A novice sculptor myself – stone carving and figurative clay – I had my heart set on visiting The Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park before the summer ran out. A fellow stone carving friend and I took off last week to explore West Yorkshire’s sculptural treasures.
A working farm bed and breakfast – Upper Midgley Farm – greeted us with the kind of warm hospitality Londoners could take lessons in. Our hosts – previously dairy farmers since 1910, now cattle breeders, with a DIY horse livery yard – regaled us with agricultural histories and local knowledge over breakfast.
Upper Midgley Farm – views from bedroom, bathroom, yard
Day one had The Hepworth Wakefield in our sights, though the skies were blue and the sun blistering, so we began with a long walk in the strangely named Pugneys Country Park. A large open space (250 acres) with lakes, fields and panoramic views from the ruins of Sandal Castle, built in 1240. With distant family origins in Yorkshire, I was in awe at the rolling landscapes before me. These induced rumblings of pride, belonging and freedom.
Sandal Castle ruins, Mirfield, Pugneys Country Park lake
Barbara Hepworth’s spirit was everywhere. “All my sculpture comes out of landscape” she famously declared. Born in 1903 in Wakefield, Hepworth is ‘at home’ in The Hepworth Wakefield with its geometrical design by architects David Chipperfield. Walking across the River Calder by the regenerated Wakefield Waterfront, I could sense a force of wonderment coming my way.
I knew Henry Moore’s work before Hepworth’s. It stopped me dead in my tracks when I was living in Toronto, Canada in 1984. I was instantly enamoured. For years I had naively assumed Moore was Canadian, since that’s where I saw ‘him’ first. Both artists from Yorkshire, both represented in The Hepworth Wakefield. Both at peace. The gallery is simply heavenly. Spacious, light, sensuous, up lifting. Collections and exhibitions of substance.
The Hepworth Wakefield
Day two brought misty skies, and later heavy rains. The ideal climate to visit the National Coal Mining Museum, and brave its underground tour in a preserved mine. The tour guides are former miners, who have become enchanting story tellers of times gone. We are given a brass check, and time slot so we can be fitted with hard hats and lamps. All mining contraband (batteries, lighters, matches, phones, cameras, watches, tablets, key fobs) are stored under lock and key above ground. Last chance to opt out, we’re invited to look down a shaft where there appears to be no bottom. A gulp of nausea gives way to determination, whilst we’re herded into the ‘cage’ – 20 people only. A slow ride down (we are tourists after all) to a depth 140 metres. Our guide, Steve, was a deputy when the mine was still open (till 1986). An hour and twenty minutes in the underbelly of a former working coal mine was completely absorbing. From inhumane methods 200 years ago to the most recent mind blowing mining technology, this underworld was almost impossible to conceive, despite the chill, the blackness and coal dust lingering today.
National Coal Mining Museum for England, Overton, Wakefield
In addition to the tour, there was a chance to attend a poetry workshop with local young poet, Matt Abbott. I was privileged to have a one on one session with Matt. We talked shop (a prolific poet myself), and technique, then got down to writing about experiences on the tour… Coal faces at the coal face.
Day three was generously sunny for our much awaited amble around Yorkshire Sculpture Park – 500 acres of 18th century parkland with 100 works on display at any time. Struck once more by the rolling landscapes of greens, blues, yellows, whites, browns and blacks, I inhaled the scenery before even casting an eye on the sculptures languishing in the comfort of a field, park, garden or on top of a tree trunk. My favourite sculptors – Hepworth, Moore, Antony Gormley – all accounted for. And some new names for me – Mexican born Helen Escobedo with her Summer Fields, Polish artist Magdalena Abacanowicz, with her Ten Seated Figures, and Elisabeth Frink with my favourite First Man.
William Blake’s Jerusalem kept humming through my vocal chords. As if England’s green and pleasant land was right there in every breath. Nature and art are spiritually conjoined in this gracious and hardy landscape.
KAWS, Elisabeth Frink, Magdalena Abacanowicz
Helen Escobedo, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Antony Gormley
I feel I might be a bit in love with West Yorkshire – its sculptural landscapes, both natural and man-made, as well as the warm and friendly people who inhabit its green and pleasant lands.
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© Amanda Yensa Manor 2016