St ives is one of my most favourite places on earth and it was here i discovered barbara!
In 1939, when war broke out in Europe, Barbara and her artist husband moved to St Ives to continue their artistic journey. Neither were native Cornish, in fact Barbara was a northern gal! Born In Leeds! However, after travelling Europe to study art, she returned choosing Cornwall to raise her children- triplets and a son from her first marriage! She certainly knew the struggle of being a mama and a business owner.
Barbara worked from home (the ultimate work at home mama!) as the warmer climate of Cornwall allowed her to work in her garden. So she was able to be present for her children and create her art, very forward thinking for a women in 1940’s! At the time the world of sculpture was dominated by men, but Barbara forged on believing art to have no gender. Her work was abstract, becoming more highly abstract in her later years. She believed her work was best shown when returned back to nature, in the outdoors. She believed strongly in using the material in it’s natural form, rather than trying to mould it to a set shape. This is something that resonates with me, as I’m a huge advocate for women believing and loving who they are, not changing to try to meet some unobtainable standard set by media!
Barbara as a feminist?
Over the years, Barbara has often been discussed in the context feminism? Is her work feminist? Possibly because she is famously quoted for saying “Don’t call me a sculptress, I prefer sculptor”. She most definitely carved (see what I did there!!) out a pathway for the future of women in art. But in all honesty, I feel the recognition she is owed should be because of her talent, not her gender? It was clear she was not fearful of being in the company of the ‘alpha males’ of her era. Surgeons, whose surgeries she drew, the Secretary-General of United Nations and composers such as Micheal Tippett, to name a few. She saw herself as their equal, often seeking collaboration in her or their works. I most certainly admire this in her. The fact she seemed totally undisturbed by the Imposter Syndrome many leading females of today report to feeling. By the 1950’s she was a sinlge, middle-aged mother, yet still she secured commissions that saw her pieces, cast in bronze, send to locations around the world.
Mother and child
My favourite of Barbara’s sculptures is Mother and Child 1934. Carved from Cumberland alabaster, dug from the farmland in Cumbria, my county of birth, by her first husband, and father of her first born son. The way this piece depicts one form as a whole but with two forms within is something that I can relate when thinking of motherhood. Being a mum is about the separation of two beings, that came from one, but that will always have a connection that, at times makes them feel like they are one entity. By this I mean that as my sons grow and become more and more independent I am ever increasingly aware of them ‘separating’ from me. Yet at the same time, maybe due to the sadness I feel as their need for me lessens, I am reminded of our starting place as one…… Phew that got a bit deep! It is reported that Barbara struggled with finding the balance of motherhood, artist, lover, peer. Again something I can relate to! I wonder if her struggles were part of what she wanted to depict in her Mother and Child pieces? There are more pieces follow this link to take a look! Click here.
If you visit St Ives, or Wakefield, Leeds I would really recommend visiting the Barbara Hepworth Museum and gardens or the West Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear about women in art who have inspired you, so do leave me a comment.