Guest blog: Chippenham Museum Curator Melissa Barnett discusses how the museum’s post war and contemporary art collection has developed

Chippenham Museum has been collecting in North Wiltshire since 1960 when it was established in the town’s Medieval Yelde Hall. Now based in an 18th century town house in the Market Place and a service provided by the Town Council, the museum tells the story of the people of Chippenham and the surrounding villages, from prehistoric times until the present day.

The collections are predominantly of social history but there is also an interesting collection of artworks which includes material associated with the celebrated local artist and etcher, Robin Tanner (1904-1988) who lived locally in Kington Langley. The oil painting collection can be viewed on line at Art UK.

Recently though, with the help of the HLF funded Creative Wiltshire project, the museum has actively sourced contemporary creative material for its art collection. This countywide project, which is run by the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, aims to widen collections and ensure that creativity is better represented throughout Wiltshire’s museums, libraries and archives.

Initially, 17 works of art have been purchased as part of the Creative Wiltshire project for Chippenham Museum and this includes fine art, studio pottery, silver and sculpture. The process could not have been easier and, working with the knowledgeable Creative Wiltshire team, the museum has now developed a significant collection of 20th century art which includes work by well-known artists such as Howard Hodgkin and William Brooker.

Home, 2001 Howard Hodgkin
Hand-painted etching with aquatint . Acquired by Chippenham Museum as part of the HLF Creative Wiltshire Project

The project was timely; Chippenham Museum was already implementing a new forward plan which recognised the need to cater to a wider audience and encourage more visitors by improving facilities. In order to be able to take items on loan from larger museums and to hire in touring exhibitions a new, secure gallery space on the ground floor was planned. Consequently, an application was made to the Arts Council England’s Ready to Borrow Capital Grants Scheme via the South West Museums Development Programme.

The Ready to Borrow Grants scheme is a national programme of funding for the museum sector to help support ACE’s ten-year strategic framework ‘Great Art and Culture for Everyone’. This funding stream is specifically designed to improve access to collections held by national museums and Major Partner Museums (now NPO’s), by enabling smaller museums to meet the collections care and security standards required by these lenders, for example those required by the Government Indemnity Scheme (GIS).

The application was successful and a generous grant enabled work on a new gallery to go ahead. This gallery opened in December 2017.

Chippenham Town Museum new gallery Nov. 2017

The research for the Creative Wiltshire project in Chippenham highlighted the richness of artists and craftspeople who moved to North Wiltshire during the 20th century and it was realised that there was a very important story to tell. It was fitting therefore that the first exhibition in the new gallery would celebrate this creativity in the region.

Nude, William Brooker,
Purchased with the support of the Art Fund, Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and HLF Creative Wiltshire Project


In addition to the new artwork now owned by the Museum, the exhibition includes other items generously loaned by the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and an oil by William Brooker, which would not have been possible to buy without a successful application for an award from the ACE / V & A Purchase Fund


The content of the exhibition covers the period from the pre-war neo Romantic Movement (which so inspired Robin Tanner) to the studio crafts that are still in production in nearby Lacock today.

The Old Road: Elegy for the English Elm I, Robin Tanner, 1976
Acquired by Chippenham Museum as part of the HLF Creative Wiltshire Project

It was the post war period that saw the Bath Academy of Art relocate to Corsham Court, at the invitation of artist Paul Ayshford (Lord Methuen), and a burgeoning of artistic innovation and creativity. Principal Clifford Ellis (1946-1972) expanded the school and by the 1950s some of the biggest names in Modern British Art had joined its teaching staff. Artists such as William Scott, Terry Frost, Howard Hodgkin, Henry Cliff and William Brooker taught or studied there. Read more on Creative Wiltshire’s blog.

Artist at Work, 1950s, Clifford Ellis Oil on board
Acquired by Chippenham Museum as part of the HLF Creative Wiltshire Project

Across the UK other colleges and universities were also helping to establish this new generation of studio artists. The emergence of galleries and publications devoted to their work, made it possible for many practitioners to make a career out of their craft and brought their work to a new audience

In North Wiltshire with its picture-postcard appearance, the village of Lacock provided the inspiration and perfect base for a number of craft workshops to establish in the 1970s. A regular supply of tourists and visitors to the village allowed these studio workshops to continue and flourish, as they do to this day.



Studio Art. 1970’s
Graham Watling Silver and porcelain bowl and pebble pots Sheila and Robert Fornier
Acquired by Chippenham Museum as part of the HLF Creative Wiltshire Project

The new gallery’s first exhibition, Creative Wiltshire – An exhibition celebrating North Wiltshire creativity, runs until 17th March 2018. Entrance is free.

We’re excited at bringing new, significant, national, touring exhibitions to the north of the county and look forward to your visit. Chippenham Museum will be the final venue for the Ashmolean Museum’s touring exhibition celebrating the work of F.L.Griggs ( 1876 -1938) who was a great influence on local artist Robin Tanner. This will be followed by our in – house exhibition ‘Gossip and Scandal in Georgian Chippenham’ which will display satirical prints on loan from the British Museum. All our exhibitions are supported by Curators talks, special events and children’s activities. More details can be found on our website. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up to date with our events or contact us on and we will be happy to send you our programme of events.

Melissa Barnett, Curator, Chippenham Museum


2 thoughts on “Guest blog: Chippenham Museum Curator Melissa Barnett discusses how the museum’s post war and contemporary art collection has developed

  1. Pingback: Guest blog: Chippenham Museum Curator Melissa Barnett discusses how the museum’s post war and contemporary art collection has developed — The Arts in Wiltshire

  2. Pingback: Guest blog: A Celebration of Art in Wiltshire – Project Officer, Joy Bloomfield reflects on how Creative Wiltshire and ARTeology have collected and inspired our creative talent | The Arts in Wiltshire

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