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Museum to celebrate work of artist and humorist William Heath Robinson due to open


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After decades of preserving and managing the collection of William Heath Robinson’s work, the William Heath Robinson Trust are on the cusp of completing the first new bespoke museum in London since 1976 in Harrow, Pinner.

The Trust was awarded the go ahead in 2012 by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and having raised £1.5 million from the council and other sources the project is underway - but there is a shortfall of £140,000 needed to complete the Museum for its expected opening in May 2017, which has been extended.

The project will see The West House in Pinner, which is already a cultural centre and war memorial, extended to make space for a museum.

Heath Robinson moved to Pinner in 1908 where he spent much of his life. Donations are being requested through the Trust’s website.

The Heath Robinson Trust, established in 1992 by the artist’s daughter, Joan Brinsmead, holds the largest collection in the world of his works. The collection, which includes images he did for ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ between 1921 and 1922 that were never published, is currently held at Harrow Museum Store, waiting eagerly for its new home where it can be gazed upon by fans and spectators.

“We are lodgers there under sufferance,” Geoffrey Beare, a Trustee of the WHRT and leading expert on the artist, told the Independent two years ago. "They will be relieved when we can move out into our own space."

Heath Robinson has indisputably earned his name into the vernacular. There are few who haven't heard the name, but just for those few who have been living under a rock...

William Heath Robinson, born in 1872, was an English cartoonist and illustrator best known for his drawings of complicated machines and contraptions. He studied at the Islington Art school and the Royal Academy and began his career with ambitions to become a landscape painter, but instead started illustrating books and plays including William Shakespeare’s ‘Twelth Night’ (1908) and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1914).

It was his cartoons of complicated contraptions that achieved simple results that raised his profile. Satirising the self-importance of those caught up in the age of technology made him famous. In 1912 the phrase “Heath Robinson contraption” entered the dictionary. He died in 1944.

Fans might just describe their pursuit of setting their eyes upon his art as a Heath Robinson. Although, it may seem like a easy job to simply hang a picture on a wall for the public to see, the Heath Robinson Trust have worked tirelessly to create a permanent home for its collection of the art, as well as create opportunities for the public and local community to ‘explore the diverse output of one of this country’s best loved artists’. 

"Your absurd, beautiful drawings... give me a peculiar pleasure of the mind like nothing else in the world."

- H.G. Wells in a letter to Heath Robinson in 1914

The public’s hunger to feast their eyes on William Heath Robinson’s works is well documented. In 2003, a major exhibition from the Trust’s collection was shown at Dulwich Picture Gallery and received over 500 visitors per day, attracting large national media attention. The BBC and Channel 4 are known to have carried stories on Heath Robinson, with the BBC even making a documentary to celebrate his life and work.

After Dulwich, the exhibition travelled to the Holbourne Museum in Bath, the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and The Laing in Newcastle where is saw over a remarkable 87,000 visitors in a 15-week period.

In February the WHRT appointed museum manager Sophie Smith, a former assistant curator at the Farnham Museum and graduate in archaeology and ancient history from Newcastle, and a Masters in cultural heritage management at the University of York. Smith told Harrow Times: “I am very excited to be part of the Heath Robinson Museum”.

The West House has so far sold 4,900 copies of its Heath Robinson book, but will soon be able to display his actual pictures and designs.

Residents of Pinner can expect the town to be a wash with visitors as people are expected to come from all around the country to visit the highly anticipated collection of the artist that is so widely revered.

Whilst there are still many decisions to be made like the display of the collection, opening hours, pricing policies and events, for the local community and Heath Robinson fans, there is a lot to get excited about.

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