An Interview with Henry Moore Foundation Curator, Hannah Higham

08 February 2017

In putting together our current exhibition Henry Moore: Sculpting from Nature, The Lightbox Exhibitions team worked closely with the Henry Moore Foundation. Next week, we will have the pleasure of hearing about Moore's life and work in more depth, as Dr Hannah Higham, Curator of Henry Moore Collections and Exhibitions, will be giving a talk titled 'Bones, Stones, Shells and Sheep: Organic Forms in the work of Henry Moore'. Ahead of this talk on Thurs 16 Feb at 1.00pm, we chatted with Hannah about all things Moore.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of the Henry Moore Foundation, and why it was set up?

The Henry Moore Foundation was set up in 1977 by Henry Moore and his family. Its primary aim was to encourage the appreciation of the visual arts. Moore was also keen to preserve his legacy and share his work, which is why we organise exhibitions around the world. It is fantastic that so many people from Woking to Warsaw have had the opportunity to see his work. We are forty years old this year and celebrating with a big exhibition ‘Becoming Henry Moore’ at Perry Green (Moore’s former home) which will then travel to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. 

The Institute is another important part of the Foundation and reflects Moore’s interest in encouraging the study and research of sculpture. It also plays host to a number of exhibitions involving all types of sculpture. Moore grew up in Castleford near Leeds and studied at the Leeds School of Art. He wanted the city to have greater resources to inspire and support sculptors of the future. We also aim to do this through our incredible grants programme, a further important aspect of Moore’s legacy.


Perry Green courtesy of the Henry Moore Foundation © The Henry Moore Foundation Archive

The focus of Henry Moore: Sculpting from Nature is looking at the inspiration Moore found in natural forms. How did his early life/childhood inform this fascination?

As I mentioned, Moore grew up in Yorkshire. The landscape of the moors with their rocky outcrops definitely had an impact on the artist, as did the slag heaps that characterised his home town of Castleford. It was a mining town and Moore was one of eight children born into a mining family. Moore talked about playing on the slag heaps and weekends out in the surrounding countryside.  The shape and impact of places such as Adel Rock, which Moore saw as a young boy, can be seen in Moore’s Two-Piece Reclining Figures, where the forms of the human figure and landscape merge.

I think a residue of mining also stays with Moore. Whilst a war artist in 1942, he was commissioned to make a series of drawings of Wheldale colliery, where his father had once worked. This subterranean world, the notion of caves and the piercing of rock fascinated him and informs his later work. For Moore the hole, void or space within a sculpture can be just as important as the mass.


Elephant Skull at Henry Moore: Sculpting from Nature reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation, image © The Lightbox

What process did you go through when putting this exhibition together with The Lightbox curator, Peter Hall?

Well, I am fairly new to the Foundation and when I joined in May 2016 Peter and my colleagues had already had years of swapping ideas, discussing themes and negotiating loans to the exhibition. My first contact with Peter was quite late in the day really and mainly to confirm these plans. I was bowled over by his enthusiasm for Moore and the exhibition. Indeed his excitement was so great that one of my early tasks was to make sure he hadn’t agreed to too many works for the show – we wanted to make sure it would all fit!

It is the most interesting part of collaborating with new partners, who know their buildings and their audiences and have a fresh eagerness and new perspective on the subject which we then combine with our extensive knowledge of the Foundation collections – not only scholarly but practical. Any exhibition relies on a group effort and at the Foundation this means asking our conservation, technical and registrar teams to advise on the suitability of works to loan and the logistics of travel and display. It is not a straightforward thing moving a heavy elmwood reclining figure almost two and a half meters long! My colleagues in the archive also helped Peter and the Lightbox team with their research and with images and films to help bring the show to life.


Henry Moore, Locking Piece, 1962-63, bronze (LH 515 cast 0), The Henry Moore Foundation: acquired 1987, shown from above shortly after its installation in front of the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid, Spain, January 2017 © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation

Pieces from the Foundation’s collection are lent to galleries around the world. Do you have any particular favourite exhibition that Moore’s sculptures have been a part of?

Even as a fairly new member of staff I have already been privileged to work on several international exhibitions. I really enjoyed seeing Moore’s drawings and etchings of sheep in Memmingen in Germany where they were shown in dialogue with sheep paintings by German artist Josef Madlener. It was an unusual pairing - the styles of the two artists are vastly different – but the juxtaposition was great.

I think my favourite Moore exhibition experience though has to be the tour we are doing in Spain. We have six monumental bronzes touring the country as part of an exhibition programme called ‘art in the streets’. The tour has continued for almost two years now and gone to over fourteen cities. I first joined it in San Sebastian and have since been to Cadiz, Logrono and Valladolid, our final city. It is an amazing thing to see these works sited in different locations every three months, often in front of some of the most awe inspiring Spanish cathedrals or civic architecture. Each time I notice something new about them.

I also love the installation period too. In the winter months it has been cold and wet and not as glamorous as people may think, but being out in the streets you witness the reactions of passers-by as we crane-lift works into position. It never fails to create excitement and I think make people really look hard at the sculpture. Even when installed I think the fact that it is new and ‘out of place’ to a regular dog-walker for example who suddenly has to dodge an unexpected four metre high bronze, arouses curiosity.  Unfortunately their questions are often met with my very poor attempt at Spanish explanations.


Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Bone, 1974, plaster (LH 642), The Henry Moore Foundation: gift of the artist 1977 © Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation

It may be hard to choose, but what is your favourite piece in Henry Moore: Sculpting from Nature?

This is a tough question as there are so many things in the show to choose from. I am tempted to go for one of the beautiful drawings as I think these reveal a side to Moore that not many people appreciate – many are familiar with his sculpture but his sensitive and exploratory drawings are less well known and show a more intimate side of his character as he wrestles with sculptural ideas in two dimensions.

Nonetheless, I am going to say Reclining Figure Bone. In the context of your show this work is perfect and it also reflects some of the central themes in Moore’s work more broadly. The basic form is of course derived from the bone, here displayed alongside, but echoes can also be found in several of the drawings you have in the exhibition and together these trace Moore’s creative process from found object to sculptural idea. The reclining figure was a theme to which Moore returned again and again and he liked it because he believed the subject was understood, which meant he could play with the form alone. The shape of the bone suggested to Moore that of a reclining figure, leaning on a bent arm perhaps, but also the socket holes of the bone have resulted in a pierced sculpture – like those I mentioned before – the holes become part of what gives the sculpture its volume. 

Also, the undulating abstracted figure appears to relate to the landscape itself, reflecting rolling hills, the holes somewhat like caves. We know Moore was interested in the notion of the body as landscape which was something he read about as a student.  I love that this very simple sculpture takes a naturally found object, humanises it, and simultaneously relates it to the wider natural environment. It subtly investigates man’s relationship to nature.

Hannah's talk 'Bones, Stones, Shells and Sheep: Organic Forms in the work of Henry Moore' is on Thurs 16 Feb at 1.00pm.
£6 Adults, £4 Friends | Book your tickets here

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