The Grade II listed Porthmeor Studios and Cellars in St Ives has been home to both fishermen and artists for over 130 years. Thanks to National Lottery funding it escaped commercial development and now new generations are being enchanted by the stories it has to tell.
The historic Porthmeor Studios and Cellars in St Ives has married the Cornish traditions of fishing and art since the 1880s. Originally built on the beachfront to process and pack pilchards, the building soon became home to a community of artists who moved to the town in the late 19th century and converted the loft spaces into what is now possibly the oldest artists’ studios in the country. Over the years this wonderful space played host to some of the artworld’s most celebrated names, including Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron and Francis Bacon, whilst in the sheds below St Ives’ fishermen continued to ply their trade.
Eventually however, decades of use and exposure to coastal weather began to take its toll on the building, and although it was still much loved, it began to fall into disrepair. Realising that without drastic action the building would have to be sold to one of the many housing developers keen to cash in on its prime location, the Borlase Smart John Wells Trust set about an ambitious restoration project. Trust Manager Chris Hibbert says: “The roof had failed so the building was full of damp and rot. If it wasn’t for our supporters and The National Lottery funding this unique connection between fishing and art would have been lost.”
Construction started in October 2010 and three years later the building once again provides high quality workspace for artists and fishermen alike, plus there was an unexpected benefit to the project. “When we were excavating the old fishing sheds we discovered the original stone floor and many of the tools used to process the pilchards,” explains Chris. “We’ve been able to preserve these and now host educational sessions for the region’s schoolchildren, with costumed tours and net-making.”
One teacher who now brings her students to the Studios says “Before Porthmeor opened there was nowhere for us to take the children to learn about their heritage – it’s such a valuable place for us now.”
The artistic community are benefitting too: the building provides improved spaces for The St Ives School of Painting, which offers a range of exciting art courses and the Trust is also using Lottery funding to open a public exhibition space.