Sculptural town in Essex poised for revival

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Auguste Rodin. Eve, 1882

Conceived as a city of the future, Harlow has fallen into decay over the decades, but the locals are not willing to put up with it.

After World War II, in 1947, architect Frederick Gibberd developed a master plan for a new city in the agricultural area of ​​Essex. It was to become a haven for people who wanted to leave the overcrowded and bomb-ridden streets of London.

The designer then wrote that he would make the main square of the city an analog of St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Today, even Gibberd’s ardent fans are unlikely to insist on such a comparison.

But one notable feature of the planned city of Harlow has survived and continues to evolve. This is a world-class municipal sculpture collection, which includes works by Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin, Elizabeth Frink, and Barbara Hepworth. There are over 90 exhibits in total.

For decades, Gibberd’s creation has suffered blow after blow, including the demolition of a landmark such as a city hall and gaudy redevelopment of other key developments. Several sculptures, including Henry Moore’s monumental Family Group, commissioned by the city in 1954, were placed inside buildings for safety, others changed locations as they lost their original architectural context. However, most are still in their original locations, in the midst of shopping areas and residential complexes.

Sculptural town in Essex poised for revival
Henry Moore. Family group, 1954

Thanks to a grant of just over £ 55,000 from the Cultural Heritage Lottery Foundation, a number of statues have been restored and preserved, including the aforementioned Family Group and The Triangle (1961) by Lynn Chadwick. Basically, they only needed gentle cleaning, although one crumbling concrete work had to be moved to a covered area. For the restoration of other works, whose condition is recognized as critical, additional funding is required.

Since 2009 the city has positioned itself as the Harlow Sculpture Town. Despite a modest amount of municipal funding (only £ 30,000), the collection continues to expand thanks to the participation of trustees, sponsors, volunteers, as well as through project grants and donations.

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