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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Harlow Sculpture Town

In September when I wrote about Harlow's sheep trail I was fairly scathing. I will defend my judgement of the odd painted-plastic sheep but it is unfair to dismiss Harlow's sculpture collection. Including works by Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin and Barbara Hepworth it certainly has the weight to justify its new status as 'Harlow, Town of Sculpture'. My only question is, who is interested? And will anybody come to visit 'pram town' now it has been renamed 'Sculpture town'?
Sir Frederick Gibberd was the town planner for the new development in Harlow in the 1950's. He conceived his modern town with a sculpture collection at its heart. Located in main squares, precincts, public buildings and schools the sculpture trail offers an alternative map of a dilapidated town in Essex.

Henry Moore, The Family Group, at the Civic Centre

Moore's sculpture was a special commission from the town planners of Harlow. The Family Group became a symbol of civic pride. In the 1950's when the sculpture was made Harlow had a birth rate that was three times the national average and so gained its status as 'pram town', as a town of families and community. In 2010 'pram town' has developed an added irony as the shopping streets are filled with teenage mothers. In recent years Harlow notched up the highest teen pregnancy rate in Essex, the UK and Europe. The original message of the sculpture in this post-war town has been lost and obscured. Harlow has a very different reputation now.

"A few miles north form my home at Perry Green (now the Henry Moore Foundation) is Harlow, and over the last 25 years I have watched it grow from a small scattered rural population to a thriving new town of over 70,000 people.

The Placing of sculptures in a town can have a greater significance than just providing a setting for a work of art. As can be seen in Harlow, when sculpture is related to the space in which it stands. Both the sculpture and the scene itself gain.

Auguste Rodin, Eve

I can't help feeling, as I pull a wet paper bag from her cleavage, that Harlow Town has given Eve reasons to feel lost and dejected which Rodin had not intended. Clutching herself before a backdrop of fast food she is an anachronism, a molested outcast on the fringes of the Water Gardens. The Harlow Art trust and the council are right, there is something beautiful here which deserves resurrection. I just believe that its resurrection with the contemporary residents of Harlow would be something of a miracle. So send your prayers to the Art trust and Rodin's Eve, they need them!


  1. Can they just move poor Eve to somewhere more appropriate than where she is now? It really is too bad that she is so dejected by her fast food surroundings. Surely the Art Trust could find a better home for her Frangipan?

  2. I think this is the most prominent position for her within the town unfortunately! She just has to adapt to the surroundings!