Interview - Peter Murray: Sculpture park a land of winter wonder

While many bemoaned the early arrival of winter snow, one person was delighted to see the white stuff.

Peter Murray, the man in charge of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, knows the venue looks good throughout the year – but under a blanket of snow its beauty is staggering.

"Sculpture in the landscape looks great at any time of the year, but in the snow it takes on a different form and character. Henry Moore sculptures covered in snow are really quite something, it really emphasises the form and shape," says Murray.

With several million spent on development during the past decade, the Wakefield sculpture park has underground and overground galleries galore, but the unique attraction remains the great outdoors.

Murray says: "With sculpture in a gallery, you have total control in terms of lighting, staging, everything. In the open air it's a much more risky business – nature takes over, the light changes every moment, the weather changes constantly and that means the way you experience the sculpture changes. The pieces we have like the Barbara Hepworths and the Henry Moores have to have the power to stand in that landscape. Hepworth used to say that sculpture is not really alive until it returns to the landscape."

The changing landscape is a key feature of an event being held at the park this weekend, which comes in the middle of a busy period for the internationally-renowned venue. American artist James Turrell created Deer Shelter in the park in 2006. A rectangular hole cut into the ceiling of an old deer shelter allows visitors to sit inside and watch the sky. A simple sounding idea, it looks beautiful in practice. On Sunday, visitors will be able to see the Deer Shelter in all its glory for the monthly event Sunrise in the Skyspace, which sees people arriving in the park before the crack of dawn and being led inside the shelter at 6.45am to watch the winter sky change.

"As you go in the sky looks dark, but as you sit inside you realise it is a very deep blue. It is quite something to watch it change as the sun comes up," says Murray.

It's a busy weekend at the park with The Paper Cinema, a puppetry and live music show, also being performed on Saturday and Sunday. For a largely outdoor venue, it is surprising to find it so busy in the depths of winter.

Murray laughs as he describes the park as an "all-weather venue".

"It's true. Because of the buildings, people can experience the landscape from the galleries inside, but they can also get outside, which at this time of year, lots of people really seem to enjoy."

The landscape is heavy on Murray's mind, with an announcement this week of a 500,000 restoration project.Natural England will fund the development which will see YSP take over management of the whole of the 500-acre Bretton Estate. Bretton Hall, which until recently was owned by Leeds University, now falls under the auspices of the park.

Murray says: "In a period when every message is about cuts, doom and gloom, it is fantastic to have this news of further investment which will allow us to develop new parts of the grounds."

The project will see the restoration of 85-acres of woodland and two 65-acre lakes. Murray says: "It is a significant restoration project, but it will add enormously to what visitors experience here at the park."

The restoration is due for completion sometime next summer.


Yorkshire Sculpture Park was established by Peter Murray in 1977 in the Bretton Estate.

The park shared 500 acres with Bretton College, the performing arts arm of Leeds University. In 2006 the university moved out and Wakefield Council bought Bretton Hall. Handing the building and grounds back to YSP means the "gallery without walls" now spans the whole of the 500 acres of the Bretton Estate. The development will allow the park to host even more artists who want to work with the landscape. For details of Paper Cinema and Sunrise in the Skyspace, log on to