A delicate £4 million restoration of the world-famous Porthmeor Studios – home to the St Ives School of Painting and where artistic giants including Ben Nicholson and Francis Bacon found their inspiration – has drawn a clutch of honours which was celebrated with a visit by architectural enthusiasts the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
The Grade II* Listed Porthmeor Studios – with their foundations in the stunning Porthmeor Beach and where fishermen and artists have worked in harmony for generations – have been saved and restored with utmost sensitivity from 200 years of exposure to Atlantic gales and the harsh marine environment which had left the buildings fragile and vulnerable.
The need for extensive repairs gave the Studios’ guardians, The Borlase Smart John Wells Trust, a major task 15 years ago to raise the funding to protect and refurbish the culturally and economically important building as essential workspace for future generations of fishermen and artists.
The Trust, the multitude of funding bodies and the world-acclaimed team of architects, designers and builders they gathered for the Renovation Project can now bask in recognition for their work from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS),the Civic Trust, the Cornish Buildings Group, the English Heritage Angels Awards and the National Lottery Heritage Awards.
“The delicate task we all faced was to achieve almost the impossible – to thoroughly protect and secure this beautiful and historic building to the highest modern standards without wrenching out the atmospheric heart that has built organically over generations and which has made it so uniquely special,” says Chris Hibbert of the Borlase Smart John Wells Trust.
“That Porthmeor Studios now look almost as if they haven’t been touched – down to the splashes of paint left by previous generations of artists – is a real tribute to the sensitive and painstaking work of our brilliant team – all of which has rightly won national acclaim.”
RIBA this month awarded the Porthmeor Project both for Conservation of a Listed Building and for Innovative and Outstanding Architecture, with Conservation expert Peter Carey calling the work “clearly a labour of love.”
“Intricate in its layout, the need to restore and update the building to allow for disabled access, better services and thermal performance has been a painstaking task, more than ably met by the architects.
“Beneath all the studios is the most atmospheric fisherman’s cellar imaginable, surely destined to be a setting for countless seaside shanty TV dramas. This building is a triumph of dedication from both client and architect.”
Lead architect MJ Long, from award-winning firm Long and Kentish, says the Project demonstrated the value of conservation in a variety of ways:
“A beautiful building has been preserved, but even more important, a way of life has been preserved, with painters continuing to work in the studios and fishermen in the cellars beneath.
“In order to achieve that, and ensure its economic stability, major changes have been made to a Grade II* listed building, but they have been done with the intention of retaining the traditional look and the engaging personality of the building. I will be proud to show it to our Architect Prince when he visits, and hope that he is as engaged by this building as we have been.”
HRH Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester and cousin to The Queen was a most appropriate Royal visitor for Porthmeor Studios since he was an architect by training and studied at Cambridge under Sir Colin St John “Sandy” Wilson – the late husband of MJ Long.
The Duke and Duchess was given a guided tour of the Studios by MJ Long and Chris Hibbert and met the current community of artists and St Ives fishermen who are in the enviable position of having their work bases there.
Photo from St Ives Times & Echo