Trea­sures of a mas­ter’s house and gar­den

An en­chant­ing visit to the for­mer ru­ral es­tate of Bri­tish sculp­tor Henry Moore

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL FIONA GRU­BER

TO get to the wildlife-rich plains of Sam­buru Na­tional Park in Kenya, the sa­fari-goer must first travel through mar­ket towns and agri­cul­tural set­tle­ments that have about them an air of aban­don­ment rather than abun­dance. North­west of Nairobi, you will come to the equa­to­rial town of Nanyuki where, for a few shillings, some­one will show you how wa­ter empties from a fun­nel in a clock­wise mo­tion to the south of the equa­tor, anti-clock­wise to the north, and straight out at the THERE’s an ar­gu­ment that to truly un­der­stand an artist, you have to see where and how they work. In the case of Henry Moore, this in­volves an hour’s drive north of Lon­don into the rolling hills of Hert­ford­shire and the vil­lage of Perry Green.

This is where he lived with his Rus­sian wife, Irina, and daugh­ter Mary, mov­ing there in 1940 when a bomb dam­aged their Hamp­stead flat and stu­dio.

He died in 1986 but it was only in 2007 that their El­iz­a­bethan house, Hog­lands, with its large gar­den and mul­ti­ple stu­dios, was opened to the pub­lic by the Henry Moore Foun­da­tion, and this is my sec­ond visit.

The place had a home­spun look when it first opened but this has partly given way to a slicker pre­sen­ta­tion. The next-door pub where we had an ex­cel­lent lunch in 2008 is now the foun­da­tion’s cafe, which also serves great food. Things have been ti­died up and ex­panded, but it’s still a fas­ci­nat­ing and very in­ti­mate peek into a bril­liant artist’s life and work.

I no­tice, as I start my pere­gri­na­tions with head­phones and au­dio com­men­tary around the 25 largescale works, how ev­ery­thing is so ver­dant and ru­ral.

I’ve seen dozens of Henry Moore sculp­tures but they’ve mostly been mon­u­men­tal fig­ures in civic spaces. From Chicago to Tehran, Can­berra to Yoko­hama, any city with pre­ten­sions to great­ness has to have at least one Moore, of­ten in front of a brave and alien­at­ing piece of new and edgy ar­chi­tec­ture.

Yet here, in the ram­bling gar­dens de­signed by Irina, his mon­u­men­tal bronze shapes and fig­ures take on an an­cient mytho­log­i­cal as­pect, as though they’re the rem­nants of a for­got­ten civil­i­sa­tion. It’s a lost cul­ture of ma­tri­archs and watch­ful mon­archs, hol­lowed-out forms and or­ganic shapes.

Moore’s in­flu­ences in­clude Toltec-Mayan art but, above all, his work was in­spired by the forms you find in na­ture, such as bones and shells, a bird’s wing or a point where the imag­i­nary line bi­sects the earth.

Fur­ther along the high­way, you’ll pass Isi­olo. There’s lit­tle rea­son to pause here but if you are with Trevor Fer­nan­des, you will stop while he checks on Kil­i­mani, the school he came across years ago when it was still an or­phan­age car­ing for about 30 kids.

‘‘One of my [Wildlife Sa­fari] guides knew of a woman who’d taken it upon her­self to look af­ter or­phaned and aban­doned chil­dren,’’ says Fer­nan­des, the Kenyan-born, Perth-ed­u­cated man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of fam­i­ly­owned Wildlife Sa­fari. shoul­der blade, a lumpy piece of chalk or a sharp­ened edge of flint.

All this is very ap­par­ent as soon as you step into the var­i­ous stu­dios that dot the site. The ma­que­tte stu­dio con­tains hun­dreds of gleanings from na­ture, from a hum­ble

‘‘The next time we were pass­ing through Isi­olo, we went and found her in her very, very hum­ble abode. For some­one who had come from a priv­i­leged back­ground, it was a shock to me.’’

The woman and chil­dren were liv­ing out­side town and had no run­ning wa­ter. Fer­nan­des pledged his sup­port, as did a lo­cal busi­ness­woman and a church group; the bur­geon­ing or­phan­age soon moved into town, where it was in­cor­po­rated into a new pri­mary school for 400 chil­dren, half of whom are reg­u­lar pupils, while the rest are or­phans or des­ti­tute chil­dren. peb­ble to an ele­phant’s skull given to Moore by the evo­lu­tion­ist Ju­lian Hux­ley. Look­ing out of the win­dow I spot the fa­mous black­faced sheep that Moore drew ob­ses­sively; he would tap on the glass so they’d crowd around the

‘‘The school’s very, very ba­sic, but it’s amaz­ing in terms of what the kids are learn­ing,’’ Fer­nan­des says. The cramped fa­cil­i­ties will soon be up­graded, with Kil­i­mani School mov­ing to a 2ha block. Wildlife Sa­fari at present meets about 75 per cent of the school’s nu­tri­tional needs, but the ex­tra space will give stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to grow their own food. ‘‘The dou­ble ben­e­fit is not only pro­vid­ing fresh food in­house for the chil­dren, but teach­ing them agri­cul­ture, which is the back­bone of the in­dus­try in those parts,’’ Fer­nan­des says.

Af­ter years of ad-hoc nearby fence. There’s a bronze of a sheep with her lamb out there and, up on the crest of a hill, the sculp­ture Large Re­clin­ing Fig­ure, 1984.

The nearby Aisled Barn holds a col­lec­tion of ta­pes­tries made from his sketches and the Sheep Field in­volve­ment with Kil­i­mani School, Fer­nan­des un­wit­tingly for­malised the re­la­tion­ship when he went on sa­fari last year with old school­friends. Stop­ping first in Isi­olo, the men were deeply moved by what they saw and de­cided to get in­volved.

‘‘Each of the classes made a pre­sen­ta­tion, and it was amaz­ing. There weren’t kids fid­get­ing or whin­ing or tex­ting on their mo­bile phones,’’ Fer­nan­des re­calls. ‘‘And while my friends had some idea of what I did, they didn’t quite grasp the big­ger pic­ture of this pro­ject.’’

One of the men do­nated $500 on the spot; Wildlife Sa­fari Barn Gallery houses tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions on var­i­ous as­pects of Moore’s life and work.

On my pre­vi­ous visit, his tex­tile de­signs were on dis­play. This time there’s a fo­cus on his works in plas­ter.

The gar­den sculp­tures also change; one was even stolen in the mid­dle of the night in 2005, hoisted by crane on to a flat-bed truck and spir­ited away. The piece, then worth about £3 mil­lion, is thought to have been sold as scrap for only £1500.

I’m more in­ter­ested in the way Moore made his work, and the Plas­tic Stu­dio and Yel­low Brick Stu­dio both show the stages by which a small ma­que­tte be­comes, via mould­ing and carv­ing, a 2m-high bronze.

On my first visit, a small shed near the en­trance to the house had been left as it was, with a desk strewn with draw­ing and etch­ing ma­te­ri­als, an old calendar fea­tur­ing a top­less Hawai­ian beauty and, most in­ter­est­ing from an Aus­tralian point of view, an old type­writ­ten list of Moore’s ap­pren­tices, in­clud­ing Ron Robert­son Swann, fa­mous here for ab­stract sculp­tures such as Vault, bet­ter known as The Yel­low Peril. He worked at Hog­lands be­tween 1963 matched it, and the group bought new uni­forms for the or­phaned and des­ti­tute girls. Back in Perth, the Kil­i­mani Kids Trust was founded, which will fund a schol­ar­ship and chan­nel funds to­wards con­struct­ing class­rooms and pro­vid­ing sup­plies.

And al­though the trust will be open to do­na­tions from guests of Wildlife Sa­fari, Fer­nan­des isn’t keen on in­clud­ing the school at Isi­olo on sa­fari itin­er­ar­ies.

‘‘We’d like to do it with dis­cre­tion . . . the last thing I want is ev­ery ve­hi­cle stop­ping and ex­pect­ing a song and dance.’’

wildlife­sa­ and 1965. Now, on this sec­ond visit, the shed has be­come an au­dio-vis­ual cen­tre and the list ti­died into an archive some­where.

But the house is, thank­fully, still the same, left al­most as it was in Moore’s life­time. It’s a re­minder that, al­though world fa­mous and, to­wards the end of his life, very wealthy, Moore was a nonon­sense York­shire­man. He’d known poverty as a child and didn’t waste money on frip­peries.

The orig­i­nal house is quite poky and plainly, even aus­terely, fur­nished. In 1960 he and Irina built an ex­ten­sion, partly to house their art col­lec­tion and to en­ter­tain the grow­ing stream of celebrity vis­i­tors, in­clud­ing Lau­ren Ba­call and Graham Greene.

But Irina’s life was in the gar­den, his in the stu­dio, and this is where the true ge­nius and hu­man­ity of Henry Moore is truly il­lu­mi­nated.


The ma­que­tte stu­dio in the grounds of Hog­lands, Henry Moore’s Hert­ford­shire home


Chil­dren from the Wildlife Sa­fari-sup­ported Kil­i­mani School

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