2. Hepworth Bronzes (above Wagamama)
This bronze relief, Themes and Variations, by leading 20th century sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) complements the curved nature of the building designed by architects Healing and Overbury for the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society HQ. Hepworth was contacted at the height of her career in the 1960s so it was pretty amazing that she agreed.
What's the history?
This work is one of Barbara Hepworth’s more important public commissions – but because of its location high up on this building, it’s often missed.
The building opened as the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society Headquarters in 1972. C&G grew from a group of nineteenth century businessmen meeting regularly in a local hotel, which was usual practice for a local bank or Friendly Society. It went from strength to strength surviving the 1920s Depression and by the 1960s it was one the largest Building Societies in the country. C&G appointed architects Healing & Overbury to design the building in the late 1960s and approached Barbara Hepworth to create a sculpture for the building. Hepworth was at the height of international fame, and could have declined – but she was intrigued and took the challenge seriously – the unusual problem of a modern, high, curved building amidst the hustle and bustle of Cheltenham’s town centre.
The sculpture is made from three bronze interacting semi-circular forms, cast at the famous foundry Morris Singer. It is unusual because Hepworth is best known for works which people can walk around and see through. She was always concerned with ‘viewing in the round’ – not from a fixed stand-point – and even though the C&G sculpture is 2D you get a sense of movement especially as you walk along, preferably on the opposite pavement. By so doing the shapes will change their relationships – enhanced by the variety of surface treatment you can see how she has played around with the surfaces, textures and colours – a combination of the artist’s hand and weathering.
Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield and became a leading figure in 20th century sculpture. Her life was cut short in a tragic accidental fire in her studio in St Ives in 1975.
Historical image from The Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic.
A local opinion
When I first came to Cheltenham, I had no idea that there was a Barbara Hepworth in the town. Where it is on the building means it’s pretty hidden so that may explain why it took me a while to notice it. I’ve been interested in art for a long time and have connections with Cornwall so the Hepworth has a personal affinity too.
My interest in art began with the purchase of a small watercolour, which I still have, from a WI Art Exhibition in St Davids ages ago and I’ve been collecting ever since, just things we like. My collection reflects my working life, travelling for an international company in Asia, Africa and Europe. When we moved to Cheltenham we didn’t intend to have a gallery, it just happened. And this led to my interest in St Ives flourishing. I’d travel down on a regular basis and gradually got to know people there, mostly artists including the Penwith Group who I’ve shown here at Chapel Arts.
I’ve visited the Barbara Hepworth Museum in St Ives, I think her work here is typical but it doesn’t have the wires you often associate with her work and that’s quite pertinent for me – when I was a student I did my own wire pieces I don’t know why, I was training to be a physicist and it’s funny that there’s that connection. At Chapel Arts I like to think we are contributing to the arts community and bringing artists who otherwise wouldn’t be seen in Cheltenham.
Ian James, Chapel Arts