Treasures of a master’s house and garden
An enchanting visit to the former rural estate of British sculptor Henry Moore
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.’’
wildlifesafari.com.au 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