Tributes have been paid to a man known for his life-long support and encouragement of artists.

Artist Ian Andrew Hunter, director of the Littoral Trust, and for the past 16 years of the Merz Barn project in Langdale, near Ambleside, died suddenly at the Cylinders Estate, Langdale, on February 26.

His influence extended worldwide from New Zealand to the USA.

Mr Hunter and his partner Celia Larner ran Littoral Arts which bought the Cylinders Estate, including the Merz Barn, in 2007.

Merz Barn was the last workplace of German-born Kurt Schwitters who found sanctuary in the Lakes after fleeing the Nazis who ridiculed his work and persecuted modern artists.

Littoral restored and repaired the Barn and surrounding estate, attracting artists and students from across the world to be inspired by Schwitters’s legacy.

Mr Hunter, aged 75, and Ms Larner, aged 85, had already decided to retire and were looking for new custodians of the project.

Days after preliminary talks about Coniston-based Grizedale Arts incorporating Cylinders into its projects, Mr Hunter died while working in the grounds of the estate.

READ MORE: Charity to put the work of an artist that escaped the Nazis for sale

Adam Sutherland, director of Grizedale Arts said: "We fully intend to try to honour Ian and Celia’s work from the past 20 years and sustain Cylinders as a creative and radical place for the arts and culture."

Mr Hunter and Ms Larner, set up a small charity, Projects Environment, to provide opportunities for artists to work in environmental and farming contexts, and with marginalised communities and peoples.

Ms Larner said: "For Ian, art was a form of philosophy as much as aesthetics, and all his later work centred on how to shape artistic practice to shed light on contemporary problems.

"The ‘ArtBarns' – After Kurt Schwitters' programme of artists' projects in partnership with hill farming communities in Lancashire led to the acquisition, by the re-named the Littoral/Projects Environment Trust, of the site of Schwitters last great installation work, the Merz Barn, in Langdale.

"Ian spent the last 16 years of his life running projects and artist commissions there, while continuing his consultancy work associated with the Arts and Agriculture and Art and Rural Regeneration programmes.

"Ian was a brilliant teacher, and loved working with artists, craftspeople, and children and students, as a counterbalance to the gallery-based orientation of the art world."

In 2000 Mr Hunter set up the Kurt Schwitters in England working party, designed to raise the funding to allow the Littoral Trust to purchase the Cylinders estate in Elterwater, near Ambleside, where refugee artist Kurt Schwitters had spent the last year of his life creating his great unfinished artwork called simply ‘The Merz Barn’.

In 2006, he ran the ‘Save the Merzbarn’ conference and funding appeal at Tate Britain. The following year Littoral bought Cylinders with help from the Northern Rock Foundation, the Arts Council, and donations from leading British artists.

The programmes at Cylinders gradually came to focus on Schwitters’s refugee status, culminating in Mr Hunter’s Children of Mariupol bunker installation in 2022, for the 75th anniversary of Kurt Schwitters creation of his Merz Barn work in 1947.

The Arts Council withdrew its annual funding support from Littoral in 2012 and both Mr Hunter and Ms Larner made long-term interest-free loans to the trust to enable them to continue to allow free access to the Merz Barn to artists, students and the public from all over the world.

They organised annual summer schools at Cylinders and major universities sent their students to soak in the atmosphere of the estate.

There were setbacks with storm damage in 2021/22, and in September 2022, the decision was made that, with the permission of the Charity Commission, the Merz Barn and surrounding estate should be sold.

It was while preparing the estate for sale that he died.

Mr Hunter is survived by Celia Larner, and by his sister Hazel Hunter who lives with her daughters and grandchildren in Perth, Western Australia.