In 1801 the people of St Ives built a wall to protect their town from being engulfed by sand. On Porthmeor beach this wall enabled the fishermen to create cellars and net lofts to process their large catches of pilchards and store their boats and nets. From the 1880s famous artists from around the world, attracted by the extraordinary light, worked alongside the fishermen using the lofts as studios.
Today this unique relationship still exists between artists and fishermen. For more than 200 years this building has been battered by the harsh Atlantic weather and is now in urgent need of saving.
‘Why these buildings are so important is that they combine two things that make St Ives unique, workspace for living artists and fishermen a combination you won't find anywhere else in Britain. This building isn't a museum it is living and breathing and will go on to evolve again and again and must be saved” – Janet Street-Porter
The fishermen’s cellars were originally constructed for the pilchard fishing industry in 1814 and are now the last remaining work spaces of their kind still being used for by fishermen. You can still see the huge tanks where the pilchards were pickled in brine. Today 12 boats work out of Porthmeor and the fishermen use the cellars for repairing and setting their nets and storage of lobster pots.
Above the fishermen’s cellars were the artists studios with a list of former tenants which reads like a who’s who of 20th Century British painting, Julius Olsson, Borlase Smart, Francis Bacon, Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.
"Outrageous as the present art establishment in London would find it, a case could well be made for considering St Ives the most influential centre of Western painting during the late Fifties – at a moment (1957-58) when Paris began its nosedive from unchallenged pre-eminence, but New York’s contribution had yet to become apparent outside Manhattan Island’. – Patrick Heron 1977
Porthmeor Studios are also home to the St Ives School of Painting. Started in 1938 by Leonard Fuller, the school plays a vital role in the cultural and economic life of St Ives, attracting students from around the world.