Event celebrates artist behind iconic sculpture

Art critics have experienced little trouble labeling Henry Moore with a variety of superlatives. Labeling much of his abstract work, however, can be a challenge.

That could serve as a fine conversation starter at the third annual, local Henry Moore Birthday Party from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza, 536 Fifth St. in Columbus.

The late native of England, whose actual 119th birthday falls Sunday, is creator of the 20-feet-high greenish-gray hollowed bronze Large Arch that casts a large artistic shadow at the Bartholomew County Public Library and plaza.

The free family-oriented event, organized by the Columbus Area Arts Council, the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives, and the library, will include live jazz from Cooked to Order, the creation of Large Arch screenprints from local print studio Goodnight Sweet Prints, a pop-up exhibit of Large Arch from the architectural archives, and birthday cake.

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Tough to tell what Moore himself would make of the proceedings, especially since he specialized in a kind of veiled form of expression.

“If both abstract and human elements are welded together in a work, it must have a fuller, deeper meaning,” Moore, who decided at age 11 to be a sculptor, once said.

And the deeper meaning of Large Arch, seen as everything from a hip bone to a monster-sized tooth, can be debated for eternity.

T. Kelly Wilson, director of the IU Center for Art + Design in Columbus, certainly appreciates 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 last year.

The 5.5-ton creation was installed by a crane April 14, 1971, as a gift to the community from the late Cummins leader and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller and now-late wife Xenia Miller, a longtime national arts advocate. It was so significant to the then-new library designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei that the library’s formal dedication was delayed until the Arch was installed.

The Millers were as excited as anyone over the work as they took both still and video images of the installation as local school children watched.

The piece was shipped by ocean freighter in early March 1971 from Hamburg, then-West Germany to New Orleans, Louisiana. It was then taken by barge up the Mississippi River to the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky. Then, it was semi-trucked in one piece inside a padded, wooden crate in a careful, three-and-a-half-hour trip up Interstate 65 to Columbus, according to The Republic archives.

Kathryn Armstrong, the arts council’s executive director and one who also has created public art in locales such as Indianapolis, sees this as a great time to party.

“Large Arch has become a symbol of Columbus, and Henry Moore’s birthday is the perfect occasion to celebrate our community’s long love of public art,” Armstrong said.

She has come to love it since moving here a year ago from Indy.

“It never gets old,” she said. “And there are so many ways to photograph it.”

Tricia Gilson, archivist and curator with the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives with an office in the library, always makes a point to either arrive or leave the building by passing the piece.

“I think it serves in part to so soften the lines of the library,” Gilson said. “And while maybe not every single view of the Large Arch toward First Christian Church (across the street) or toward the library itself was intentional (to frame something), enough of them certainly were. And Large Arch and the two buildings definitely were meant to be in conversation.”

Yet, the conversations continue about what it represents.

Just the other day, Gilson spotted a young girl, maybe 10 years old, sitting underneath the famous artwork in its shadow while looking up at it. The youngster decided that the figure must be a big question mark.

For many people, therein fittingly lies some of the never-ending whimsy of the piece with an ever-changing identity.

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What: Free, family-friendly Henry Moore Birthday Party to highlight the world-renowned sculptor and creator of Large Arch at the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza, 536 Fifth St. in Columbus.

Activities: A pop-up exhibit of Large Arch; live music; birthday cake, and youngsters can make screenprints of Large Arch. Plus, the library will mark the end of its summer reading program, “Build a Better World.”

Information: 812-376-2539 or artsincolumbus.org.