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You are in: Cornwall > Entertainment > Theatre and Arts > Cornish Fishermen and Artists

Fisherman tending his nets

Cornish Fishermen and Artists

For more than 120 years fishermen and artists in St Ives have been sharing premises. Both taking inspiration from the waves and the coastline. The Porthmeor studios are in need of renovation costing more than three million pounds.

Porthmeor is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful pieces of Cornish coastline. The beach at St Ives is covered in soft pepper-white sand and people travel for miles to holiday there.

In 1801 residents built a wall to ensure their town would not be engulfed by the sand. At Porthmeor, the wall allowed fishermen to create cellars and net lofts so that they could process the large  trawls of pilchards. It was also home to their boats and nets.

A fisherman's cellar at Porthmeor

It is the last remaining workspace of its kind still being used by fishermen. On display are huge tanks where the pilchards were pickled in brine.

The curator of the St Ives Museum, Brian Stevens, says this is part of the last remnants of old St Ives:

"There was harmony between the artists and the fishermen because they would paint the fishermen's boats, and hire the fishermen during poor weather days to sit for them."

From the early 1880's world-famous artists came to work alongside the fishermen. They were attracted by the extraordinary light and used the lofts as studios. This relationship has continued through the centuries.

An artist in residence at the studios takes advantage of the natural light

Artists such as Francis Bacon, Patrick Heron and Julius Olsson RA have all spent time at the lofts seeking inspiration from the sea and weather. The St Ives School of Painting has been based at the lofts for more than 70 years attracting students from across the world.

Artists Iain Robertson and Clare Wardman use the lofts and are preparing for a residency in New Zealand, the home of Frances Hodgkins who painted at Porthmeor in the early 20th century:

"It is unique to have artists upstairs and fishermen downstairs, I've never come across anywhere that has this type of history. In the winter when the fishermen are coming in and we're coming, we're doing different work but we're all in the same situation."

Today 12 boats work out of Porthmeor - the cellars are now primarily used for repairs and storing lobster pots.

But the Grade 2 listed building has been damaged over the years by prolonged exposure to the elements. Gales have blown in windows and the Delabole Slate roof reveals more holes each time there is a gale.

Storm damage ravaged the artist's lofts at Porthmeor

Planning permission has been granted on this period property with plans in place to make Porthmeor the hub of creative excellence. It wants to ensure the workspace for fisherman is affordable and support artists at all stages of their careers.

Brian Stevens says it must be saved:

"Not only for down here but for up above. The waning fishing industry is such that we've got to have something to follow it. A new chapter started in 1877 and that chapter has grown to many many books as various artists made a name from the artists school and that in the future the studios will be world renowned."

The total cost of the project is £3.7 million with £1.2 million already being allocated by The Arts Council. Cornwall Council has given £50,000 plus administration support which its Chief Executive, Kevin Lavery, says is a justified use of public money:

An artist in residence

"It is a very modest amount that has been put in...so it is a very good return if we can secure investment from elsewhere. Think of all the jobs it will generate, and those people will pay council tax and the like so it does produce a good return."

The Borlase Smart - John Wells Trust, which runs the studios, is waiting to hear whether its latest grant applications have been improved. The fishermen and artists alike will continue to work there while the vision to make it a world-class hub of creative excellence is made real.

last updated: 07/08/2009 at 12:10
created: 07/08/2009

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