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Henry Moore Sculpture

Henry Moore Sculpture
The removal team at work
By Chris Moss

Harlow sculpture takes centre stage at London exhibition

THE jewel in the crown of Harlow's sculpture collection will take pride of place at a prestigious exhibition on modern design at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. Henry Moore's Harlow Family Group - which became the town's unofficial emblem when it was unveiled outside St Mary-at-Latton Church in 1956 - was removed from its display in the window of the Civic Centre on Thursday night before making the journey to the capital.

It took a specialist removal team more than four hours to hoist the 1.7m-high stone sculpture onto wheels using two lifts before carefully manoeuvring it out of the building. It will be part of the V&A's new exhibition British Design 1948-2012, which opens later this month and features Harlow as an example of iconic New Town design.

For many years the sculpture was on public display but after it was vandalised in the 1980s it was taken back to the Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green for safekeeping. There it stayed until 2003 when it was returned to Harlow and put on display in the newly-built Civic Centre.

Joel Charles, Harlow Council's portfolio holder for community and citizenship, said the sculpture's presence at the exhibition underlined the town's growing reputation as a centre for the arts. "This sculpture symbolises the New Town for many people and it is absolutely fitting it is going on loan to an exhibition dedicated to modern British design at the Victoria & Albert Museum," he told the Star.

"Harlow's reputation as a centre for arts and sculpture continues to grow. Within the last year we have won a national award for our public collection of more than 60 sculptures and John Mills, one of Britain's leading sculptors, chose Harlow for a rare retrospective of his work last summer.

"I hope the V&A exhibition proves a shop window for what Harlow has to offer, and visitors come here to see our outstanding range of works."

Will Rea, chairman of the Harlow Art Trust, added: "Harlow was a classic New Town development of the 20th century and is now seen as a classic of 20th century architecture.

"The prominence of Harlow Family Group in the show is recognition of that fact."

Water Gardens Harlow Family Group 1954-55

In 1947 Harlow was designated the second of the eleven post-war new towns. It was seen as a pioneering and modern place to work, attracting practitioners at the vanguard of planning, architecture and garden design. Leading this group of creative pioneers was Harlow's master planner Sir Frederick Gibberd

In 1953, with the endorsement of the Harlow Development Corporation, Gibberd established the Harlow Art Trust. The trust was to carry out his vision of using art to embellish the town's design by acquiring and commissioning contemporary sculpture for Harlow's neighbourhoods and shopping precincts. Its first 20 years of activity was prolific, and by the 1970s the trust had amassed a collection comprising sculptures by many of the country's leading artists, including Barbara Hepworth, Elizabeth Frink, F.E. McWilliam, and Lynn Chadwick. However it was the sculpture of Henry Moore, and in particular the Trust's first commissioned piece, Harlow Family Group, for which Harlow would become best known.

Moore was approached in 1954 and was an obvious choice as he was one of the country's leading contemporary artists, living only eight miles from Harlow in Much Hadham. He had shown an interest in the development of the town, and was a close friend of the Chairman of the trust Sir Philip Hendy, who was also Director of the National Gallery, London. Moore chose to depict a family group, which seemed particularly appropriate at the time as Harlow had a large population of young families.

The Harlow Family Group was unveiled by Sir Kenneth Clark in May 1956, almost immediately becoming the town's unofficial emblem. Most locals felt that the sculpture related to Harlow's adopted name of 'Pram Town'. Prior to the unveiling, a rumour had spread amongst residents that the sculpture depicted obscene imagery. This encouraged the local 'purity squad' to turn up to protest at the unveiling. Needless to say they came away disappointed. The sculpture was originally sited outside St Mary of Latton Church in Mark Hall. It has since been moved on several occasions for conservation reasons and is currently on display inside the new Civic Centre.

Spatial Thoughts on Sculpture by Bill West
There is not too much one can add to the legacy of Henry Moore. I am a huge devotee of his work. When someone mentions the word sculpture, Henry Moore's name seems to always be there as well...

Henry Moore Sculpture
Water Gardens Harlow Family Group 1954-55
photo: Graham Portlock