On arriving in Paris, after the usual inevitable agony of a dreary, maddening, and hopeless search for a studio, racing from one side of the city to the other, and back and forth, I found a place in a charming little garden-like passage in the Rue de Bagneux, of which there are so many in out-of-the-way corners of Paris, the mere existence of which makes life worth living. — from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, vol. 2, 1913.
I’ve previously posted some photos and info about Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, in Cornish, NH. It’s not only gardens (formal and not so formal), but also an historic house, art gallery with rotating exhibitions, small atrium and pool, large studio (which hosts classical music concerts on summer Sundays), small artist’s studio in the woods, sculpture throughout the gardens, a meadow, and some trails in the woods and along a brook.
It’s an enchanting place, especially on a fair summer day with chamber music wafting through the air, yet it’s said (NH Magazine, June 2013) to be the least visited national park in the U.S. However, a tally on the nps.gov website for national park recreational visitors in 2016 shows Saint Gaudens ranking 302 of 374 parks, with a little more than 42,000 visitors last year (I bet a lot are locals, repeats).
When spouse and I visited on Sunday, he was able to use his new National Parks & Recreation Lands Senior Pass for the first time! (If you’re over 62 and want to pay only $10 — lifetime cost! — for the senior pass rather than $80, you need to order it before Monday, 28 Aug.) The senior pass is good not only for parks for but historic sites (like Saint Gaudens), parkways, preserves, reserves, rivers, monuments, memorials, battlefields, recreation acres, national seashores, et al.
Back to Saint-Gaudens: It was the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), a leading American sculptor (born in Ireland, educated in Paris and Rome) of the late 1800s, the Gilded Age. His wife, Augusta (Gussie), convinced him to buy a home there, which they did in 1891 (the house and 80 acres for $2,400), naming it Asplet after his father’s birthplace in France. In 1900, by which time Cornish was a thriving artists’ colony (and future president Woodrow Wilson’s summer home was nearby), the family settled there year-round.
According to an essay on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, Saint-Gaudens is responsible for ” redirect[ing] and invigorat[ing] the course of American sculpture away from a worn-out Neoclassical aesthetic to a lively, naturalistic style, while also ardently promoting the nationalistic concept of an American school of sculpture flourishing on American shores.” He was commissioned to create twenty or so public monuments, including The Farragut Monument, a sculpture of Admiral Farragut, hero of the Battle of New Orleans; the standing Abraham Lincoln;
the over-lifesize Puritan;
the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial (now in Boston), depicting “a procession of African-American foot soldiers of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry with their commander Colonel Shaw on his horse with an angel of glory hovering above, a stunning synthesis of real and ideal;” Diana, an “ideal female nude” in gilt sheet copper, modeled after his mistress, Davida Clark; Robert Louis Stevenson; the Sherman Monument, a gilded bronze equestrian monument depicting General William Tecumseh Sherman led on his horse by a winged classicized female Victory. He was also commissioned in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt to redesign the ten- and twenty-dollar gold pieces.
You can read (for free) the entire two volume set of his reminiscences, edited by his son Homer, online.
Some shots from the formal gardens and atrium area:
The little art gallery offers a space for artists to show work for a couple of months at a time. Right now, Nancy Azara has a show called Passage of the Ghost Ship: Trees and Vines:
One of my favourite spots is the planted, semi-walled, yet rather wild garden beyond the house; right now there are plenty of perennials, bulbs, and annuals blooming — bee balm, phlox, helianthus, dahlias, daylilies, monkshood, zinnias, foxglove, gladiolus, crocosmia, Joe Pye weed — but also plenty of “weeds” — jewelweed, goldenrod, some vines, and others I’ve forgotten. The paths are overgrown, hummingbirds, clearwing moths, and bumblebees zip around, and hardy anyone seems to visit it. It’s a sweet refuge.
Then there are the trails along Blow-Me-Down Brook. There’s a shorter trail, from the little artist’s studio to the classical white memorial on the edge of the meadow, and the 2-mile loop trail starting at the far end of the meadow and returning on the other side oof it.
There are never any maps available for the long trail (there is an empty map slot by its trail sign), and the return trail is not well marked, so we always seem to “take the long way home.” Lots to see, though, including a marsh that usually has waterfowl in it, interesting fungi, a boardwalk to another marsh view (boardwalk was flooded when we were there this time), wildflowers, et al.
I also spent a good deal of time stalking butterflies in the meadow. I missed photos of the fritillary and the common buckeye, but I was happy to catch this one:
And this cutie, hopping from meadow to wood’s edge:
As always, go if you’re nearby, or make a trip of it with visits to Saint Gaudens, the Song Gardens and Tea House (also in Cornish — I’ve never been but plan to!), the very fun Path of Life Sculpture Garden in Windsor, VT, just across the river from Cornish, and cap it off with lunch and a flight of beers at Harpoon Brewery in Windsor.
Now let me turn to other pleasures, and chief among them to my coming in 1885 to Cornish, New Hampshire, or Windsor, Vermont, as it is often called, since that is the town in which we obtain our mail. For this coming made the beginning of a new side of my existence. I had been a boy of the streets and sidewalks all my life. So, hitherto, although no one could have enjoyed the fields and woods more heartily than I when I was in them for a few days, I soon tired, and longed for my four walls and work. But during this first summer in the country, I was thirty-seven at the time, it dawned upon me seriously how much there was outside of my little world. — from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, vol. 1, 1913.