Washington DC


Maquette for Atom Piece 1964 (LH 524)


height 15cm

It’s a rather strange thing really but I’d already done the idea for this sculpture before Professor McNeill and his colleagues from the University of Chicago came to see me on Sunday morning to tell me about the whole proposition. They told me (which I’d only vaguely known) that Fermi, the Italian nuclear physicist, started or really made the first successful controlled nuclear fission in a temporary building. I think it was a squash court - a wooden building - which from the outside looked entirely unlike where a thing of such an important nature might take place. But this experiment was carried on in secret and it meant that by being successful Man was able to control this huge force for peaceful purposes as well as destructive purposes. They came to me to tell me that they thought where such an important event in history took place ought to be marked and they wondered whether I would do a sculpture which would stand on the spot. Behind it later was going to be a building for the university, I think a library.

As they told me the story and the situation, I gradually remembered that only a fortnight previously, I’d been working in my little maquette studio (because I was trying to think as they told me what form or what shape such an idea brought to my mind) and the story reminded me of a sculpture I’d already done, about six inches high which was just a maquette for an idea. I said to them that I thought I had done the idea as far as I would be able to and I showed them the maquette, and I said, ’I’m going to make this sculpture into a working model’ because the maquette was only about six inches in height. I said to them, ’Would you wait until I’ve made this working model which will be about four or five feet in height and then when you see it, we could come to a decision whether it would really be suitable for your purpose’? When I had made this working model I showed it to them and they liked my idea because the top of it is like some large mushroom, or a kink of mushroom cloud. Also it has a kind of head shape like the top to the skull but down below is more an architectural cathedral. One might think of the lower part of it being a protective form and constructed for human beings and the top being more like the idea of the destructive side to the atom. So between the two it might express to people in a symbolic way the whole event.

Henry Moore quoted in Art Journal, New York, Spring 1973, p.286