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Muddy Meets: Anna Renton, Director, Penlee House Gallery & Museum

Gallery director Anna Renton tells us about her upcoming summer exhibition featuring Laura Knight, the Penzance Arts Festival and her fave secret iron-age village in West Penwith.

Gallery director? Sounds exciting! What led you to this role?

I’ve always been fascinated by the past, especially Cornwall’s, and after studying History at university I decided on a career in museums. I’ve worked at museums in London and then was fortunate enough to move back to Cornwall in 2018 to take up the role of Director at Penlee House Gallery & Museum. Penlee House is in Penzance and specialises in the artists of the Newlyn School and later Lamorna group. These artists were inspired by the landscape and people of West Cornwall. The museum also celebrates the archaeology and social history of West Cornwall.

What is your day to day working life like?

Like most museum roles, the days are varied! I am lucky to work with a great team and we work hard to deliver excellent learning and community programmes, curate exhibitions highlighting the significance of West Cornwall as a centre of art and creativity. Our main objective is to ensure that our visitors and volunteers have a great experience at Penlee House.

Has that changed at all during the various lockdown / pandemic and if so, do you think it has highlighted any need for change?

During the lockdown periods we have worked closely with our colleagues at Penzance Council (who own and operate Penlee House) to support our community. We have moved a lot of our activity online, this has included delivering arts and health workshops via Zoom, curating an online exhibition and setting creative challenges to inspire people to get creative at home and to learn more about our fabulous collection. One thing we have been working with partners across the creative industries to plan for is Penzance’s first Arts Festival, which will run from 4-20 June.

Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech-ring, 1943 Oil on canvas
© Imperial War Museums, IWM ART LD 2850. Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2021

What are you/ your team doing to promote women/equality in your every day?

We make sure to share stories about women artists and notable women in history. We are highlighting the career of one of Britain’s best loved artists, Laura Knight, in our summer exhibition this year; Laura Knight: A Celebration. The exhibition looks at her extraordinary career, her work in Cornwall as well as her work as a war artist in both World Wars.

What more is there to do in terms of equality / parity in Cornwall generally?

Everyone has a responsibility to promote equality and to celebrate diversity. The first step in this is to educate ourselves and, working in a museum, it’s important to continue to look with fresh eyes on our collections and ensure that we work with our audiences to uncover hidden histories and make it easier for everyone to see their stories reflected in the stories of the past.

What’s the general vibe among women business owners?

Cornwall is a great place to work with loads of very talented people who work in a supportive and collaborative way across sectors. In the museum sector we are especially fortunate to have a strong and supportive network, especially supported by Cornwall Museums Partnership, with strong links across the creative industries too. 

Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) Sennen Cove, c.1917 Oil on canvas Private Collection
© Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE RA 2021. All Rights Reserved / Bridgeman Images

Do you have a favourite Cornish beach?

Sennen Cove is beautiful, and much admired by some of the Newlyn School artists. We are fortunate to be borrowing a great Laura Knight painting of Sennen Cove (above) for our exhibition this summer which perfectly captures the turquoise waters.

When your first visitors arrive in Cornwall post lockdown, where do you take them first that shows Cornwall in all it’s beauty

I like to take visitors to Carn Euny – it’s an Iron Age village near to Penzance, with great views and an underground passage called a ‘fogou’.

I also really recommend Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange. Newlyn Art Gallery was set up by the Newlyn School artists as a contemporary gallery 125 years ago and it’s still true to that mission, showing the best of contemporary art.

Photo by Steve Tanner

Find more ideas here

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