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Stanley Spencer Gallery - Miracle Workers

John Lewis Partnership, Gazette online

Gazette online - Miracle workers

The chapel where Stanley Spencer worshipped as a child is a backdrop for his art.

Stanley Spencer was a great believer in miracles. He usually pictured, and painted, them in Cookham his 'earthly paradise'. Now his home village has seen one more 'miracle': the transformation of the little gallery that shows his work.

The gallery, housed in the former Wesleyan Chapel where Spencer worshipped as a child, first opened to the public in 1962, but lack of space and out-of-date lighting and equipment made it a poor backdrop for the artist's art.

Now the high arched windows once more light the space; a mezzanine floor has been added to allow the gallery to almost double the number of works on display and conservation equipment has been installed.

Faith, hard work and charity
The reopening of the gallery this month was a miracle brought about by faith (that it could be done) but mostly by hard work from the Friends of the Stanley Spencer Gallery and its Trustees.

Funding of just under £1m came from the Heritage Lottery, plus other donations including one from the Partnership.

The new-look gallery was designed by architects Pringle Richards Sharratt. 'It was important to the Trustees that the integrity of the building was maintained,' said Dick Hurley, Chairman of the Trustees, 'but it needed to be brought up to 21st-century standards.'

For Dick the high point literally is the mezzanine floor above the largest work on display: the unfinished 'Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta'.

'The painting is so large that it has always been difficult to see it properly from the gallery floor, but now visitors look down on it as if they are standing on Cookham Bridge, which is the view that Spencer painted.'

Vision on
The gallery now has room to display about 50 works by Spencer, approximately two-thirds of its collection.

Two newly acquired works are being seen for the first time in the opening exhibition, That Sacred Piece of Ground, which runs until 16 March 2008.

Appropriately, one of the new pieces is a drawing entitled 'Ecstasy in a Wesleyan Chapel' and the second is a portrait of Eric Williams, famous for his wartime exploits, including the 'wooden horse escape'.

'I don't think any other artist has painted one place as fully as Spencer painted Cookham,' said Chrissy Rosenthal, Head of Publications at the gallery. 'It just feels right that so much of his best work can still be seen here in the village where he lived and worked.' 

The Stanley Spencer Gallery (www.stanleyspencer.org.uk), High Street, Cookham, Berkshire, opens from Easter to end October daily 10.30am to 5.30pm and the rest of the year on weekends from 11.00am to 4.30pm. Admission £3.00, concessions £2.00. Telephone 01628 471885.

© John Lewis Partnership 2007