Harlow is world's first 'Sculpture Town'

Wednesday 30 Jun 2010

Two original public artworks commissioned to commemorate Harlow's patron of the arts

The artistic reinvention of Essex town Harlow lie in the hands of 20th century married couple Sir Frederick and Lady Patricia Gibberd. Whilst Sir Fredrick may have master-planned the town, his wife concentrated her efforts on sculptural artistry, her own personal garden featuring works by Gerda Rubinstein, Robert Clatworthy and John Skelton. Since both patrons have now passed, The Harlow Arts Trust (HAT) and Newhall Projects have taken it upon themselves to continue the work of Lady Gibberd by commissioning multiple works of public art to the extent that the town now has the highest number of sculptures per head of anywhere in the UK, giving it the official title of ‘Sculpture Town’. Newhall is a unique residential development inbetween Harlow and the Essex countryside, where landowners have put out to tender each phase of the scheme to architects. Partnerships of architects and developers have then designed schemes which fit in with Newhall's masterplan and palette of colours and materials.

Most recently, HAT has run a competition to design a specific work in honour of the recently passed Lady Gibberd, won by German-born British sculptor Ekkehar Altenburger. His winning sculpture, ‘Sophrosyne I’ will be displayed in the centre of a newly built square at Newhall. Naming his artwork after the Greek philosophical term meaning prudence and moderation, Atlenburger explains that he was partially inspired by Lady Gibberd’s private collection during an Easter Egg hunt at her residence: “I was particularly intrigued by the way the sculptures were connected with the architecture as well as the landscape, something which is a constant challenge in my work.” Composed of Norwegian Larvekite granite handpicked by the artist, the piece will sit upon a blue plinth whilst its sister sculpture, ‘Sophrosyne II’ sits in the grounds of the National Museum in Guatemala City.

The competition entries were of such high quality that HAT and Newhall Projects made the unusual decision to select a second piece of artwork to display in the town. ‘Methuselah’, by London-based artist, architect, film-maker and sculptor Nick Turvey, is a reference to the oldest known tree in the world – a bristlecone pine dated at around 5,000 years old. Turvey said of his creation: “I am fascinated by ancient trees, since extreme age seems to reduce them to sculptural essences. Although of recent construction, [an earthwork mound in Newhall park] carries suggestions of Neolithic landscape markers, and led to my thinking about how a sculpture could embody deep time and annual cycles of growth, relating to the land’s agricultural past.” The laser-cut artwork is constructed from 10mm Corten steel sheet to resist then unpredictable effects of the British climate.

Both artists expressed delight in the 'Sculpture Town' project, laying praise on the project’s developers: “who so clearly recognise that art is an essential part of place-making, rather than just a bauble for promotional materials.”

Sian Disson
News Editor

Key Facts:

United Kingdom
Urban design

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