Sculptural kinsmen on the Parkway

The new sculpture on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Peter Dobrin)

The arrival of a new piece of art in the city, the joining of an artistic citizen and its setting, deserves a certain kind of ongoing reception. And sure enough, more than a few passersby could be seen obliging - stopping, inspecting, or at least turning their heads, Wednesday morning as Dame Barbara Hepworth's Rock Form (Porthcurno) settled in at 17th and the Parkway.

The piece - perhaps the only local example of the artist's work on public view - was sited thoughtfully. From one side, the bronze appears slender as a flame. Looking west, you can spy the cross atop the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul through one if its Swiss-cheese holes. It juts out on a piece of Fairmount Park-owned land, a star thrust out onto the front of a stage. Something about it is very 1960s. It is perhaps a more detailed and elegant version of Single Form, made in memory of Dag Hammarskjöld at the United Nations building in New York.

If the neighborhood is new, one neighbor is familiar. Just to the east sits Henry Moore's Three Way Piece Number 1. Both works are bronze, both made in 1964, both of a similar aesthetic.

“The fact that these pieces speak to each other, that they are different ways of looking at the same idea, is fantastic," said Penny Balkin Bach, executive director of the Association for Public Art, which oversaw the installation of the Hepworth, and now owns it.

Rock Form had been in storage until recently. Its former owner, late clothing manufacturer David Pincus, had placed it outside his warehouse at 5th and Race, and crated it up after the building was sold. Older by then, he started to get his affairs in order.

“He was thinking about the future - not so much his legacy, because he was a very private person, but about how to really make the public environment better through works of art,” said Bach. “He had an amazing eye.”

The Parkway site was proposed to him. A cardboard copy of the sculpture was erected. And Pinchas donated the work and gave the location his blessing, Bach said. His goal in giving it such prominence, she said, was to encourage others to give works of public art.

Rock Form (Porthcurno) refers, physically and in name, to the rock formations in a village near the artist’s studio in Cornwall. Its kinship with the Moore (which has been in the Parkway since 1990) is more than aesthetic. Moore (1898-1986) and Hepworth (1903-1975) were friends. They went to school together at Leeds College of Art and Royal College of Art in London. "They were friends throughout life, they used to vacation together, and there are these photos of the two of them together that are very cool,” said Bach.

Now their works are left to carry on, conversing with each other in one of those quiet city dialogues perceptible to anyone who takes the trouble to listen.