You Gotta Touch!

We’ve just returned from viewing two of Henry Moore’s massive sculptures at an outpost of the Denver Botanical Gardens. Moore’s work demands to be touched although of course one cannot do that. Signs prohibit it and we all know better.


Seeing his work has the same sort of frustration one experiences at a quilt show, where all those incredible works of fiber art just cry out to be touched and caressed. But of course we know better and we don’t. The white glove ladies are there to make sure we behave.


I understand this prohibition totally. But. Geez. I mean, quilting to me is such a tactile experience. I wonder just how much the quilts would truly be compromised by our gentle stroking…one stroke per viewer. And so ditto the Moores.


To me, his work cries out to be touched. I wonder how he envisioned it. Did he imagine children, and some of us adults, nestled in the laps of his reclining figures? Climbing up and sliding down the curves of his massive abstractions? It feels like he did.


Denver’s Botanical Gardens have pulled off a real coup in getting these and the 18 other sculptures for an exhibit. It was thrilling to anticipate. And soon we’ll go to the main Gardens where the other 18 are waiting for our adulation.


I wonder how the decision was made to split off the two from the other 18 and move them to the less known venue. I mean did someone forget to unpack them from the moving van and so, after all the others had been moved into place, someone said “Oops, we forgot these two,” and someone else said, “Oh never mind, put them in my pickup and I’ll take them down to Chatfield. We have some space there”?


It seems so arbitrary to have just two at a different venue. And bizarrely enough, there are no signs telling you where to go to find these two once you get to Chatfield.  It’s sort of as if the people at Chatfield didn’t want you to find them.


So I’ll tell you: one, a stunning reclining mother and child, is over near the administration building. And the other, more abstract and far more massive, is hidden behind some trees to the right off a dirt path once you cross the first wooden bridge after the schoolhouse. This seems almost like a code to me. A secret. Hard to hide a several ton sculpture but the Chatfield people have pretty much succeeded.

For whatever reason.


The college I attended (Mount Holyoke College) had a very small Moore fox in its art gallery. When I went there, the late 1960s, the art was excellent but the gallery was a tad ad hoc. In other words, it was in a series of big old rooms, well lit but unguarded. You could touch the sculptures. Which I thought was part of the point, at least for art students. Which I was not. (Art history yes, however.)


The Moore fox was so real and so alive, it was irresistible. I petted it every time I went in, and I went in a lot specifically just to pet it. It reminded me a lot of my cats at home.


Years later, the college built a genuine art museum with rules and guards. A spectacular building. No touching the art work!  I noticed however that the Moore fox, now safe from us students,  had been so lovingly stroked over the years by generations of us that its head had a smooth worn spot on it.


This didn’t diminish its value to me; it enhanced it. I knew why it had been stroked by class after class of young women lonely for their pets and grateful for contact.


I wonder how much longer our quilts will last if we keep refusing to allow people to experience them fully. To touch them. Will this really pay off in longevity? Or would it honestly be better to shave a few years off their life span and just let people revel in their tactile nature?


And the Moore pieces, which invoke in me the desire to embrace them, to lean against them, to be in contact with them , are they better served by our keeping our distance?