Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) grew up in New York with an immigrant mother and father who told him at age thirteen that it was time to get a job. He apprenticed as a cameo cutter for six years, training his eye by working on these very small sculptures. He took a job cutting cameos in Paris, where he was one of the first Americans to study sculpture at the École des Beaux Arts. His first commissioned sculpture, one of six statues he would make commemorating the Civil War, was of Admiral Farragut.
This remains in New York, but Peter and I saw a copy at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornwall, New Hampshire last week. I loved viewing the workplaces and seeing studies as well as finished work, and his ethos: “A sculptor’s work endures so long that it is next to a crime for him to neglect to do everything that lies in his power to execute a result that will not be a disgrace.” He wrote this while people were clamoring to see the Shaw Memorial, which took fourteen years between the first pencil and plaster sketches to its unveiling on the Boston Common in 1897.
This frieze honors Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th regiment, the first African American volunteer troop from the north, and one that helped inspire about 175,000 African Americans to serve in the military during the Civil War. This regiment is the subject of the great film, Glory, which shows this statue during the end credits. The original sculpture stands across from the State House in Boston, where 1,000 soldiers marched before sailing south. I love seeing that sculpture between two elm trees, but also liked being in Cornwall, where we could get up close or stand back to a point where in Boston we might get run down by the Duck Tour busses. Hearing birds instead of traffic. Here’s a close-up of the drummer boys ahead of some older men.
Another of my favorite Saint-Gaudens works is this copy of the statue Henry Adams commissioned to mark the Washington, D.C. gravesite of his wife, Clover, who’d battled with depression before taking her own life. He would later be buried alongside her, with neither of their names on the marker.
The site is beautiful. Here’s the back of the house, with gardens fragrant with lilies and phlox.
Peter posed for me in this line of birch trees.
I’ll end with a view of Mount Ascutney from the studio.