In 1948 Harlow was designated as the site for one of the New Towns which were intended to relieve the pressure of the expanding population of Britain’s larger cities which had been exacerbated by wartime damage. Most of the early residents of Harlow came from the East End of London, and the town still retains close cultural links with London.
The chief architect & planner of Harlow New Town was Frederick Gibberd, one of the leading architects of the day, who also designed London’s Heathrow Airport and Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral. Art had always been central to Gibberd’s plans for the town, but with other pressures sculpture was not a high priority in the early years. The coronation of the young Queen Elizabeth gave cause for the town’s Development Corporation to commission a piece of sculpture; this became Chiron, carved on site in The Stow by Mary Spencer Watson. At around the same time, Harlow acquired Barbara Hepworth’s Contrapuntal Forms which was commissioned for the Festival of Britain and raffled off to the New Towns at the close of the exhibition! It was in 1953 that Harlow Art Trust was formed as the result of a donation from the Elmgrant Trust to launch a scheme for providing Art for the Town. An early trustee was Patricia Fox Edwards (later Lady Gibberd), who was tireless in seeking out new pieces for the collection. Over the years that collection has grown to almost 100 works, almost all located in the streets, shopping centres, parks and housing areas of Harlow, giving the Town the highest percentage of public sculpture per head of population in the country.
The collection includes major pieces by major artists, including August Rodin, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Elizabeth Frink, Lynn Chadwick and many others, and is still growing, with new works recently commissioned by artists such as Will Spankie and Ekkehard Altenberger.
At the end of 2010, Harlow became the world’s first ‘Sculpture Town’. This not only celebrates the sculptures owned by Harlow Art Trust but other sculpture collections in Harlow, including those of the Council, the Gibberd Garden and Parndon Mill. In 2011 the Trust received a special commendation from the judges of the Marsh Award for its work in promoting sculpture in Harlow - click here for more details.