barbara hepworth

Google Doodle Celebrates Sculptor Barbara Hepworth

Today’s Google Doodle is special not only for the art world but particularly for women everywhere. The Doodle shows a cartoon version of English sculptor Barbara Hepworth in her workshop, carving one of her abstract sculptures.

A Google Doodle for all the artists out there

Hepworth, born in 1903, was one of the few female artists of her generation to achieve international prominence. Her work exemplifies modernism, especially modern sculpture.

The animated Google Doodle was created by artist Matt Cruickshank, who’s from the UK. In a Q&A about the animation, Cruickshank said he pictured Hepworth in her studio in St. Ives, a town in Cornwall, England. He says, “…Imagining such a magnificent space to create in with windows open and cats quietly judging. I had made small sculptures firsthand to try and understand Barbara’s thought process before looking at Pendour — one of Barbara’s pieces that seemed to fit our logo and composition the best.”

Barbara Hepworth was an early star

Hepworth was just 15-years-old when she decided to become a sculptor. She did her early education at the Wakefield Girls’ High School before joining the Leeds School of Art in 1919. She then won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal College of Art, where she studied from 1921 to 1924.

Google Doodle - Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth in the Palais studio in 1963 with unfinished wood carving Hollow Form with White Interior [Photograph by Val Wilmer, courtesy Bowness, Hepworth Estate]

Hepworth lived and traveled throughout Europe but the onset of World War II caused her to move and remain in St. Ives, a small town in Cornwall, England. Hepworth was influenced heavily by the natural world and her environment in St. Ives. She expressed appreciation for nature and wanted to create the sensation of being embraced or protected by the landscape through her work.

Her sculptures were most frequently made from wood because this was what was available to her. Hepworth had dreams of international living but World War II and raising four children (including triplets) kept her restricted to St. Ives. However, she found great inspiration in the seaside town and in turn, her influence transformed St. Ives into a center of modern art as artists traveled to meet her.

Her ‘pierced sculptures’ became her trademark

In the art world, Barbara Hepworth is known for piercing holes as part of her sculptures. In 1931, when her first child was still a toddler, Hepworth started to pierce her carvings, which introduced “the hole” to British sculpture. One of her most celebrated works is called Pierced Form. The use of piercings to find a balance between form and space became a hallmark of Hepworth’s work and is considered one of her most important contributions to the art of abstract sculpture. Hepworth said, “When I first pierced a shape, I thought it was a miracle. A new vision was opened.” Other artists saw these piercings in metaphysical terms; the hole revealed what substance could not represent. Prior to Hepworth, the approach towards sculpture was about the creation of an object. Hepworth’s incorporation of piercings illustrated a relationship between matter and space.

You’ve likely admired her work

Barbara’s most famous work is a 21-foot tall — and 5 ton — sculpture that is displayed outside of the United Nations headquarters in New York City. She created the piece, called Single Form, in memory of her friend, the 2nd Secretary-General of UN, Dag Hammarskjöld. Dag was killed in 1961 on his way to cease-fire negotiations. He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Barbara responded by sculpting this grand piece, her largest work yet. The bronze sculpture is one of the most televised sculptures in the world, according to Learnodo Newtonic.

Google Doodle - Barbara Hepworth
Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture Single Form, on display in New York City. [Courtesy of Wikipedia]

She was named a ‘Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire’

Hepworth wasn’t only a sculptor. She was also a skilled draftsman. She created many drawings, mostly hospital images and one called The Aegean Suite which was inspired by her trip to Greece. In 1958, the British government made her a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and, in 1965, a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Her life was not without tragedy.

Barbara was married twice, and there are some indications that when her second husband left her, she never fully recovered from a broken heart. Though she did not consider herself a feminist, she preferred to be called a sculptor, not a sculptress, and worked tirelessly producing approximately 600 carvings over the course of fifty years. She seemed aware that she was creating new paths in a male-dominated art world, and she oversaw the documentation of her work carefully. Her biographers write there were some indications that it was work that brought her peace. There were only a handful of years where she did not work, including the year after she lost her son Paul in a flying accident.

I think every sculpture must be touched, it’s part of the way you make it and it’s really our first sensibility, it is the sense of feeling. It is the first one we have when we’re born.”

-Barbara Hepworth

In 1949, Barbara bought the Trewyn Studio in St. Ives, Cornwall, England. She lived and worked in the apartment until her death in May 1975 by an accidental fire. The Trewyn Studio is now the Barbara Hepworth Museum and is managed by the Tate gallery. Two of Barbara’s three living children went on to become artists. And she is considered one of the greatest sculptors — no matter male or female — of the 20th century.

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