The wall, the harsh building of the Merzbarn

< back

"I am building a Merz Barn in Elterwater, the greatest sculpture of my life. I am myself very ill but I still hope to have finished the work in three years. My friend Wantee helps me very much. It is due to her that I am still alive. I have so little time…."

"I am building the largest sculpture I have ever built in my life, 15 x 15 x 8 feet. It is an indoor sculpture and my third Merzbau, now that the first one was destroyed and the second one unfinished ….
I don’t know how I shall ever be able to finish it… but I have great courage and it works like magic ….
I work three hours a day, that’s all I can manage. I sleep ¾ of the day in order to gain enough strength for the remaining ¼. I work every minute I can.
My Merz Barn is better and more logical than anything I have ever done before"


The weather that winter (1947) was extremely cold and Schwitters had only a candle and a small stove, which hardly warmed the damp and draughty barn.

He worked on, in great pain, sometimes for only one hour a day, but Edith and Jack helped him and he stuck to his task for as long as he could.
(Jack Cook had been Mr Pierce’s assistant in his landscape design practice and by his account had done a lot of the practical work assisting Schwitters with the Merzbarn construction.)

The main wall in which Schwitters worked was about fifteen feet long and eight feet high, at the far end of the square barn room, opposite the door, and therefore better lighted than the rest.

He covered most of this wall with plaster, strengthened by wire, twigs,
garden canes and the like, in a kind of wattle-and-daub technique.

Some sections of the plaster were built out to form ribs and flat plateaus which seemed to grow towards the little window in the roof.
Such forms appear almost to have followed natural and organic patterns.

Incorporated into the construction there are items such as :

A slate log splitter
A small metal window frame
The rose of a child’s watering can
Part of the rim of a cartwheel
A china egg
A section of guttering
Part of an oval gold mirror frame
A metal grid
A rubber ball Stones from Langdale Beck Some Gentians – which have now disappeared



1. Merzbarn, detail relief, Hatton Gallery, 2008
Merzbarn, axonometric projection of original state, 1947
3. Merzbarn, plan 1947, showing constructed and proposed elements
4. Merzbarn, detail relief, 2008
5. Id.