Location: Cornish, New Hampshire
Webpage: National Park
General Description: As the only National Park in New Hampshire, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site maintains the home, studios, and grounds of the most famous American sculpture of the 19th century. Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin in 1848, but was raised in New York City when his parents immigrated when Augustus was six months old. He was apprenticed as a cameo-cutter as a teenager and at age 19 traveled to France to continue his studies and three years later to Rome where he met his wife, Augusta Homer. He returned to New York City where in 1876, he won the commission for a bronze David Farragut Memorial, the famous Admiral of the Civil War, which was unveiled in New York City in 1881. The architect, Stanford White designed the pedestal and collaborated with Saint-Gaudens on many other memorials. In 1892, they created Diana, a 15 foot tall weather vane for Madison Square Garden building. Other notable accomplishments include the Standing Lincoln in Chicago, the Adams Memorial which is a funerary monument to the wife of the historian Henry Adams, the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial in Boston Commons, General John A Logan in Chicago, General William Tecumseh Sherman in Central Park, a seated Abraham Lincoln: The Head of State in Chicago. Saint-Gaudens also designed many medallions, coins, and bronze cameo portraits, including the $20 double eagle gold coin which was minted from 1905-1907. However, Saint-Gaudens always saw himself as a teacher and attracted many students and apprentices to work with him on the many projects. To provide for this expansion and to escape New York City in the summers he purchased an old Federal style inn in northern New Hampshire outside of Cornish, from his friend Charles Beaman who owned the neighboring farm known as Blow-Me-Down Farm. When he bought the property in 1885, he named it “Aspet” after the town in France his father was from. Over the years, Saint-Gaudens made many changes in the house, built multiple studios, and continued to modify the grounds. The formal gardens went through many changes over the years and the grounds included a 9-tee (5 greens) golf course, a lawn bowling field, a swimming hole on the Blow-Me-Up Brook, and a swimming pool. Today the Historic Site includes his home with mostly original furnishings, the Little Studio built in 1904, New Gallery and Atrium which replaces the large studios that had burned down, the Flower Garden, the Ravine Studio with an artist in residence, wo nature trails and over 100 art pieces including recasting of some of his most famous works.
1) The Visitor Center is a small building tucked away in a corner of the property, but is the place to start being a short walk from the parking lot. Within there are a few exhibits about his life, but the main attraction is a very well done short film about Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
2) There are free tours of the house which served as his summer residence from 1885 until 1900 when it became his year round home after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. We were fortunate to be early enough for the 10:00 tour, which meant we were the only one’s on the tour. We had a great time with our volunteer tour guide who spent nearly an hour showing us the first floor of Aspet. You could certainly see all the changes he had made to modify this Federal style inn into a home. The most striking feature was the central circular staircase with a landing half-way up to create a small work area for his wife, Augusta. The wall paper in the parlor was also interesting as it was some kind of Oriental mat stapled onto the wall. Except for all the visible staples holding it to the wall, it gave a very interesting effect being used as a wall paper.
3) Once finished with the tour of Aspet, we had just enough time to view the film in the Visitor Center and join the 11:00 Ranger led tour of the grounds. Although you can visit all the art work on your own, it adds a lot to have an expert along. While we have seen some of his work during our travels, it was fascinating to see recasting of his major works all in one place. You don’t need to travel the country to see and appreciate his talents, only come to Cornish, New Hampshire.
4) The major works included the following:
Farragut Monument – a recasting of the original statue placed on the original base which was brought back from Madison Square Park because the weathering of the soft stone.
Adams Memorial – A recast of the bronze funerary sculpture done for the wife of the historian Henry Adams, great grandson of John Adams.
Shaw Memorial – The fourth generation of the Shaw Memorial in the Boston Commons, which is the first generation after 14 years of work. Saint-Gaudens continued to work on the piece following its unveiling resulting finally in this final piece on the grounds.
5) The New Gallery and Atrium are located where the main large studios used by Saint-Gaudens that burned down. Outside is a beautiful bronze figure in front of a pool, that is painted gold. Inside are examples of some of his works including the plaster piece of Robert Louis Stevenson and the many coins and medallions designed by him and his students.
6) The Little Studio was Saint-Gaudens personal studio located close to the house and includes some of his bronze relief works, a reduced Diana, and a small room that outlines the steps from sketches, to clay models, to the final plaster casts that would be used to create the molds for bronze casting.
7) The Flower Gardens and grounds are beautifully maintained and hide some of the treasures created by Saint-Gaudens.
8) The Ravine Studio is a working studio with an “artist-in-residence”. While we were there the artist was designing a commemorative medallion of Abraham Lincoln to celebrate the hundred year anniversary of the Historic Site next year. We had a wonderful chat about the process and his background.
9) The Ravine Trail is a short nature trail down into the ravine of the Blow-Me-Up Brook to the swimming hole that built. Be warned that the trail into and out of the ravine is very steep and challenging, but the walk along the brook to the swimming hole is very nice.
10) The Blow-Me-Down Trail is another nature trail into an old stand of white pine along the Blow-Me-Down Brook on the Blow-Me-Down Farm owned by his neighbor and friend. We did not take this trail as we ran out of time for the afternoon.