Saturday, September 27th 2014
The name ‘Harlow’ has come down from ancient times but when it is mentioned today, people usually think of Harlow New Town in Essex. There is also a Harlow Old Town, but that doesn’t enter into the present narrative. It was the New Town (“new” in the sense of having been built from scratch after the Second World War) that we had come to see.
Domesday Book refers to Herlaua and mentions an Abbey of St Edmunds and two or three farm properties. Where the name comes from is uncertain and while there are theories, there are no hard facts to go by.
I said we had come to see Harlow New Town but that is not quite correct. We had come to see some things that are in the town. When Harlow started collecting pieces of sculpture by important sculptors, I think this was largely fortuitous but then the collecting gathered momentum and the town today possesses an impressive set of works, many of them by prestigious artists. Sculptures adorn the squares and parks and are accessible by all as everyday life proceeds around them. Harlow has rebranded itself as ‘Harlow Sculpture Town’.
There are reckoned to be over one hundred sculptures on view, far more than one can comfortably visit, let along photograph, on one short visit. Not all are easy to photograph, depending on location and the state of the light – low sun interfered in a few cases. What follows below is a selection of those I photographed during our tour.
We arrived at Harlow Station (see above) which, like all things in Harlow, was built as part of the development of this new town. Completed in 1960, it replaced an earlier 1842 station called Burnt Mill. I was surprised to discover that this station is Grade II listed, as it didn’t seem anything special to me. We set off on foot for the town’s centre and found ourselves walking along a broad carriageway which seems to possess two names, Fifth Avenue and Allende Avenue, respectively. I don’t think we chose the optimum way to reach the centre but it did at least lead us to our first sculpture.
Sculpture is the art of objects that occupy space, either alone or in groups. You can walk around a sculpture, interact with it and see it from different angles and in different conditions. Whereas a painting contains its environment within it, a sculpture exists in the environment where it is placed and you cannot see it without also seeing its surroundings. I like to photograph a sculpture from several different angles because no one single viewpoint can adequately defines it. When we look at a sculpture, the brain fuses the many views into a composite impression. The camera, of course, cannot do that. All it can do is show different views of the sculpture and leave us to integrate them as best we can. Where I have been able to take several photos, I have arranged them as a slide show which you can see by clicking on the still image.
Tigger’s “inner pigeon” seemed not to be its usual efficient self at this point and I was beginning to think that we were lost and going in the wrong direction but, happily, we eventually arrived at a large open space surrounded by shops and partially occupied by market stalls. I believe this square is called Harlow Market. Here we found our next sculpture which I immediately recognized.
I said I recognized Meat Porters by Ralph Brown, though that is not quite accurate. My first encounter with it was at King’s Place in London, a visit that I described in a post entitled Meeting the Irish. When I saw it then, I did not know its title or the name of the artist but have now added an update to that post. It seems that the original sculpture is this one in Harlow and that the near-lookalike at King’s Place was a copy reworked by the sculptor. How it differs, I do not know – see if you can spot any differences.
I don’t wish to be rude about Harlow and, for all I know, perhaps it is a place “where time is pleasant”, as is claimed for Christchurch (see “Where time is pleasant”). We did speak to one inhabitant who said he liked living in Harlow so it obviously has its fans. To me, though, it seemed a pretty ordinary sort of place, like so many others that have been built or rebuilt in the latter part of the 20th century, much of a muchness. It no doubt has everything that you need in a town but were it not for the sculpture, I don’t think it would occur to me to come here. I do have one complaint that I will come to at the end. I will say no more about the town and concentrate on the sculpture and a visit that we made to a church. If you think I am being unfair to Harlow, feel free to take me to task and tell me about its delights.
Not a sculpture in the accepted sense, this obelisk has an importance of its own. It was erected by Harlow Development Corporation to commemorate the building of the New Town 1947-80. I don’t know whether the similarity to an Ancient Egyptian stela is deliberate but it is fitting in that it too is seen as recording deeds of historic importance, albeit carried out by a corporation rather than by a pharaoh.
This piece in the Broad Walk is made of grey Bardolino marble from Carrara and the sculptor is Paul Mason. Some of Harlow’s sculptures are old and have found their way here as gifts or purchases but this one was, I believe, specially commissioned.
Also in the Broad Walk is this bronze entitled Trigon by Lynn Chadwick. He seems to be quite a popular artist and I have discovered several works by him around London, for example see West India Quay Plus 1 and Sculpture in the City 2014 (Part 1). Other sculptures of his that I have seen have a figurative element to them but this one is abstract.
On the outside wall of the library is a sculpture that is ascribed to Carl Heinz Müller. If you have never heard of this sculptor, then neither have I, nor can I find out anything about him. The date of the work is unknown and the piece is only “assumed” to be by him, providing us with a nice little mystery for further investigation. The sculpture, though outside, is in a covered area and is not very well lit – hence the shadows. (I could have used flash but using flash with sculpture usually produces poor results as well as adding shadows of its own.)
This intriguing piece of sculpture is inside the Central Library and is indicated as being on loan from Harlow Arts Council. If you come to it face on (see slideshow), it’s hard to tell what it might represent. It looks purely abstract. When it is seen from the side, however, its title, Cat, suddenly makes sense! According to the plate beside it, the sculptor is Malcolm Woodward (1943-2014). However, I have also seen this work ascribed to Henry Moore. The reason for this may be that Woodward worked for a number of years as Moore’s assistant and helped prepare and finish many of his works. Personally, I think this amusing and unusual figure properly belongs to Woodward.
We were passing St Paul’s Church, of which I took the above panoramic view, and Tigger suggested taking a look inside. When we arrived at the door, they were just closing up but the vicar invited us in. Tigger and he were soon in conversation about this 1950s church and churches in general while I rudely left them to it and went off to take photos. So, by way of a distraction from the main topic, here are some views inside St Paul’s.
The design of this church shouts “1950s!” at you. This is Festival of Britain vintage, the era of angular-shaped furniture painted in primary colours and evincing an almost painful yen to be different. On the plus side, the interior of this church is certainly light and airy.
This is why the church is so light, at least during daylight hours: the upper two thirds of the walls are all windows.
The fixtures and fittings are as “modern” (to the 1950s) as the general design. The bishop’s chair or throne looks uncomfortable – imagine sitting through a service on that. I also noticed that the pews have been cleverly designed with a ridge running along the top so that if you lean back in your seat, it digs into your back. Sit up straight and pay attention, eh?
Something that is definitely not of the 1950s is this intriguing sculpture of the Virgin and Child. It looks old but there is something odd about it which leaves its origin and date in doubt. I think I can do no better than quote the church’s own history page:
The statue on the wall of the Baptistery is believed to be either an inaccurate 18th century reproduction, of Michaelangelo’s Virgin of Bruge (1501) or it is suggested by some authorities that it is a 16th century sculpture from Northern Italy but due to a stylistic discrepancy between the head of the child and the rest of the work it is thought that the head is an English 18th century replacement for the original.
Either way, it makes an interesting contrast with the styling of the rest of the church and takes us nicely back to the sculptures.
At a quick glance you might think this sculpture was carved in stone but it is in fact made of fibreglass. It’s also in a bad state and it unless repaired I think it will be lost. It is called The Philosopher and is by Keith Goodwin. The subject looks as if something has just startled him and he is about to jump out of his chair. Is this work meant to be an imitation of Classical sculpture or a parody of it?
This sculpture currently resides inside the Civic Centre which is closed on Sundays and so I had to take the photo through the glass wall. Considering that, it hasn’t come out too badly. The Harlow Family Group is so called because it was specially commissioned by Harlow Art Trust. It is an early work by Henry Moore and unusually figurative for that artist.
This work stands in the Water Garden and rejoices in the name Upright Motive No 2: Bronze Cross. This is more like the Henry Moore we know and love (or not). The two sculptures by Moore (Family Group and this one) are within sight of one another, allowing a comparison to be made, if you are so minded.
At the other end of the Water Garden stands another upright bronze sculpture. Is this also by Moore or is it by some other artist? I don’t know. There was no plaque and I can find no mention of it in Harlow’s various information sources on its sculpture. According to the map of the Sculpture Trail, this should be Eve by Auguste Rodin, but it obviously is not that work because Eve looks like this. Information on the sculpture’s identity will no doubt emerge in due course. (See Update below.)
Contradicting what I said above, not all sculptures can be walked around. Some are flat and stuck to the wall of an ASDA supermarket, as is Relief by William Mitchell. We spent some time looking for this one and when we found it I wasn’t convinced that it was an actual sculpture but it is.
We have obviously seen only a small fraction of the sculptures that Harlow has on display. Seeing the others is the one thing that might tempt me to come back to Harlow. We now decided to return to the station and take a train home. This is where things became difficult.
We had walked into town from the station and after traipsing around town for several hours looking at sculpture, thought it would be a good idea to get a bus back. So we went to the town bus station.
You would think that from the town’s bus station you could get a bus to the town’s railway station, wouldn’t you? The bus timetables affixed to the walls said you could and when we asked a member of staff, we were directed to a bus stand where there would be a bus to take us there. Unfortunately, the bus that we had been told would stop here to take us to the station didn’t stop here but kept speeding past. When a bus did stop the driver said no, he didn’t go to the station, and sent us to another stand. We waited a long time but the supposed station bus didn’t come. When a bus did come, the driver said no, he didn’t go to the station and sent us to another stand. (Do you see a pattern forming here?) We waited there for a bus; waited a little longer; then waited some more. No bus.
Do buses ever go from the bus station to the railway station and, if so, are passengers ever allowed to know from which stand they depart? I cannot say because we gave up on the buses and took a taxi – a damp squib of an end to an otherwise interesting trip.
Update January 26th 2-15
I still do not know the identity of the sculpture that replaced Rodin’s Eve but the reason for the latter’s disappearance is explained by an article in the Harlow Star of November 21st 2012 entitled Harlow sculpture takes pride of place in new exhibition, according to which it has been taken (permanently?) to form part of an exhibition at the Henry Moore Foundation.
Thanks to Daimonic for this information. See his comment below.