About this project
Please Keep Pledging
Any money raised beyond the initial target will contribute to our overall Partnership funding target of £430,000, so please encourage your friends and colleagues to take advantage of this chance to share in our exciting project.
The New Museum
Featured in Wired, Design Week and The Independent.
The William Heath Robinson Trust has a wonderful collection of the artist's work, but it has no permanent home and very little of it can be displayed. We have been working with the people of Pinner, where Heath Robinson lived for many years, to build a new museum at West House.
With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund we have employed architects ZMMA to design this building. It will provide proper archival storage for the collection, a gallery for temporary exhibitions, a space in which a permanent exhibition can tell the story of Heath Robinson’s life and work. It will also have a learning and activity studio and a shop. Under current plans it will open in October 2015.
The new building will be a handsome addition to West House with a copper roof, walls of locally sourced white brick and window frames of English chestnut. The building will open at ground floor via the entrance/shop or through the activity/learning spaces, which have large full height windows and glass doors that connect these spaces to the park.
The two gallery spaces both have angular forms. Here we see the temporary exhibition gallery as it might look with the opening exhibition, Heath Robinson at War, installed.
The finishes of the walls and floor are simple, allowing focus to be drawn to the exposed timber structure of the ceilings. These have been designed in the spirit of Heath Robinson; at first glance they seem illogical, however when examined closely you understand how each piece of timber is doing an important structural job and fits into an overall system.
All of the public spaces are arranged across the ground floor, a key part of the accessibility philosophy that ensures all members of the community are able to visit and enjoy the museum.
The Permanent Exhibition
The heart of the museum will be the permanent exhibition gallery which will tell the story of Heath Robinson’s life and work. It has been designed by award winning consultants Bright White. Support us by contributing to the cost of fitting out this exhibition.
In the gallery the story will be presented to visitors on a horizontal reading surface. At various points will be showcases displaying books, letters and other things illustrating the narrative. Above the reading surface original artwork relating to each section of the story will be hung. On the upper part of the walls will be large reproductions of some of Heath Robinson’s most beautiful coloured works, again supporting the story that is unfolding below.
At the far end of the gallery will be an interactive screen. This will be available to visitors to call up additional images by subject or genre – a kind of visual juke box. It will also give access to a video showing the evolution of a Heath Robinson picture from initial rough sketch to finished coloured illustration.
In the centre of the gallery will be materials to enable activities inspired by the display. These might include designing or building a Heath Robinson device or making a drawing to illustrate a story. Children might be encouraged to look at the pictures more carefully to find some of the incidental details that enliven so many of Heath Robinson’s drawings.
Some of his most beautiful illustrations were published without an explanatory text – young people could be challenged to provide an accompanying story line, with a prize for the best of them.
The Funding Challenge
The development phase of this £1.6m project is now complete and our second round application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the bulk of the capital needed has been submitted. It will be considered by the London committee in December, but we won’t succeed unless we can convince them that we can raise the required partnership funding - £430,000. An essential part of this will be the money for the fit-out of the permanent exhibition gallery.
We are seeking funding from grant-giving Trusts and from local government. (The Garfield Weston Foundation have already pledged £75k to the project and the Foyle Foundation £30k.) We are running a local fundraising campaign in Harrow. But it is only through Crowd funding that we can demonstrate the level of national and international interest in this project.
You can help us in this. By contributing to the cost of the permanent exhibition you will not only move us towards our fundraising target, but will help to demonstrate the breadth of public support that exists for the creation of this museum. If we can succeed in this Kickstarter campaign then we shall be unstoppable.
If you’ve ever described something as “a bit Heath Robinson” then this project should interest you.
Heath Robinson became famous as the man who drew strange contraptions that were operated by string and pulleys and were powered by weights and candlepower. As early as 1912 his name entered the English language to describe such devices.
He was born in North London in 1872. He trained as an artist at the Royal Academy Schools and his ambition was to be a landscape painter, but he soon found that this would not pay the bills. He therefore looked for employment in the growing field of book illustration where he quickly made a name for himself.
It was the bankruptcy of his main publisher in 1904 that drove him to find a second source of income and he turned to up-market weekly magazines that wanted humorous drawings and paid on delivery. Once again he quickly made his mark and for the next 20 years pursued parallel careers as illustrator and humorist.
During the 1920s and 1930s, as the demand for book illustration dwindled, he became more reliant on his humorous work and he was increasingly in demand as an advertising artist. However, throughout his life landscape painting was his real love and he devoted much of his spare time to it. He died in 1944.
The Trust and its Collection
When Heath Robinson’s daughter died her husband wanted her collection of her father’s work to be kept in public ownership. As a result the William Heath Robinson Trust was formed in 1992. The collection includes about 500 pieces of original art work together with an archive of letters, association copies and special editions of the books that he illustrated, proof prints, advertising booklets and ephemera. It is the only substantial collection of the artist’s work in public ownership.
Let’s look at some examples of works from the collection.
During the First World War Heath Robinson’s cartoons were much in demand. He used gentle satire and absurdity to counter both the pompous German propaganda and the fear and depression engendered by the horrors of war. What better antidote to the stories of 'baby-eating Huns' than Heath Robinson's drawing of “The Hun” using not mustard gas, but laughing gas, to disable British troops before an attack.
The Trust has many of the letters that were sent to Heath Robinson from servicemen at the front and from civilians at home suggesting subjects for his pen and thanking him for bringing a little much needed humour into their lives.
The primary subject matter for Heath Robinson’s humorous work was not his contraptions, but the human condition, the workings of fate and the weakness and self-importance of man. This drawing is a good example of the last of these.
At first sight this appears to be just another ‘gadget’ drawing, albeit a particularly magnificent one, but like many of his drawings it has a deeper significance. The massive size of the machine compared with the objects to be tested and the large number of technicians and managers diligently pursuing their appointed tasks all serve to satirise the pomposity, fussiness and self-importance of the ‘experts’. The effect is only heightened by the quality of the painting and the fine industrial landscape that provides the backdrop to the proceedings.
Throughout the 1920s Heath Robinson was producing his own brand of Fairy pictures to be published in the Christmas or other special issues of up-market magazines. In December 1925 the most enchanting of all these goblin pictures, ‘The Fairy’s Birthday’, delighted readers of Holly Leaves magazine. The fairy of the title sits looking very regal on a branch of a leafy bush, her chancellor standing behind her overseeing the ceremony.
A cobweb is stretched from her bush to another nearby and along its main thread comes a procession of goblins bearing various gifts. One of the goblins keeps watch on the spider who is looking menacing at the centre of his web, while in a bird’s nest below her a goblin orchestra play.
The fairies and goblins are not the malevolent sprites of folk tales, but have a homely and somewhat bumbling appearance. They could be short-sighted, overweight and suffer from pains in their joints or shortness of breath. They have a rustic quality and may well have been based on local characters that Heath Robinson knew.
In his illustrations for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, published in 1914, Heath Robinson set out to make a record of what he called “the most wonderful moonlight night in fantasy”. For the woodland scenes he used a style of drawing foliage in pen and ink that he had first developed in 1900 for his illustrations to the Poems of Edgar Allen Poe. Here that style is refined further and combined with solid black skies.
In these illustrations the streams of fairy folk strung out like the tail of a comet and strong foreground patterns of wild flowers, vines, foliage or horse-chestnut leaves, produce a series of drawings that have great depth and variety of texture. They provide the ideal setting for “these old Greek stories seen through English eyes”.
The Some of Our Rewards
Below are images of the limited edition prints and the e-book that we are offering as rewards.
The Heath Robinson's Legacy
Peter Lord, who with Dave Sproxton and Nick Park worked as producer, editor and director on the Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run films, talks about Heath Robinson's influence on their work.
See the full Michael Rosen Video
A video made by the William Heath Robinson Trust. Patron Michael Rosen, poet, broadcaster, author and British Children's Laureat, talks about the place of the artist William Heath Robinson in British culture and the need for a museum at which his wide ranging achievements can be displayed and celebrated.
Risks and challenges
If we cannot raise the necessary partnership funding in time then the building of the new museum will be delayed. However we have a strong and experienced team who have already raised the £1.5M that was needed to restore the existing West House. We have put an enormous amount of work into the project to get to where we are today. Rest assured that we shall do whatever is needed to see it through to completion.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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