The Seaside-Inspired Artwork of Barbara Hepworth - Atlas Obscura
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The Seaside-Inspired Artwork of Barbara Hepworth

Watch the influential Modernist sculptor at work in this 1953 documentary.

She came “to find herself in Cornwall and Cornwall in herself,” says the narrator of artist Barbara Hepworth in this excerpt from a 1953 portrait on her work. The film, a production of the British Film Institute, shows the artist at work at her seaside studio in the English town of St. Ives.

Hepworth, a British sculptor, was known for her work using the direct carving method, a technique in which artists carve directly into their material rather than creating a model first. Hepworth’s art was abstract in form and focused on relationships; between humans and the landscape, between color and texture, and between the individual and society. Her work earned her numerous awards including the Grand Prix of the 1959 São Paolo Biennial, several honorary degrees, worldwide exhibitions and public artworks. She was also appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire.

Hepworth was part of the era’s Modernist and Constructivist movements, both as an artist and an enthusiastic champion for others. She and her husband, artist Ben Nicholson, were instrumental in laying the groundwork for a rich artistic period for several artists displaced by World War II. The two established an artists’ colony in St. Ives, bringing the avant-garde to the town. Artists part of Hepworth’s “St. Ives School” included sculptor Naum Gabo, painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, and potter Bernard Leach.

In this film, we see Hepworth turning rock and wood into her signature abstract forms. Narrating is future U.K. Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, with music by another artistic St. Ives resident, composer Priaulx Rainier. Today, Hepworth’s former studio in St. Ives is now the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, and is maintained by the Tate Gallery. Cornwall was an important part of Hepworth’s life, its influence seen throughout her work. Speaking about her technique and inspiration, Hepworth said, “Whenever I am embraced by land and seascape I draw ideas for new sculptures: new forms to touch and walk round, new people to embrace, with an exactitude of form that those without sight can hold and realize.”

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