The gallery, formerly a pilchard-packing factory, has a remarkable complex of buildings, including three public galleries, a shop and an outdoor sculpture area. It also houses an archive, artists' studios and workshops, and boasts one of the most impressive sculptural artworks in St Ives, the "Magic Stone", a beautiful white marble piece which is instantly recognisable as being by Barbara Hepworth, and can be viewed in the main gallery.
The Society was founded in 1949 by Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Bernard Leach, Sven Berlin and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, amongst others. Later members have included Patrick Heron, Terry Frost and Henry Moore. This association with so many progressive and influential artists has given the Penwith Society a unique place in British art history.
Much has been written about this interesting time in the history of St Ives and its community of artists. The gallery moved to its current space in 1961, and from 1967 was curated by Kathleen Watkins, who for 46 years observed the comings and goings of the St. Ives artists, many of whom showed their work in The Penwith.
Today the Penwith Society continues to play a central role in the thriving and vibrant St. Ives art community, offering a varied programme of changing exhibitions throughout the year. As well as presenting work by members of the society, the galleries host exhibitions from other artists based both in Cornwall and further afield. A recent addition to the gallery is a collection of original artwork by some of the original Penwith Society members - Wilhelmina Barns-Graham's paintings, some of them for sale, are permanently on display, and there is currently a small exhibition of Breon O'Casey's work. There is also a Gallery Shop, showcasing a wide range of distinctive and original ceramics, glass, textiles and jewellery from Cornish makers.
Well worth a visit to experience this lovely open, light and airy space which is so much a part of the history of art in St. Ives.
Open Monday to Saturday throughout the year 10.00-17.00 except the last 3 weeks of January. Admission is free.