Every culture produces performers and artists who are locally popular but don’t become especially well-known elsewhere. When it comes to Cornwall, most everybody knows who Daphne du Maurier is but fewer know about Barbara Hepworth. Cornish poet Sir John Betjeman was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain for 12 years and was published all over the world. Launceston residents still hold a Charles Causley Festival every year to celebrate their favorite poet, and some of them expressed disappointment to me that this popular local teacher didn’t become the national Laureate. The biggest tourist attraction in St. Ives, Cornwall’s Miami Beach, is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. I imagine some of you are asking, “Barbara who?”
I had heard of Barbara Hepworth before going to Cornwall. Her largest work is in front of the United Nations Secretariat Building in New York City. Both she and far more famous sculptor Henry Moore were born in Yorkshire. They knew each other. I’ve seen Henry Moore’s sculptures all over the world and there are many in the United States. There are fewer Hepworth’s here.
Barbara Hepworth came to St. Ives in 1939 with her 2nd husband, painter Ben Nicholson. Ten years later she moved into Trewyn Studio where she lived until her death in 1975. Trewyn is now her museum and sculpture garden. She spent a lot of time in her garden, which is now filled with her sculptures. It’s accessed via the 2nd floor. On the first floor are lots of family pictures. books about her, and an extensive biography. There’s a room on the 2nd floor containing more of her works, including a painting.
Barbara was married twice. Both marriages failed. She had 4 children, including a set of triplets. Her older son Paul died in Thailand in a plane crash. He was in the Royal Air Force at the time. Her younger son Simon became a sculptor and professor. Her triplets included 2 females. Both are still living and visit the museum regularly. Barbara died rather tragically. At the age of 72, she died of smoke inhalation. The Independent luridly reported, “drinking heavily, Barbara Hepworth would take a sleeping pill and then light a last cigarette in bed…the inevitable happened.”
Hepworth loved St. Ives. She said that she found Trewyn Studio magically and, “Here was a studio, a yard and garden, where I could work in open air and space…. In the contemplation of Nature we are perpetually renewed.” Her beloved home and garden sits atop a steep hill well above the crush of tourists in St Ives’ streets and on its beach. The famous Tate, which also has a museum in St. Ives, manages the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. It opened in 1976.