Interactive Tour of Perry Green

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Yellow Brick Studio

Yellow Brick studio

photo: Nick Bullions

The Yellow Brick Studio was built in 1958 on the site of an old pigsty acquired by Henry Moore when he purchased neighbouring farmland. This was the second purpose-built studio added to the estate and along with the White Studio and future Bourne Maquette Studio it soon became a hub of activity central to production at Perry Green.

Plans for the studio show that it was intended to provide Moore with a new ‘Sculpture Store & Showroom’. This was a necessary and welcome addition to the estate, which would deal with an overflow of work from the White Studio and provide a separate space free of plaster dust for the return of bronzes from casting as well as a viewing area for potential buyers.

Primarily, however, Moore looked upon the Yellow Brick Studio as an area for carving. Previously he had used the Top Studio, a converted stable near his house Hoglands, but he eventually found it too small and low for making larger works. The new studio was more suitable, and it was here that he worked on some of his most important carvings.

Henry Moore was just sixteen when he produced his first carved work: a war memorial Roll of Honour for his school in Castleford, Leeds. This technique would later become a significant mode of production throughout his artistic career, particularly between 1920 and 1940, when nine out of every ten sculptures he made were carvings.

As a young sculptor Moore had an almost fanatical belief in carving. He liked the physical action and mental approach involved in working directly with the material, and always maintained a carver’s approach to sculpture rather than a modeller’s, even when working in clay or plaster for casting in bronze.

To me, carving direct became a religionÖI like the fact that I begin with a block and have to find the sculpture that’s inside it. You have to overcome the resistance of the material by sheer determination and hard work (Henry Moore: Wood Sculpture, Sidgewick and Jackson, London 1983)

Early in his career Moore drew preliminary sketches for his carvings on paper, but after 1935, when the scale of his pieces increased, he began working from small maquettes, many of which can be seen in the Bourne Maquette Studio. At this time he tried to make use of native materials, stone and wood, which had not traditionally been used for sculpture, working with a variety of tools depending on the material.

During the war sculpture materials were difficult to obtain, but after 1945 Moore returned to carving, producing a series of large-scale figures in elmwood, which he bought locally in Bishop’s Stortford. The penultimate elmwood reclining figure (LH 452), which he started in 1959, a year after the Yellow Brick Studio was built, was one of the first carvings Moore did in this studio. He last worked in this studio on the final elmwood sculpture Reclining Figure: Holes 1976 (LH 657) which was still in progress when the Foundation was set up in 1977.

This though was not the only material Moore would work with here, as between 1964 and 1973 his interest in stone carving was renewed by visiting quarries and stone yards during summers spent at his holiday home in Forte dei Marmi, Italy. Although these pieces were primarily carved at the stone yards, Moore would complete them in the Yellow Brick Studio during the winter months.

Moore’s sculpture assistants played an important role in the production of his sculpture in this studio, and continued to do so until he died. In addition to assisting with carving, they sometimes also enlarged works or applied patinas to the bronzes within or even outside the building.

On Henry Moore’s death in 1986 all production ceased and the studio, whilst remaining structurally unchanged, now functions as a display area for his working practices, showing a selection of late carvings, plasters, moulds and some animal bones which inspired his work. Educational displays in the studio illustrate the processes of enlargement and patination, and show an example of the lost-wax method of bronze casting.

From the maquette Moore often produced an intermediary working model to refine his idea before making the final enlargement using a traditional wooden/metal armature. In the late 1960s, he experimented with new materials, discovering that he could slice a plaster cast of his working model and use a grid system to scale up the sculpture. Using blocks of polystyrene, these could be cast from directly or covered in a layer of plaster to add strength and achieve the desired surface, he was able to produce work on a monumental scale. This also meant that enlargements were lighter and easier to manoeuvre both in the studio and en route to the foundry.

The enlargement process could be time consuming, so Moore’s assistants often began the work. They would help to plan the armatures and build the enlarged model up to within an inch or so of the desired size. Moore then completed the process, making any alterations to the proportions and form necessitated by the increased scale of the piece, and working on the final surface.

From 1965 Moore also sent maquettes and working models to artisans at the Henraux stone yards in Italy, which they would enlarge and then carve under his supervision. The polystyrene enlargement of Seated Figure: Arms Outstretched 1960 (LH 463a) and a number of working models for Mirror Knife-Edge 1977 (LH 714) both show various stages of the enlargement process.

After the war Moore turned away from direct carving for a short period, opting instead to cast a large proportion of his work in metal. Throughout his career he employed a number of professional foundries to cast his work both in England and abroad. These included Morris Singer in Basingstoke and Noack in Berlin, the latter becoming his main founder from around 1958. Prior to this, in the early 1950s, Moore had attempted to cast his work in a miniature foundry built by his assistants at the bottom of Hoglands garden. With their help he managed to cast a couple of dozen small pieces of sculpture in lead, but it proved difficult to maintain the correct temperature for molten bronze.

At the foundry Moore’s work was cast using both the ‘lost-wax’ and ‘sand-casting’ techniques. A display in the Yellow Brick Studio illustrates the lost-wax method showing the rubber mould for the mother, the wax replica baby, and the plaster for Working Model for Draped Reclining Mother and Baby 1982 (LH 821). The final enlargement can be seen in the reconstructed ‘plastic’ studio.

Large sculptures were often cast in pieces and then welded together by the founder. Any welding marks or blemishes would be removed before the bronzes were returned to Perry Green, but Moore would also work on them to remove tarnishing, achieve the desired finish, and bring out their metallic quality. Bronze turns green naturally, and whilst Moore would sometimes leave a bronze to achieve this finish over time, he often applied a patina to speed up the process, to create an alternative finish by treating the bronze with different acids, and to help conceal welded joints. A beeswax or lacquer coating would then be applied to prevent oxidisation and changes to the patina. The different finishes and colours Moore used can be seen in the displays to the rear of the studio.

Further information on all of the processes mentioned above can be found in a number of publications available at the Visitors’ Centre.