We speak to Annabel Lucas, Audience Development Manager (Maternity Cover) at St Albans Museums, about Henry Moore: Drawing in the Dark, opening in December
Does the UH Arts + Culture often collaborate with St Albans Museums?
St Albans Museums has been working in partnership with UH Arts + Culture for over 10 years. Before we launched St Albans Museum + Gallery in summer 2018, UH Arts + Culture contributed art exhibitions to the old Museum of St Albans on the Hatfield Road. They offer us specialist art curation skills, which enables us to host exhibitions on the scale and ambition of the new and exciting Henry Moore show that opens on 16 December. This unique collaboration between organisations has introduced fresh perspectives, new ideas and visually impactful artworks into our spaces, complementing the output of our own team’s history curators.
How excited are you about Henry Moore: Drawing in the Dark?
So excited! We are uniting the largest collection of Henry Moore’s coalmining drawings since their commissioning 80 years ago. Moore is known for his large bronze sculptures and his drawings of Londoners sheltering from the blitz in 1940, but these drawings have been rarely exhibited. It is often forgotten that Moore was the son of a miner from Castleford in Yorkshire, and as a war artist he developed a detailed series of drawings from sketches he made at Wheldale Colliery. Over several days, Moore sketched miners toiling underground, then worked from his studio in Hertfordshire to create nearly 100 drawings.
It is also very exciting to be opening the exhibition to coincide with the launch of a new publication on the subject, Drawing in the Dark: Henry Moore’s Coalmining Commission, by art historian Chris Owen. This in-depth study of the artist and this commission reaches beyond the exhibition to reveal new insights into Moore’s life and artistic practice.
What can we expect to see?
You will see nearly 50 drawings, several sculptures and sketchbooks by Henry Moore, as well as photographs, films and original mining artefacts from the period. You will be able to trace Moore’s creative process from initial sketches made in the mine, to developmental drawings created back in his studio, to final compositions that he made for the commission – many purchased by the War Artists Advisory Commission distributed to regional museum collections. You can also get creative in the space with drawings, trails and other activities. A unique and enthralling programme of talks, workshops and drop-ins also offers the public opportunities to further explore Moore’s work and their own ideas and creativity.
Do we learn anything new about Henry Moore
Yes, together the exhibition and book will shed new light on the life and artistic processes of one of Britain’s most celebrated sculptors. We can learn so much about an artist from their sketchbooks, notes or letters; understanding the journey that has led to a final artwork. The coalmining commission highlights Moore’s skills as a draughtsman and it is a rare opportunity to trace his ideas from sketchbook drawings and notes, through to finished pieces. It is also one of the rare occasions Moore turned his attention to the male figure; usually he was drawn to the female form. The exhibition and book invite us into Moore’s life to consider his connection with his father, mining and its associations for him, while also exploring the influences of the coalmining drawings on his later sculpture.
Is the Weston Gallery a great setting for the exhibition?
The Weston Gallery is the perfect setting for the exhibition! Visitors will travel downstairs to the subterranean gallery, with dark walls and spotlights evoking something of Wheldale Colliery – it will be brilliantly atmospheric.
St Albans Museum + Gallery itself is an incredible building, which used to be the Town Hall with Assembly Room, Courtroom and Cells, right in the centre of the city. It’s now fully restored as a state-of-the-art gallery space showcasing over 2,000 years of priceless heritage and displaying contemporary artworks. You can spend all day here, taking your time to look round – and the ground floor now houses a brand-new learning studio, gift shop and café which serves fresh food daily. It’s a wonderful space.
It opens to the public on 16 December – do you see this as being a festive treat with a difference for art lovers?
This is certainly a festive treat for art lovers and it’s free too! We are incredibly privileged to be borrowing remarkable drawings and sculptures from a range of prestigious lenders, including the V&A, British Museum, Henry Moore Foundation, Moore family, National Coalmining Museum, Imperial War Museum, Whitworth Art Gallery, Sheffield Museums, The Hepworth Wakefield and Leeds City Museums. We are very lucky to have financial support from the Arts Council England and Henry Moore Foundation to make this ambitious exhibition possible.
Do you live in Hertfordshire yourself?
Yes, I have lived in Hertfordshire all my life, the last 15 years in St Albans. I love the county’s mix of urban and rural, often in very close proximity to one another. I also appreciate how Hertfordshire marries a connection to London with the county’s own identity and sense of place, especially its own strong cultural offer including museums and galleries, heritage sites, art cinemas and theatres.
Where would your three favourite places in the county be?
My three favourite places in Hertfordshire have to be the Henry Moore Foundation (Perry Green), Heartwood Forest (Sandridge) and Shaw’s Corner (Ayot St Lawrence).
Are there any parts of the county that really come alive at Christmas?
It has to be the annual Christmas lights and decorations on that famous house on Beech Road, St Albans. For over 20 years the residents have covered their house and front-drive in fantastic decorations to raise funds for charity, it is an important part of Christmas in St Albans with many people getting out of their cars to take it all in!
Henry Moore: Drawing in the Dark runs from 16 December 2022-16 April 2023 at the Museum + Gallery. Find out more at stalbansmuseums.org.uk