Sophie Bowness: Barbara Hepworth and St Ives

Barbara Hepworth lived for exactly half of her life in St Ives. When she arrived just before the outbreak of war in 1939, it was as a rather unwilling visitor. However she found it impossible to leave, and when she acquired Trewyn Studio ten years later, Hepworth had an ideal environment in which to work. As she wrote to a friend the day after she bought Trewyn at a public auction: "it will be a joy to carve in such a perfect place, both serene & secluded – the courtyard & garden protected by tall trees & roof tops so that I can work out of doors most of the year."

The "barbaric and magical countryside" of West Penwith, as she described it, the remarkable sculptural coastline and prehistoric standing stones, stone circles and quoits, had a very deep effect on Hepworth. Cornwall brought her Yorkshire roots to the fore (she never lost her identity as a Yorkshirewoman), and she found many continuities between the Yorkshire landscape of her childhood and the landscape of Penwith.

Living and working in St Ives, Hepworth valued greatly the sense of community, both of fellow artists, writers and musicians, and of the town as a whole. In June 1953, the St Ives Festival, co-founded by Hepworth with her friends the composers Michael Tippett and Priaulx Rainier, took place. A courageous project, the 1953 Festival had an imaginative programme that embraced music, drama and the visual arts. It celebrated the two Elizabethan ages on the accession of Elizabeth II, placing contemporary music alongside the work of Tallis, Byrd, Dowland and others, and brought distinguished musicians such as Peter Pears and Alfred Deller to the town.

In the following year Hepworth helped to form the St Ives Trust, and she took a very active role in, for example, the campaigns against mining at Carnelloe, near Zennor, and against the extension of the Island car park in the 1960s. She marked her love of the town with gifts of sculptures such as the Madonna and Child, carved for the Parish Church in memory of her son Paul, Ascending Form (Gloria) outside Longstone Cemetery, Dual Form at the Guildhall, and Magic Stone in the Penwith Gallery: Hepworth had been a founder-member of the Penwith Society and was a leading figure and strong supporter of it until her death.

In 1968 Hepworth was granted the Freedom of the Borough of St Ives in recognition of her international contribution as a sculptor, an honour of which she was very proud; in her acceptance speech at the Guildhall ceremony, she spoke of her deep love of St Ives, "my spiritual home".

The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is open to the public throughout the year. It is run by Tate.