Cornish, New Hampshire | Home of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
Yankee Plus Dec 2015
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The little town of Cornish, New Hampshire, is a quiet place—no bustling shopping malls, no varied dining options. Yet folks here have themselves a pleasant setting along the Connecticut River, and some impressive covered bridges. Here’s the largest …
(As an aside, if you wonder who repairs such structures, read about the Graton family in Ian Aldrich’s story, “The Man Who Saves Covered Bridges” from Yankee’s Sept/Oct 2013 issue.)
And, the town hosts an old-fashioned fair each August …
But, Cornish is also the home of one of the most appealing National Historic Sites, Saint-Gaudens. Visit the estate and its gardens once, and you’re sure to be charmed by its serene setting, the former home of one of the country’s most celebrated sculptors.
Ever heard of Augustus Saint-Gaudens? Gus (I feel I can call him that, now that I’ve been to his house) was born in Ireland in 1848, but his family emigrated during the potato famine years, in search of a better life in New York. An artistically inclined teen, Gus apprenticed with a cameo cutter—the folks who made those delicate silhouettes for jewelry. He was only 19 when he headed to Paris and Rome seeking more refined training in the trade. As befitting such a romantic destination, he soon fell in love—with an American, ironically named Augusta (that’s right, Gus and Gussie)—but he needed his first big break in the sculpting world before he would be deemed capable of supporting a wife. Fortunately, that came swiftly, with his assignment to sculpt Admiral David Farragut—a work installed in New York’s Madison Square Park in 1881.
Gus didn’t go for stiffly posed sculptures; his forms were alive and dynamic. Among his most famous works are Boston’s Shaw Memorial, which took 14 years to complete; the Sherman Monument, a fixture in New York’s Central Park; and the Standing Lincoln, a tribute to the 16th president, installed in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.
When visiting the property, you can take a guided tour through the home itself, Aspet, named after the region in France where Gus’s dad was born, and also around the grounds. But it’s easy enough to just take the property map in hand and make your own way around the many sites at the estate. It’s clear why this place would grow from a summer home into the Saint-Gaudenses’ year-round residence. Who could resist the lure of such a beautiful, tranquil place?
Part of the charm of Saint-Gaudens is discovering the many sculptures mixed into the landscape. Find a little opening in the hedges, like so …
… and there’s sure to be something worth seeing in the enclosure …
There are also a number of imposing sculptures on display within the Little Studio and the New Gallery—reduced in size though these works may be from the originals.
The Little Studio was erected in 1904. Its impressive Doric columns and pergola are currently covered in thriving grapevines. Stake out a bench under the arbor and you’ve got a lovely lunch spot with views to Mount Ascutney …
It’s interesting that Gus returned to miniature works near the end of his career. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt requested that he design three coins for the U.S. mint; he was the first sculptor to receive a commission to design American coins. Two of the three coins were issued in gold after the sculptor’s death in 1907 and minted until 1933.
Over time, other widely known artists would follow Gus to the Cornish area. Painters Maxfield Parrish and Thomas Dewing, the American novelist Winston Churchill, and several other writers, sculptors, and dramatists of the day formed what came to be known as the Cornish Colony.
With the passing of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Cornish Colony dwindled. Eventually, this Temple was placed on the grounds of the Saint-Gaudens site, and serves as the final resting place for Augustus and several members of his family …
The grounds also offer a few wooded walking trails in addition to the various buildings and artworks.
You needn’t be an art aficionado to appreciate the Saint-Gaudens site, or the many vignettes discovered around the grounds. If you marvel at the kind of obsession required of work that’s so exacting and tedious in process, and if you enjoy an interesting life story, so much the better. But this place really requires only an appreciation for natural beauty. If you have that, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site will speak to you, too.
How about one last parting garden shot?
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.