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Diary of a Cultural Gardener - May 2021

11 Jun 2021

To celebrate the gallery’s 10th birthday and our re-opening exhibition, two monumental sculptures arrived in the garden this May, Contrapuntal Forms and Turning Forms which have not been seen together since Barbara Hepworth created them for the Festival of Britain, 70 years ago.

It feels special that Contrapuntal Forms in particular has been able to join us here in our garden as this sculpture was hand-carved in 1950/51 amidst the flowers and foliage of Hepworth’s own garden at Trewyn studio in St Ives – a garden that was a resource for making, creating and displaying art, as well as a space to plant, stroll, sit or spend time with family and friends.

Hepworth had to build a scaffolding tower in her garden in order to painstakingly chisel the two blocks of Irish blue limestone, 10 feet high. Archive photos show the artist working with the cordyline leaves and higgledy town jostling behind her. It was a huge physical task to make these sculptures – the biggest commissions that she had received to date. I wonder if the neighbours heard the chinking of the chisels and saw the undulating form of the figures emerge, nearly as tall as the roof line?

Barbara Hepworth working on Contrapuntal Forms by floodlight, October 1950

Making art and making gardens takes graft and perseverance – ultimately a confidence that the vision will grow and become a reality. In that way it feels fitting that this sculpture was made in a cherished green space and sets a unique example in how a garden can be many things at once – a resource to use in bold and creative ways.

Around each of the sculptures we have deciduous perennial grasses Hackonechloa macra at the base of one and Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ around the other. We use a single plant variety in these areas, rather than mixed planting, to allow a visual pause beneath the sculpture and to provide a beautiful contrast of texture. These plants had to be lifted temporarily to allow the art technicians to carefully remove the previous two sculptures and install the new ones. It was an eventful day and we watched as the crane lifted the new artworks above our flower beds and gently positioned them.

When it came to reinstating the plants around the sculpture bases, unfortunately the rain poured down, so torrential and sudden at one point that it ran down the inside of my collar and steel toe boots. However, I smiled when I read our curator Eleanor Clayton’s new book, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life, where she writes that when the artist was carving Contrapuntal Forms she was beset by continuous rain. It troubled the work such that Hepworth had to build a canopy to shelter underneath. It felt quite apt, working in the wet weather to think of the artist toiling in the same and how she must have pushed through the damp and dreary conditions with grit and patience in order to create a sculpture of such serene beauty.

Barbara Hepworth wrote ‘sculpture should act not only as a foil to architectural properties but the sculpture itself should provide a link between human scale and sensibility and the greater volumes of space and mass in architecture’

The new sculptures sit well within our garden, charging it with a new energy and giving us a chance get to know these works on a daily basis – to enjoy them in different moments of time and season. Just as in the sculpture’s infancy the garden provides a place where art can dwell out in the world amidst the bustle of life and the dynamism of plants and nature.

Photo © Jonty Wilde
Photo © Jonty Wilde