Summer is in full swing here in New Hampshire. Cars head north to the beaches and mountains on Fridays and Saturdays. On Sundays and Mondays, there’s heavy traffic in the southbound lanes. For those of you who live in TRULY heavy traffic areas year-round, this picture shows about how bad it gets here on the interstate during vacation time.
New Hampshire has one National Park and it’s dedicated to a sculptor. While I was somewhat familiar with the National Parks System, I hadn’t really known that the parks are so varied in focus. In fact there are 20 categories of national parks, including a group named “Assorted Others”. Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park was authorized by Congress in 1964 and established in 1977. It honors the life and work of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens is one of our greatest American sculptors. He was most active in the late 19th century. Augustus began his career as an apprentice to a cameo maker. His talent and reputation grew and he began attracting commissions for larger works. Gradually he become the foremost sculptor of his time. His pieces tell powerful stories by combining realism with allegory. While well-known for his public monuments such as “Standing Lincoln” and the “Shaw Memorial”, Augustus also designed several of our American coins.
Although a New Yorker, Augustus and his family wanted to escape the heat of New York City during the summers. A friend invited the family to Cornish in 1885 and even provided a house. Augustus and his wife had many artistic friends and gradually more and more of those friends came to visit during the summer. The group gradually became known as the Cornish Art Colony.
Walking through the park, the visitor sees replicas of many of the large public monuments designed by Saint-Gaudens. One of the most impressive is the Shaw Memorial. The original stands on a corner of the Boston Commons and is a frequent stop on guided tours. Colonel Robert Shaw, a Massachusetts solder, was commander of the first volunteer regiment of black soldiers during the Civil War. He was killed leading his men while storming a Confederate held fort. The story of Colonel Shaw’s unit inspired thousands of African-American men to fight for the Union forces and their contributions were instrumental to Union victory. Saint-Gaudens captured so much of the feelings of the time in the faces of the men on this monument.
My favorite sculpture in Saint-Gaudens’ park was entitled by Saint-Gaudens “The Mystery of the Hereafter – beyond pain and beyond joy”. It was commissioned by historian Henry Adams for the grave of his wife. Adams did not want the figure to represent her but wanted it to be general, so Saint-Gaudens used both male and female models.
Before preparing this edition of NH Notes, I thought of the National Park system in terms of the 61 National Parks like Arcadia in Maine or Zion in Utah; they are places of great natural beauty. But there are also 76 National Historic Sites like Carl Sandburg’s Home in North Carolina, the Tuskegee Airmen in Alabama, and the Eugene O’Neill Historic Site in my former home of Danville, California. In looking at the lists of National Historic Sites and Parks, I’ve spotted several of great interest. A number of them are here in New England, so don’t be surprised if a future letter features yet another of our National Park treasures.