A journey into the past
In the later 1940s after the illness of their daughter Sarah, Barbara Hepworth and her husband, the artist Ben Nicholson, became friends with Norman Capener, the surgeon who had treated their child at the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital in Exeter. He invited her to witness a variety of surgical procedures and Hepworth produced a series of around 80 works. One of the surgeons whose hands and eyes appear in these drawings was my father-in-law, Geoffrey Blundell Jones. And that was how in October 2013 my husband Peter and I came to be at the private view of Barbara Hepworth: The Hospital Drawings at The Hepworth Wakefield, a museum devoted to Barbara Hepworth and her contemporaries. Geoffrey had died ten years before and it was both fascinating and moving to see these drawings.
At that time the museum, a wonderfully light and airy space, designed by David Chipperfield on a site overlooking the river in the centre of Wakefield, had only been open a couple of years. Last week I went back with a friend to see a splendid exhibition, Henry Moore and Bill Brandt, and realised that there is more than one family connection linking me to the museum. In 1941 as part of Moore’s work as a war artist, he visited Wheldale Colliery in Castleford, where his father had been pit deputy and under manager. That, I think, is likely to be the pit where my grandfather, Frederick George Poulson, worked as a miner. I have no way of knowing for sure, as there was more than one local pit, and there is no-one now that I can ask. However when I googled Wheldale Colliery and read about the pit disaster of 1923, I thought perhaps that had been the one that haunted my grandmother when her mind wandered in her old age. So I looked at the drawings with special interest, wondering if I might see my grandfather there. But just as in Hepworth’s drawings the surgeons are anonymous in their masks, so too the miners in Moore’s pictures are hard to distinguish under their layer of coal dust.
So, no, I didn’t recognise him, but all in all, a memorable day out, one that evoked memories of childhood visits to my grandparents in Castleford, of my father-in-law, and also of the last time I was at the museum with Peter.
Henry Moore and Bill Brandt is on until 1 November and the permanent collection at The Hepworth Wakefield is well worth a visit at any time.