Library can help sculpt accurate view of artist

The Columbus Area Arts Council, the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives and the Bartholomew County Public Library held a big birthday party Saturday for a noted British sculptor who died 31 years ago.

Henry Moore was born July 30, 1898, in Yorkshire, England, and his sculptures in stone, wood and bronze are in museums and public spaces around the world. We were celebrating Moore’s birthday because one of those public spaces is the library plaza, and the sculpture is the big green metal shape called the Large Arch.

Described by some as a hip-bone, a jawbone or as the broad shoulders of person, the only thing it was specifically supposed to be was an organic shape to contrast the rigid lines of the library and the plaza. Architect I.M. Pei, who designed the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library and the grounds known as the plaza, believed that visual balance was necessary.

The building and grounds, in brick, composed of straight lines and right angles, could seem unrelenting and forbidding, for what was supposed to be a welcoming public space. He selected Henry Moore, whose body of work included large, abstract sculpture without straight lines and with plenty of negative space (also called “holes”), as a way to offset any overwhelming harshness of the building’s design.

It’s also made of bronze. Henry Moore wrote “Bronze is a wonderful material, it weathers and lasts in all climates … Bronze is really more impervious to the weather than most stone.” That durability combined with the negative space may account for the Arch’s success: people can walk both around it and through it; they can touch it, lean against it or sit under it reading a book checked out of the library.

This interactive nature — albeit on a short-term basis — is one that’s important to the Exhibit Columbus installation “Conversation Plinth,” opening on the library plaza on Aug. 26 and standing until Nov. 26. Designed by IKD architecture firm, the Plinth looks roughly like stacked plates, and will expand some of that interactive space where people can come to the plaza.

For more information, you can go to the website exhibitcolumbus.org/exhibition/conversation-plinth. Also on Aug. 26, the Architect’s Newspaper will host a panel discussion from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the library’s Red Room on “architecture, art, design and community.” The Plinth’s design is notable for its innovative use of cross-laminated timber. For those interested in the use of wood in architecture through time, check out “Architecture in Wood: A World History,” by Will Pryce.

For more information on Henry Moore, you might want to look at:

“With Henry Moore: The Artist at Work” (where I got the above quote on bronze), with photos by Gemma Levine

Henry Moore: “Sculpting the 20th Century,” edited by Dorothy Kosinski

“Henry Moore: Sculpture,” with comments by Moore, edited by David Mitchinson

“The Life of Henry Moore,” by Roger Berthoud

“Henry Moore on Sculpture,” a collection of the artist’s writings and interviews, edited by Philip James.

Robert Mixner is a reference librarian at the Bartholomew County Public Library and can be reached at rjmixner@mybcpl.org.