting the inside of the pot first – a mesmerising miasma of squiggles and lines that, almost like the ceiling of a Byzantine church invites you into thinking about the Infinite.
‘The insides are the best bit – it all feels rather Zen when I paint it’ she says. ‘I map the design all out on a piece of paper first and try and copy it using a very fine sable brush until I get into a rhythm. Drawing is very cerebral.’
She added; ‘There is not enough room to do complicated animal drawings; when I first started I had to get used to painting to accommodate the swell on the pot.’
Her first sales success came when the textile designer Georgina von Etzdorf and her co-founder, Martin Simcock, asked to use her vessels as containers for their luxurious range of velvet ties and scarves at a trade fair in London.
The show resulted in dozens of orders for Low whose career has since gone from strength to strength and whose pots have got bigger and won ever more acclaim.
‘We had so much fun, with parties and madness and art’ she said.
As Johnny Messum concluded; ‘Patricia has created pots that are fundamentally different. Behind an incredible character is a steely determination bringing ceramics into the mainstream.’
An exhibition of Patricia Low’s pots is at Salisbury Museum in October 2020.

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