People often mention how clear the light is in West Cornwall, and I would be the first to agree that there’s a clarity here that isn’t found everywhere.
This attracted artists from far and wide, and the St. Ives colony became so well known that it became a magnet for even more artists.
I would argue though that artists came here not just for the quality of light, but also for the quality of life as well, and one of those artists was Barbara Hepworth, a sculptor, who was born in Wakefield in 1903.
If you’ve seen any of her work you might think it’s not unlike the work of Henry Moore, so when you realise that they struck up a friendship at Leeds School of Art which was to last for many years, it would be easy to see why there are so many similarities.
In 1925 she married another sculptor, John Skeaping, but it was her second marriage to painter, Ben Nicholson, in 1938 that brought her to St. Ives.
I have to admit that I’ve often felt uneasy as to why so many artists found their way to St. Ives while the rest of the country were either landing on the Beaches of Normandy, battling for Britain above the Straits of Dover, or just trying to survive The Blitz – but I digress.
Barbara Hepworth’s second marriage didn’t last indefinitely either, but she was at least able to find solace at Trewyn Studio, where she carried on her work from 1949 until a fire ended her career – and her life – in 1975.
Her home and studio in Barnoon Hill comes under the jurisdiction of The Tate St. Ives, but unlike the Tate Britain or Tate Modern in London, there is an admission charge.
On entry, the museum starts with some personal items, including photographs of her time in St Ives, but you would need some imagination to visualise the area as once being the kitchen, dining room and bathroom area.
Climbing the stairs to the first floor brings you to the Studio. At various stages of her life it was also used as a workroom, bedroom and sitting room, but fittingly it has been returned to its former use as a studio, and displays a number of exhibits that show a cross section of work that spanned her career.
Even if you’re not an aficionado of Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures, I’m sure you’ll find, as I certainly did, the garden most enjoyable.
Not only were the sculptures her own creation, but so was the garden. The layout, the sculptures, and the plants all seemed to compliment each other in a way that, no doubt, the artist envisaged in her own artistic mind.
It’s not a large garden by any stretch of the imagination, but next to the house are her workshops. Although entry isn’t allowed, the windows are large enough to see how everything was left when she died. You can almost imagine her coming back after lunch to continue carving.
She carved in all sorts of materials including wood, stone, marble and bronze, and the garden and studio show off a good selection of the materials she used.
Depending on how interested you are in Barbara Hepworth’s work will obviously determine on how long you want to spend in here, but for most people I think an hour would be about right, especially as there are no facilities here to speak of.
Even if sculpture isn’t your thing I would still recommend a visit here.
I liked the personal feel to this place, particularly the garden, and if you have any sort of interest in artistic endeavours, but are on a budget or short of time, I would suggest you come here rather than the over-hyped Tate St Ives itself.