Keep Henry Moore's “Draped Seated Woman” ('Flo') in public ownership
Social and Humanitarian aspects
Unifying Cultural elements
Site + theme specific considerations
Flo - “Draped Seated Woman”
Henry Moore’s sculpture “Draped Seated Woman”, made 1957 - 8, was purchased by the London County Council and located on the Stifford Estate, Jamaica Street, near Stepney Green- a new council estate development of three 17 storey towers (approved to be built 1958 and completed in 1961).
During it’s residence on the Stifford Estate, Moore’s sculpture became affectionately named by local residents as “Old Flo”.
The Stifford Estate was demolished in 1997 - and the sculpture was moved for safe keeping to the “Yorkshire Sculpture Park” - whilst the area around the Stifford estate was redeveloped.
The site specific sculpture represents a seated figure of a ‘woman’ - (representing a protecting, caring, motherly presence that could be seen as watching out for children playing in the open space that was important in ”postwar” public housing environments). The female human form was important to Moore - who often reminisced about his mother and how he would massage her aching back as well as his recollection of the women who, during the bombing and blitz of London’s east end in WW2, would seek safety with their children by crowding onto the central line platforms of local underground stations from Liverpool Street to Bethnal Green.
Moore’s working class roots ensured his sensitivity to ordinary people’s strugges and education was important to him. He managed to escape the tradition of following his father working in the coal mines by developing his artistic talent. In the 1920s - after the devastation of WW1 - he taught painting and sculpture at the Royal College of Art . When WW2 broke out he became an ‘official war artist’ and drew attention to the difficult conditions surrounding ordinary people. He has seen the devastation of London from the bombing, of homelessness, the importance of ‘shelter’ and the need for a caring society. He lived simply - his work was not made for commercial reason although his works were sought after and were internationally collected. He ploughed all the wealth accumulated from the sale of his works into a Trust to support artists and to educate the public in the appreciation of sculpture.
His series of ‘draped figures’ made after WW2 were of great significance. They bring to mind classical and ancient traditions of body wrapping - which enhance our awareness of coverings and movements. These resonate with the shift of cultures which continue to move through east London ... Tower Hamlets continues to be enriched by many culture: Ghandi visited Kingsley Hall in the 1930s - migrants from Asia and Africa arrived in the 1950s when the country needed to rebuild itself after the devastation of WW2.
The 1950s was a time of ‘renewal’ - the establishment of the NHS, the Festival of Britain, the development of council housing, the recognition of the importance of education - a progressive and holistic approach. At the head of this social policy for Greater London was “Ike” Hayward - the Labour Party Leader of London County Council.
Sixty Five Years later there are still serious economic and cultural decisions to be taken....
Tower Hamlets can both claim to be the’richest’ borough in the Country as well as the most impoverished. Homelessness, unemployment, low wages, child poverty stand in the shadow of the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf - the borough is squeezed between two major financial centres where city bankers continue to be subsidised and bailed out by the State. These people who wouldn’t think twice about selling their own grandmothers.... are now being asked to look after Henry Moores “Draped Seated Woman” (aka ‘Old Flo’).
Our ‘Flo’ should not be put in the midst of such a controversy. The dislocation as recommended by (some) councillors and officers would certainly not be acceptable to a sculptor such as Henry Moore - and neither to many of this borough’s residents.
More time should be given for everyone in the borough to decide what is the best and most public place for Flo to be located before any final decision is taken.
It is hightime that ‘Flo’ comes home to us... she should sit in our midst to remind us all of the hard times that our nation had and continues to have.
By the way “Flo” has six ‘sisters’ ... located in public places around the world (Tel Aviv University - Library Gardens, UK - Housing Estate: Germany - Von der Heydt-Museum, Belgium International - Grollo Equiset Garden, - USA Museum, Australia, public park)
Photo - Henry Moore's Bronze Draped Sitting Woman in Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield. Photograph by: David Mansell