Newest Review: ... street level room that was originally the kitchen, dining room and bathroom of Hepworth's house. This small white, low ceilinged room int... more
The secret garden
Barbara Hepworth Museum (St Ives)
Member Name: dee778
Barbara Hepworth Museum (St Ives)
Advantages: Beautiful sculptures in a lovely setting
Disadvantages: A difficult place to get to
Barbara Hepworth came to live in St Ives in 1939 and remained living and working in the Trewyn studios that are now the museum, for the rest of her life. The Trewyn studios provided the space for her to create the enormous bronze, stone and wood sculptures that made her famous, and the garden itself was an essential part of her creative process. When she died in 1975 what had been her home and studio was given over to the Tate to become a museum that celebrates her work. Today it is one of the most exciting and unexpected treasures in St Ives; the small cottage of steep staircases and small rooms forms the entrance to a lush garden, filled with magnificent sculptures, winding paths and ponds. The entrance to the museum lies on a quiet side street, and the small doorway with its inconspicuous white sign could easily be missed.
~~The Ground Floor~~
Stooping under the low door lintel, the visitor walks into a disarmingly informal room. A receptionist sits just inside the door behind a low desk to collect the money - and immediately you find yourself in the street level room that was originally the kitchen, dining room and bathroom of Hepworth's house. This small white, low ceilinged room introduces the visitor to the artist via a timeline of her life, where yellowed newspaper clippings are mixed in with photographs of a young and pretty housewife who looks nothing like the strong featured artist that we are all more familiar with. Family photographs of Barbara with her young triplets look disconcertingly like photographs from my family album, with bright lipsticked 1950's smiles, huge prams and formal clothing. It is fascinating to see how Hepworth's work developed alongside her personal life, and this room has an unexpectedly intimate feel.
Walking through another low doorway, a steep flight of stairs takes you up to the room that was used as a studio, bedroom and sitting room, but which is now used to display a selection of smaller marble and wooden sculptures. This is a large airy white room with beautiful old polished wooden floors - the windows give glimpses of blue sky and palm trees as the garden is on this level rather than street level. Over the fireplace sit three photos of Hepworth posing in this room, and you can see that the ornate table is still in the same place by the stairs as it was in her day. The rugs and curtains are also the type that Hepworth preferred, and it is easy to imagine her living and working in the surroundings that she loved.
It is the garden that most visitors are waiting to see, with many of the gigantic and impressive sculptures that made Hepworth famous. Stepping outside through the external studio door is a overwhelming experience. You are immediately hit by the sight of three huge bronze sculptures on a very green patch of lawn (Figure for Landscape, Four-Square and Divided Circle). The size of these sculptures is breathtaking and everybody stands stock still as they walk out of the door and come face to face with twenty foot high greened bronze sculptures.
Once you have examined these works, it is difficult to know which direction to go to next. The lawn is surrounded by a maze of gravelled paths, which take you through very mature shrubs, palms and bamboos and coil around secret ponds and workshops. Placed strategically along these paths are 21 sculptures, which include three large stone carvings from the 1950s and a representative group of eighteen bronzes. The design of the garden and the placing of the sculptures was something that Hepworth was very proud of, so she asked in her will that the garden should be open to the public with the sculptures remaining exactly where she had specified. It is lovely to think that the arrangement and planting was part of her creative process and it is easy to see why the garden inspired her. Over the stone walls the beautiful and unique blue light of Cornwall gives a clear view of the sea and yellow sand in the distance, while closer to the garden the old stone of the church provides a contrast in texture. The whole garden is a combination of both peace and harmony, mixed in with the beauty of the St Ives area, and as you walk around, you are almost surprised by the sculptures that nestle in the corners and beneath the trees. It is the experience of the natural living garden contrasting with the hard textures of the sculptures that makes this museum so special. I felt that the sculptures would have had much less of an impact if I had seen them in a cold and well-lit museum gallery.
One of the winding paths in the garden leads to Hepworth's outdoor workshops, where her tools and work in progress remain in the same place as they were left when she died at her studio in a fire. These rooms are rather moving, as it is clear to see the chunks of granite and marble that were left half finished at the time of her death. Hammers, chisels and other tools lie on the work surfaces, alongside an original scrawled message from Hepworth herself, written on a piece of slate, with the words " Do not touch the tools on this bench. BH". The feeling of these studios is very much of a life interrupted, despite the fact that Hepworth died in her seventies.
In another part of the garden the visitor can walk into the tumbledown greenhouse, where four rather tatty chairs are available for visitors to sit and admire the sculptures that sit amongst the cactuses. Here, as in the rest of the garden, the atmosphere is informal. There are no curators watching your every move, instead you are free to walk around or just sit and soak up the atmosphere.
Tickets for the museum cost £4.75 for adults. Admission is free for people under 18. Concessionary tickets are £2.75
The Museum is open every day between March - October from 10.00 - 17.20.
During November to February it opens Tuesday - Sunday 10.00 - 16.20
Summary: Worth making the effort to reach
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