Last week Watts Gallery held its Christmas Fair. It offered a taste of what I hope Guildford Museum will become.
I have been along to the Watts Gallery a couple of times since its “rebirth” a few years ago. How a place can be transformed. I have strong childhood memories of being dragged round its tired Victorian galleries with leaking ceilings. I found the art depressing and the black and white photos of a bearded G.F. Watts a bit scary.
I am still no art connoisseur but the place now has a magic that gives it an instant appeal. Embracing Watt’s principle of “Art for All” it has an artist’s village, active programme of courses, events and strong links with the community. All this was on display at the Christmas fair and so much more. My children were offered a very different introduction to the boring, damp, cold Sunday afternoons that I remember.
They made paper angels in the gallery surrounded by Watt’s large oil paintings. They donned aprons in order to print labels in the art studio and they listened to Father Christmas in Watt’s own living room. Community choirs from around the area sang carols, there was a horse carriage ride and wreath making. The organisation that went on behind the scenes to put this on was impressive to say the least, as was the army of volunteers helping on every corner.
This is what a museum should be, to my mind – accessible, engaging, fun. My children were too young to appreciate the art but one day they might return with fond memories of a happy visit and explore it at a deeper level.
Could Guildford Museum offer such an experience? We will find out when Guildford Castle celebrates a medieval Christmas on 18th December. But it needs to do more than put on a good show. Watt’s gallery, after decades of decline, has found its feet and we must make sure that Guildford Museum does the same