Reviews

‘A marvellous entry in this excellent series, one of those books that  you have to keep reading but hate to finish. Highly recommended.’ [Stage Fright]

- MYSTERY WOMEN

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.

8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    September 2, 2020

    What a lovely memory, Christine! I had no idea your family was connected to Hepworth! It must have been a fantastic experience, and I’m sure you hold it in your ‘treasure chest.’ I’m glad you had that special day – thank you for sharing it with us.

    Reply
  2. Xiang Ren
    September 2, 2020

    What a warm and imaginative journey into time itself!
    Thanks Chrissie for such beautiful words.

    Reply
  3. Brad Poulson
    September 5, 2020

    Hi Chrissie, Frederick George Poulson is recorded as living adjacent to the Wheldale Colliery in Castleford (1939), so its likely he worked there. NCB or NUM will have records, although it might have been a privately owned colliery at that time. Lovely story, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 5, 2020

      Thanks so much for finding this out, Brad. Yes, very likely, as most people walked to work then. It’s good to know this.

      Reply
  4. Deborah Mainwaring
    September 6, 2020

    Hello, Christine,
    What a marvelous web of connection and possibilities in that story. I had no idea that Hepworth had done such drawings, nor that your grandfather was a miner. So pleased that such a visit unfolded such a tale!

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      September 7, 2020

      Thanks, Deb! Yes, a special day. As for my background, I was the first person in my family to go to university or to have any kind of higher education.

      Reply

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