There is a garden, tucked away down one of the maze of winding streets in St Ives, which is visited more for its artwork than its floral attributes.
The Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden sits in a tranquil green oasis amidst the tightly packed houses and crowded streets teeming with the noise of excited children, screeching gulls and barking dogs.
Barbara Hepworth came to live and work here in 1949 until her death 40 years ago. She was a contemporary of Henry Moore and one of the most important Modernist sculptors of the 20th century. The best examples of her work can be found here in the Trewyn Studio and garden in Cornwall. Her work is full of her distinctive forms with their undulating curves, pierced ‘eyes’ and hollow spaces. The big bronze statues just call out to be touched. Some are large enough to enter and the shapes seem oddly familiar as they replicate forms found in nature.
It is not a huge garden, but the planting blends perfectly with the greens and bronze sculptures. Birds and butterflies dart around and the atmosphere is calm and slows you down as you wander along the overgrown, narrow pathways forcing you to stop frequently to study the shapes you stumble across amidst the kind of planting familiar to Cornish gardens: fuchsias, camellias, ferns and magnolias as well as exotic ginkgo biloba, a Chusan palm, a stand of bamboo with magnificent thick stems, each providing their own form and structure.
Sunlight dapples the undergrowth and penetrates the shrubs to reveal the half-hidden bronzes. A small pond, an unexpected scent, shadow patterns, the memory of Christine, an Australian blogger who sadly died not long after visiting this garden and posed for a picture through one of the large sculptures. Her smile seems to linger. I am acutely aware how precious and fragile life is.
Circular apertures, like these below in the sculpture ‘Two Forms’ (Divided Circle) probably the most well-known of Hepworth’s pieces, entice me to create my own art from hers. It was designed soon after the artist was diagnosed with throat cancer.
Many people came and went whilst I was studying this space. At under ½ acre it won’t keep you long if all you are interested in are the plants. The sculptures on the other hand may keep you a little longer. Patience is a virtue if you want to create photos without people in the way. And watching where the sun falls can have you scurrying back to a sculpture to capture it in a different light or angle.
Don’t hurry your visit. This little gem may surprise you.