The only time I think about Much Hadham, a tiny village in Hertfordshire, England, where I lived as a child, is when confronted by a huge Henry Moore bronze or a book of his fine sheep drawings. Perry Green, Much Hadham, close to Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, has been the home of the Henry Moore Foundation for 40 years, and “Becoming Henry Moore,” a recent exhibition there, celebrated the artist’s creative trajectory between 1914 and 1930, as he evolved from a gifted schoolboy into an established sculptor.
On the 70 acres of the Moore Foundation, where I played as a girl, there are farmlands, fields, and orchards, along with 30 of his monumental works made in bronze, marble, indigenous stones, and exotic woods. The sculptures were sketched and created by Moore in spare artist studios, which he established in the hay barns and farm outbuildings at Perry Green. Many years later, Moore placed the sculptures in his apple orchards, fields, and on hillsides among the black-faced sheep that he liked to study and draw from the window. “There is no background to sculpture better than sky” was Moore’s philosophy.
The restored barns and small artist studios that Moore used about the farm have been preserved. The large 16th-century aisled barn shows off magnificent tapestries of Moore drawings, woven at the West Dean College tapestry studio. Other studios have shelves lined with a collection of his treasured bones, fossils, and objects, the inspiration for his extraordinarily shaped sculptures of men, women, and children.
Moore’s house, Hoglands, stands in marked contrast to his large sculptures. It was once a pig farm, where Irina and Henry Moore lived with their daughter, Mary, for 46 years. Irina created a perfect English flower garden, bordered with peonies and clematis, which leads into the pear and apple orchards, and sculpture lawns.
Walking about the idyllic farmlands in early October with my daughter Alice Graham and our cousin Kate Winter, a warm wind blew the autumn leaves across orchards scattered with red apples, which visitors collected in baskets. In a corner of the orchard, displayed under clear plastic tents, stand huge plaster models of human forms with foam arms. “Moore formed the models by hand before casting them in other materials,” Hannah Higham, the foundation’s curator, told me. “He often used tools from the local dentist to scratch patterns on rounded and smoothed bronze limbs.”
Moore’s daily timetable was disciplined. In the morning, he drew, etched, and created plaster models in a small studio, sitting at a simple table overlooking a green field. The shelves in the studio are still chockablock with fossils, whalebones, animal vertebrae, and a large elephant skull from the London Zoo.
Small fossils inspired the creation of his grand King and Queen (1952) sculptures, now placed around the world: on Scottish moors, in parks, next to Beverly Hills swimming pools, and often outside museums. At Perry Green, Moore designed a vast, glinting, golden sculpture, intended to dominate the horizon on the hill beyond the farm gate.
An unusual shop in the Foundation’s visitors center is laden with unexpected gifts, cards, and farm produce. Art books are on sale next to fresh fruit and vegetables. Burberry-designed backpacks, wallets, and fashion accessories, printed with angular Moore drawings, are also for sale.
As Higham showed us around the grounds I remembered my idyllic and carefree life growing up in Much Hadham—my friends on the village street and playing in the fields at Perry Green, crossing the stream and falling in. What is astonishing is that Moore’s works—harsh, large, and sometimes tender figures—were created in and inspired by this pastoral setting of the Hertfordshire countryside. It’s only a short train ride from London where, in 1940, Moore came to prominence as a war artist, drawing people huddling together underground in air-raid shelters.
My old home, the White House, Much Hadham, is a few miles down the country road leading to Perry Green. The old house, with green shutters, faces the village street with gardens and fields stretching out behind. The blacksmith was up the street and a famous poet, Walter de la Mare, lived across the road. Elizabeth Clarke, a friend of Moore’s and a collector of his drawings, has lived in the White House since my family left it more than sixty years ago.
Clarke, 91, turns out to be the daughter of the famous explorer Sir James Wordie, a Scottish geologist and survivor of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous polar expedition that came within 100 miles of reaching Antarctica between 1914 and 1917. We learned from Clarke that Wordie’s granddaughter, Alice Holmes, recently organized a fund-raising polar expedition. A small group of Wordie’s descendants traveled the final 100 miles that the original expedition had been unable to complete, finally making it to the South Pole.
Finding the White House, meeting Elizabeth Wordie Clarke, and going back to Henry Moore’s farmlands turned out to be a remarkable day in the country.
“Becoming Henry Moore” is now on view at the Henry Moore Institute, in Leeds, running through February 18, 2018. The Henry Moore Foundation reopens March 30, 2018, with the exhibition “Out of the Block: Henry Moore Carvings,” which continues into October 2018.