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Having just a few hours to spend in St Ives, my aim was to visit Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. The two venues are situated a few minutes' walk from each other, and it is possible to buy a combined ticket that works out cheaper than paying separately for each venue. I started at the Tate as we had found a parking space near there. At the Tate I was given a booklet that included a plan showing two routes for walking to the Hepworth Museum, one of which was shorter but involved climbing a lot of steps. I'm afraid I took a wrong turning and didn't want to get the booklet out as it was pouring with rain, and I ended up walking much further than I should have done. It isn't really far at all, but the Hepworth Museum is situated on a steep road that is in a restricted traffic zone.
The museum is located in what was formerly Trewyn Studio, where Barbara Hepworth lived and worked from 1949 until she died in 1975. She is considered to be one of the principal British artists of the twentieth century, whose work consists mainly of sculpture in wood, stone and bronze. I have long admired her work, and I looked forward to being able to see so much of it together in one location, and in particular the place that meant so much to her.
I arrived at the museum at about 12.45pm and I knew that a guided tour was due to start at 1pm. There were rather a lot of people waiting for the tour in the ground floor area, so I decided to go to the upper floor and have a bit of quiet time there before the tour group came up. I would be able to spend some time in the ground floor area before I left. I went upstairs and was pleased to find that there weren't too many visitors there. After having a walk round, I sat in one of the comfortable chairs and enjoyed taking in the sculptures I could see around me. I sensed that the rain had stopped, so I went out into the garden and was delighted to find that the sun was shining.
Photography is not allowed inside the museum, but you can take photos to your heart's content in the sculpture garden. Barbara Hepworth laid out the garden herself along with her friend, the composer Priaulx Rainier. It has trees, sub-tropical plants and typically English flowers, with narrow pathways curving round a lawn adjacent to the museum. It is the ideal environment in which to view Hepworth's sculptures. There is also a conservatory with several works of art, and there are one or two chairs there for anyone who wants to sit and contemplate the sculptures.
When I came back from the garden to the upper floor, the tour group was there. I overheard the guide relating how Hepworth had died in a fire in that very room. I was living abroad at the time of her death and never actually heard the circumstances of her death, which seemed particularly tragic.
There is a separate staircase that leads back to the lower floor once you have visited the garden. The ground floor was much quieter than it had been when I arrived, and I was able to take my time reading about Hepworth's life, including the awarding of a C.B.E. in 1958, and the granting of the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of St Ives in 1968, the same year in which the Tate Gallery in London held a major retrospective exhibition of her work.
There are guided tours of the museum and garden every day at 1pm. There was also a 'Walkabout Talkabout' tour for families at 12.30pm in the June half term holiday, so this may be a regular event. For senior citizens there is a regular event, 'Tea and Tate', which is free but has to be booked. The most recent one was on 13th September from 11am to 1pm, when an artist, curator or art historian would lead a discussion about the displays. Refreshments are provided, and the event is sometimes held at Tate St Ives. The Hepworth Family Activity Trail is available from the admissions desk for £2, which includes a sketchbook and art materials, and is aimed at families with young children who want to explore the museum and garden.
From March to October the museum is open every day from 10am to 5.20pm, with last admissions at 5pm. From November to February, opening hours are from 10am until 4.20pm, with last admissions at 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays in winter. Admission prices as of September 2012 are £5.50 for adults, £3.25 concessions. There is a combined ticket for Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum, currently £10 for adults and £5.50 concessions. It is also possible to buy an 'Art Pass', which gives seven days unlimited access to Tate St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth Museum, the Leach Pottery and Penlee House Gallery and Museum (Penzance). The current price for the pass is £14.50 adults, £8.50 concessions. Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange in Penzance also give ten percent discount on purchases in their shops to Art Pass holders.
There is no cafe at the Barbara Hepworth Museum. A few books and cards are on sale at the admissions desk. There is just one unisex toilet on the premises. The museum doesn't have access for wheelchairs on the street level entrance, but it may be possible to arrange access to wheelchairs and buggies if advance notice is given.
Since this is the largest collection of Barbara Hepworth's work in a single location, it is obviously a place that any admirer of her sculpture would go out of their way to visit. The combination of indoor and outdoor settings for the work makes it particularly special. Any lover of twentieth century art visiting Cornwall would almost certainly appreciate a visit to the museum, and I would consider the entry price to be well worth paying. It is a gallery that I can imagine I would never tire of if I had the opportunity to make regular visits. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.
Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden
Tel: 01736 796226
Dramatic, strong and opinionated, Barbara Hepworth was one of the most important figures in the development of abstract art in Britain. A close friend of Henry Moore and married to Ben Nicholson, she became famous for creating beautiful impressions of objects rather than exact representations, Hepworth did much to enlarge the language of sculpture, and this lovely little museum which nestles in the backstreets of St Ives in Cornwall is dedicated to remembering her achievements.
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
Part of the Tate St Ives.