The opening of Winslow Homer’s studio at Prout’s Neck in Maine and the companion Portland Museum of Art exhibition of some of his most dramatic later works, full of crashing surf and fog-shrouded coast brings to mind another artist’s studio whose silence inspired the work that became civic shrines.
Aspet, the summer home of sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens (1848-1907) in Cornish, New Hampshire is the state’s only National Park. Perhaps, appropriate for the state where seemingly every square foot is an historic site.
Saint Gaudens lived and worked at Aspet, in the shadow of Mount Kearsarge and sheltered by Robert Frost-like scenery. A summer visit to his studio, set away from the house near a stand of birches, will present an inspection review of hollyhocks. In the autumn, the birches are golden, the formal garden is edged in asters and the foliage makes a dramatic backdrop for some of America’s most familiar sculptures.
The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and its bas-relief of the individual faces of Shaw’s African-American 54th Regiment troops is a stark reminder that this is the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Remembered in the film “Glory,” 74 of the men and three officers including col. Shaw were killed in the Union assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina in May 1863. Of the 1,007 men who left Boston to fight, only 567 survived to return. Like the Shaw Memorial, Saint-Gaudens’ Sherman, in Central Park, is another that was created in this studio, far from the silent battlefields. That Victory, like the golden angel wings outspread above the reflecting pool, is a martial guardian. His Puritan, the veiled figure created for Mrs. Henry Adams’ tomb and even his young Standing Lincoln reflect a tragic, transient realism, born of New Hampshire granite. Perhaps that is why Theodore Roosevelt chose Saint Gaudens to sculpt the imagery for the 1907 $20 gold piece, with a striding Liberty and fierce eagle.
Still Saint Gaudens was surrounded by artistic friends in Cornish. The Cornish Art Colony included Maxfield Parrish and his father, Stephen and Emma Lazarus. Between Saint Guadens arrival in 1885 and 1905 more than 40 illustrious families – painters, sculptors, playwrights, poets, attorneys and diplomats – would make Cornish, New Hampshire their summer homes.
The Saint Gaudens National Historic Site is open daily through October 31st. In addition to 100 works of sculpture, including full and partial-size versions of Saint-Gaudens most famous works, the 150 acre grounds include two hiking trails and the house (free daily house tours, available on a first-come, first-served basis but limited to 12 guests at a time.) Exhibit buildings, including the studio, the sculpture gallery and the house, are open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the grounds until dusk. From November through late May, the exhibit buildings are closed, but the park Visitor Center is often open most days Monday – Friday, from 9:00 – 4:15. Park information, brochures and the passport stamp are available there.
Admission is $5 per person for visitors age 16 and over. The receipt is valid for seven days and may be used for re-entry to the park. The America the Beautiful Annual Passes are honored for entrance to the site. An annual park pass, specifically for Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, is available for $25. Aspet, like all national parks, national wildlife refuges, and many areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management is open free on November 11 (Veterans Day)