A new London museum, costing £1.6 million, devoted to the British artist and humorist William Heath Robinson is due to open in 2015. The project – developed by the William Heath Robinson Trust (WHRT) and the local community, and largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund – will link a modern design museum by leading architects ZMMA to West House, a Georgian house, set in Pinner Memorial Park, in north west London.
The side of the museum facing the parkland will be largely glazed, with a copper roof, supported by an intricate beam structure in the spirit of Heath Robinson's humorous contraption drawings. The window frames will be English Chestnut and the walls made of locally-sourced white brick.
The museum will house 500 pieces of original artwork – drawings, watercolours and paintings – also a collection of published materials from books, magazines and advertising. His humorous work was mainly published in magazines such as Tatler, Sketch and Bystander.
Heath Robinson (1872-1944), who moved to Pinner in 1908, is best known for his cartoons of bizarre machinery, including The First Aero Wedding, 1917, which appeared in Flying Magazine, as well as all the contraptions he invented during both World Wars, including Doubling Gloucestershire Cheeses by the Gruyere Method, 1940, a suggestion for coping with rationing during World War II.
The machines he drew were often powered by steam kettles and candles with complicated pulley arrangements. When he left the Royal Academy Schools in 1895, his dream was to become a landscape painter. But Heath Robinson turned to illustrating books, including Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, Kipling's A Song of the English and The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.
He painted watercolours for his own pleasure; that was his first love – but it didn't make him a living, so he had to turn to commercial art.
The Heath Robinson 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. "We are lodgers there under sufferance," says Geoffrey Beare, a Trustee of the WHRT and author of several books on the artist. "They will be relieved when we can move out into our own space."
Now nearly at the end of the development phase, if they get the go ahead from The Lottery Fund, who have pledged £890,000, the next stage will be the museum's construction, which will start in 2014. It also relies on further partnership funding being raised by the trustees for a total of £430,000, of which £38,400 will be raised by Kickstarter.
"Heath Robinson's work was never political, which is one reason he has such lasting appeal," says Beare. "He only turned to humorous drawings when, in 1904, his book publisher went bankrupt – he had done over 100 drawings for François Rabelai – but he didn't get the majority of the payment."