Speakeasy with Mary Pat Matheson 

The Atlanta Botanical Garden offers such a relaxing environment, even  the monumental sculptures of Moore in America look more laid-back. Through Oct. 31, the Atlanta Botanical Garden displays 20 pieces from the famed English sculptor Henry Moore, including his massive trademark Earth Mother figures, as well as ones resembling playground equipment or dinosaur bones. ABG Executive Director Mary Pat Matheson discusses Moore's importance and the challenges of squeezing the exhibit into “the horticulturally intense urban garden.”

Do you have criteria you use to choose the garden's big sculpture exhibits like this one or 2004’s Chihuly in the Garden?
There are definitely things we look for. Criteria seems too serious a word for what we do. We’re looking for opportunities in the sculptural world, ones that would be complementary to the garden. After the Dale Chihuly exhibit, I said to the head of our board, what’s our next fantasy? And it was Henry Moore — it just took several years to realize. Henry Moore was so influenced by the natural world. He would hike through the sheep pastures near his home and collect bones. The sinuous nature of his work complements those hills and valleys.

What’s the importance of Henry Moore as a sculptor?
He’s really one of the most significant sculptors in the 20th century. Every major city has a Moore — we have one in Atlanta at Coca-Cola’s headquarters. His work has elegance and simplicity, and related to people so beautifully. The Chihuly was our most stunning and magical exhibit — people couldn’t stop talking about it. But the Moore is the most prestigious. He influenced sculpture for 75 years and will continue into the future.

Was it difficult to set up the Moore exhibit while the ABG was being remodeled?
Oh, incredibly. Incredibly. It’s a challenge just getting the work into the garden. The garden’s tight — it doesn’t have big roads. And we had to do the whole thing while being open to visitors, who could see it being installed. A museum can just close an exhibit hall during installation. People loved it, though, especially little boys, who love seeing the big equipment.

How hard was it to transport the sculptures, given their immense size?
It’s a complex exhibit to move, first because you have to bring it into the United States and deal with customs. New York had the exhibit last year, so they dealt with customs first, but we’ll be shipping it from Charleston when it’s over. There were seven semi trucks that drove them all the way from New York. Two of the statues were so big, they were just on the back of the trucks, uncovered, and whenever they came to a bridge, the drivers had to know the dimensions exactly. UPS shipped them as an in-kind donation — they were phenomenal. And even though they’re bronze, they’re fragile, because you can scrape the patina. That’s why people can’t sit or climb on them, because they could accidentally scrape them with their keys.

Before you moved to Atlanta in 2002, you were executive director of the Red Butte Garden and Arboretum in Salt Lake City. How do the two areas compare as garden climates? Does Atlanta have any drawbacks?
The red clay is a problem, so you have to amend your soil, but otherwise it’s great, especially now that it’s raining again. Winters are harsher in Utah. There’s a lot of snow on the ground, and it’s a much more arid climate, so there are no camellias, no crepe myrtles. There’s so much diversity here, but I miss the Rocky Mountains. If we could just transfer those here, it would be perfect.


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