Its seemingly broad shoulders easily have supported every superlative, or even every confounding question, about its 45-year life which is firmly rooted in artistic possibilities.
Late sculptor Henry Moore apparently wished for easy answers and labels to ring as hollow as the literal bronze in his elephant skin-like work known as Large Arch on the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza, 536 Fifth St. in Columbus.
Moore’s looming legacy and his sculpture will be honored at a free birthday bash from 4 to 6 p.m. July 30.
The celebration will feature music by the Columbus band Born Mountaineer, as well as a drawing activity for all ages presented by the Columbus Area Arts Council. The event will also include the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives’ pop-up exhibit about Moore and the piece.
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Kelly Wilson, director of the IU Center for Art and Design in Columbus, can appreciate the multi-faceted work of Moore, considered among the foremost sculptors of the 20th Century. He died at age 88 in 1986.
“It has often been said that the great strength of a piece of art is its ability to generate multiple interpretations, and even contradictory ones — but ones that all work, and ones that all are useful for folks,” Wilson said.
The 5.5-ton creation was installed in 1971 as a gift to the community from late Cummins leader J. Irwin Miller and wife Xenia Miller, a longtime national arts advocate. It was so significant to the then-new library designed by I.M. Pei that the library’s formal dedication was delayed until the Arch was installed.
If Wilson were to lump all of the symbolism and harmony he finds between Large Arch and Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church, just across Fifth Street, into a pile, it might stack taller than the work’s 20-foot height. Of course, he goes far beyond the typical looking-through-the-Arch-framing-First-Christian description.
“That statue has what you would call a pivotal importance (in that space),” Wilson said. “Many of the design ideas linking that work to the church are due to the size, material, and position of the sculpture.”
One not-so-publicized linking includes the clear visibility of the Arch through one of the small windows of the First Christian Church Fifth Street exit. But Wilson can swim through enough other connections to sound like a broadcaster exuberantly analyzing a baseball hitter’s stance and swing.
Tricia Gilson, archivist and curator with the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives with an office in the library, passes by the sculpture every work day as she leaves the office. It has yet to become invisible to her, if you will.
And she realizes that many people might never have fully figured out what the work is supposed to be, though the artist himself once said it was inspired by Stonehenge. Others have described it as looking like a person’s shoulders or hip bones.
“A work like Large Arch invites all visitors to interact with it — to walk through and around it,” she said.
Richard McCoy, director of Landmark Columbus, caring for Columbus’ artistic and architectural sites, calls it “an iconic, custom artwork that is one of the top three public art pieces in Indiana.”
In the past year especially, McCoy has been among the most vocal advocates of locals celebrating their arts and architectural heritage among the world’s top designers.
Ethan Crough, executive director of the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation and a tour guide for third-graders’ visits to area landmarks during the school year, mentioned that most youngsters are a hands-on bunch with Moore’s creation.
“They definitely touch it and feel it,” said Crough, who added that it initially reminded him of large European metal sculptures. “And some do ask what the shape is supposed to be.”
He said the children pretty quickly learn on their own that the piece literally frames First Christian Church, when a viewer stands at the correct angle toward the church.
Joyce Orwin, who coordinates architectural tours via the Columbus Area Visitors Center, calls it “a great symbol of the generosity of the Miller family,” among other things. The Millers paid for the sculpture and gifted it to the community.
Others such as retired Columbus architect Jim Paris summarize their feelings with a bold and sweeping overview.
“It’s the perfect piece in the perfect place,” Paris said.
What: Birthday party for late sculptor Henry Moore (who would be 118) and salute to his iconic work called Large Arch.
When: 4 to 6 p.m. July 30.
Where: Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza, 536 Fifth St. in Columbus.
Activities: The celebration will feature music by the Columbus band Born Mountaineer, as well as a drawing activity for all ages presented by the Columbus Area Arts Council. The event will also include a pop-up exhibit about Henry Moore and “Large Arch,” presented by the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives. Organizers also are encouraging people to bring a picnic meal along.
Information: artsincolumbus.org and columbusarchives.org/events.