My father took me to see the sculpture Sheep Piece which had just been installed outside Clarks HQ in Street. Whilst he marvelled how the abstract audacity of Moore’s ‘great paean to sexuality’1 had been greeted by a Quaker family, as a thirteen-year-old I was wondering instead what this strange image had to do with sheep, what sheep had to do with making shoes. I was also disturbed by the dynamic power of these two massive metallic forms which seemed to hold each other up by some kind of magnetism; which, although poised separately nevertheless seemed to be intimately involved, in fact two halves of the same being dancing around one another as we circled them again and again. This image seemed to have more in common with the interlocking cliffs of Cheddar Gorge, between which we had driven to get here - one mass casting its shadow across the brightness of the other just where the gap was narrowest - than with the docile creatures seen grazing the Mendip Hills on either side of them.
I learnt later that this was the third full size casting of Sheep Piece to have been made. While not unique to this particular location (it was sold to Pepsico in 1991), Moore’s work is of such stature that it is not the place that makes his work, but his work that makes the place.
Colin St. John Wilson once remarked that by carefully placing a Grecian urn in a woodland clearing you transform an ordinary piece of countryside into an extraordinary mythic world: Arcadia. Moore works too in the English Landscape tradition. Whilst his work is of such beauty and universal significance that it can hold its own autonomously, or alongside the greats in any modern art gallery, or in a private setting – as his champion Kenneth Clark so touchingly demonstrates at the end of Civilisation - it nevertheless achieves its full power taking and making place in the poetic sweep and weather of the outdoors, like a standing figure or knife edge ‘cutting a crisp form out of the sky’2,
“This blending of human and natural form, this ability to see the figures in the landscape, and a landscape in the figures, is Moore’s greatest contribution to sculpture”
John Read (Portrait of the Artist 1979)
This is because his diverse subjects, his recurrent themes encapsulate the common experience of us all, always circling round that most fundamental of human places: Mother and Child, Reclining Figure, Interior/ Exterior form – the representation and expression of one life growing inside another, growing apart from another. The place that he returns to time and again is this home; home in the most profound sense – a mothering being beautiful to behold, yet reassuring, enveloping, protecting, nurturing.
“All good art demands an effort from the observer, and they should demand that it extends their experience of life.”
Henry Moore (The Listener 13 Nov 1941)
The first full size casting of Sheep Piece is, as I now know, in the Sheep Field at Moore’s home in Perry Green. The ewe figure is often to be seen, as all Mothers do, sheltering her sheep. We expect the new education space at the Sheep Field to be an environment that will not only be beautiful, simply, but will also challenge and engage. We expect plenty of clay, wax crayons, watercolours, Indian ink. Let children play with real materials, and learn. For we would much rather sex and relationships ed. be taught at Sheep Field Barn 🡢, in conversation and within pastoral gaze of Sheep Piece, than by anonymous accident online.
1 Sue Compton RA Henry Moore Exhibition 1988
2 Molly Nickson ARTiculation 2013