Craft, Design, News, Places to visit, Travel | 17 September 2020
A visit to Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft.
Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is said to be “the place to visit” for creative makers, we were not disappointed.
Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft is a gem with something to keep everyone engaged. The museum is beautifully designed and seamlessly combines old and modern architecture. You enter via the gift shop into a new building that sells a variety of gorgeously assembled artisan wares, either made locally or inspired by the museum’s archives.
I visited with my husband and two primary school aged daughters who the staff set up with activity packs in lovely leather satchels. The packs featured colouring activity sheets, a gallery treasure hunt and objects to handle and play with related to the exhibitions. My children were fully engaged, allowing us time to peruse the cabinets and displays. Quiet museums and gallery spaces are not always the most welcoming places for young excited children wanting to break free especially after a long journey but we instantly felt welcomed and were encouraged to go exploring.
A history lesson.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Ditchling was a creative hub and home to artists, designers and craftspeople within the arts and crafts movement. The museum’s unique collection houses work by artists and designers including Hilary Bourne, Valentine Kilbride, Edgar Holloway and other members of the internationally renowned creative community who lived in the village of Ditchling.
Ditchling is a chocolate box pretty, quintessential English village that is bursting with character and charm. Think village green and traditional teashops with pubs nestled alongside the breathtaking South Downs in East Sussex. Ditchling does not disappoint. It’s an essential visit for anyone interested in Britain’s rich arts and crafts heritage.
The galleries and internal space of the museum are impressively designed and gently guide you around displays showcasing hand skills such as typography, letterpress, printmaking, textiles and jewellery plus forgotten crafts.
The Women’s Work exhibition was showing when we visited and featured work of craftswomen with connections to Ditchling. I especially enjoyed Enid Marx’s wood block printed textiles and
“I enjoyed showing my family how a repeat pattern on fabric would have been printed by hand.”
The museum, originally the village school, was first opened in 1985 by two sisters who were in their 70’s and wanted to create a space to celebrate the village’s heritage. The museum reopened with an engaging programme of events for adults and children plus a new shop and café in 2013 following a major refurbishment by Adam Richards Architects.
The Museum Shop features work by many Ditchling and Sussex artists and designers, both historical and present day. You can buy Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft products printed with patterns designed on Ditchling Press vintage endpapers from the 1930’s, and you’ll find books on subjects including dyeing fabrics and yarns, plus typography which celebrate the legacy of Ditchling’s past residents.
Not turning a blind eye.
The tranquil village of Ditchling has not been without its share of controversy and the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft itself has been right at the heart of a controversy that rocked the museum, the village and the art world.
Many of the museum’s displays are dedicated to the work of Eric Gill who moved to the village in 1907. Gill was one of Britain’s most acclaimed artists of the 20th Century beginning as a draughtsman in an architect’s office and going on to develop as a sculptor and wood-engraver. His keen interest in lettering and printing resulted in his famous “Gill” typeface designs, although these came after he had left the village.
It has since emerged that Gill sexually abused his daughters. The museum encourages its audience to question and draw their own conclusion as to whether the knowledge of Gill’s disturbing past affects our appreciation of his work. Find more on this subject by museum curator Nathanial Hepburn, here.
“At the peak of lockdown, I enjoyed Ditchling Museum’s online offering, particularly their #createtorelate online programme.”
They were working with some of the UK’s best artists and craftspeople to deliver an inspiring online programme designed to help everyone feel connected, creative and calm. I enjoyed engaging with their IGTV posts on Instagram and I especially liked watching the colour collecting workshop with @5ftinf. Like most museum’s Ditchling relies heavily on income from entry fees so its temporary closure had a serious impact. They are relying on donations to cover the shortfall (link here).
A sweet treat.
After visiting the museum, we enjoyed afternoon tea at The Nutmeg Tree, a traditional 1940’s Tearoom with fine cakes and patisserie.
“The interior of the tearoom and the outfits worn by the waitresses remind me of a scene from “Mrs Wobble the Waitress,” by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.”
My children were very taken by the whole experience and loved the sweet treats.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my visit to Ditchling and that I have inspired you to visit when the time is right. In the meantime, do check out the online activities hosted by the museum.