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Curator Diary - Barbara Hepworth's Library

01 Apr 2020

In this Curator Diary, Assistant Curator Clare Nadal shares her research on Barbara Hepworth's extensive personal library.

One of the most rewarding parts of working in a museum or gallery is the chance to undertake research into collections and to be able to share this learning with our visitors. In 2017, I researched Barbara Hepworth’s personal library for a collection display – the first public presentation of the artist’s books. For Hepworth, reading formed part of a daily creative process that, alongside carving, also included listening to music, writing and dance. As she stated, ‘It’s only through living and feeling, reading and feeling, carving and feeling that I believe and have faith.’

Hepworth amassed an extensive personal library of books reflecting a broad array of interests, with subjects varying from natural history and mathematics, to Christian Science, poetry, cookery and even cats. The books provide a glimpse into her lively and intellectually stimulating world, which in turn fed into the development of her work.

Barbara Hepworth's copy of Ordinary Cats by Charles Duffy

Many books were gifted from friends, often sent with letters, and contain written inscriptions and dedications. In other ways, we see Hepworth’s own notes and annotations. Some of my particular favourites are dictionaries that include shopping-style lists for possible titles – a number of which became titles for sculptures in our collection, such as Curved Forms (Pavan) and Coré.

Hepworth’s copy of Sophocles’ Electra also contains the annotations she made in preparation for producing set and costume designs for Michel St Denis’ 1951 production of the play at London’s Old Vic, starring Peggy Ashcroft in the title role.

Throughout her life, Hepworth was deeply engaged with political and social debates, believing that the artist had a crucial role to play in society, and this is something that the library makes apparent, from copies of the United Nations News to books on nuclear disarmament. Her two favourite books however were The Poetics of Music by Igor Stravinsky and Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. Finally, not to be missed is Charles Duffy’s Ordinary Cats – proof that Hepworth was as much the cat lover as any of us!