Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Give Me "Culture"

We don't have a lot of time in the summer months (much less any other time of year) to do things as a family unit. Julia was busy with summer school the entire month of July and now this current week. Last week was our only chance to maybe do something together - all three of us. No time or resources for overnight trips to faraway places. We had to fit our "vacation" into a day. Since I was planning the day, I got to choose. Me, I went for a bit of culture. The family said yes and the day was set aside. No moving sheep. No taking care of the garden. No book stuff. No blog. No nothing.

French's home Chesterwood

Off we went to the Berkshires in search of "Chesterwood." I am a sucker for old homes, especially those owned by artistic kinds of people. Lucky for us, Chesterwood is now owned by The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the home and studio are open to the public. This home was built by and owned by Daniel Chester French who was a prolific sculptor of the early 20th century. You know his work - yes, you do - even if you don't think you know a darn bit about sculpture. He sculpted Abraham Lincoln for the DC Lincoln Memorial. See - you do know. 

 (All photos from National Trust website colorized in Camera+ App for iPhone - photos are not allowed inside and it was raining so I didn't take any of my own.)

French's studio in the evening 
I really do love to visit homes of people who made art that endures. We are very fortunate that these places exist. So many of them could have been bulldozed or left to rot into the ground because of lack of funds and foresight. Daniel Chester French's family home is not that big. It is left as he left it - preserved by his only daughter Margaret who gave it to the National Trust. 

Hydrangeas blooming - perfect spot for a wedding
My favorite part of the house was the corinthian columns in the hall which were topped with corn. Oh how fabulous - combining the image of corn, grain and the farming life with a gorgeous column in the hall in this agrarian farming area. The story goes that his studio took a real life cast of shucked corn and they then casted several of them to build the column. Unfortunately you cannot take photos in this home and I cannot find anything on the internet to document these gorgeous columns. I drew this in Photoshop for all of you so you would have a visual.

Illustration by moi, corn image from here
Daniel Chester French's studio is just to die for. It is very tall, well illuminated, and full of small scale models of many of the sculptures that French is famous for. The guide answered all the questions, explaining the sculpting and casting process of his work including his partnership with the Piccirilli Brothers in New York who had immigrated from Italy. Our guide told us that half of French's fee for the Lincoln Memorial actually went to the Picccirilli Brothers company who upscaled French's model to the enormous size as it sits in Washington DC. It took 28 blocks of Georgia White marble, weighing 150 tons, to create the famous 19-foot statue. The Piccirilli Bros also carved the Lions in front of the NY Public Library. Sadly, this type of art and talent has pretty much disappeared from the world now.

The most memorable feature of the studio is the railroad tracks that are hidden in the floor inside the studio. When needed, the side of the building opened up and the current sculpture in work could be rolled outside to be observed in real light from varying distances. Wow! is about all I can say. 

Inside of the studio - look at those windows!
After the visit to Daniel's house, we headed off to Lenox and eat ice cream and visit "The Taste of Lenox" at Coloful Stitches which is in my opinion, one of the most gorgeous yarn stores in the world.


I interviewed Bonnie Burton, the creator of this great display here on this post. I guess it was a day of sculpture... this part, Bonnie's knitting sculpture. If you get a chance - go visit Colorful Stitches just to take a look at her intriguing knitted food art display. Awesome! And all the yarn too - a visual and sensual feast for all.

My favorite part of the display is the hot dog with mustard and relish and potato chips. 

Hope you and your family are all enjoying the last days as summer before school starts up again and life resumes its normal hectic pace. And don't forget to eat some corn!


Gracey is not my name.... said...

Thanks for the info on Colorful Stitches...I need to go visit there..This weekend I'm heading to Concord to visit Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott's home....plan on hooking up with a Rav friend and visiting an LYS or two...

Cherie M said...

Thanks for the great idea! I am arriving a day early for Sept workshop specifically to see a bit of your area. I plan to stay in Amherst on Thurs but will dtive to Lenox and Shelburne before settling in Greenfield on Friday. How fun!

Kieren Dutcher said...

I love looking art old houses,too and places where people make art of some kind are fascinating. Thanks for sharing - looks like a beautiful place, will put it on my list of things to do when we come visit my son at RISD, which I'm hoping we get to do - at least once!
We haven't had any vacation together at all this year, either. Some years it's just like that! My husband finishes a big remodel project right when I go back to teaching art. O well.

Kit Mitchell said...

Lovely post on French's home and studio, one of my favorite historic homes. I could move right in there.
I hope that your vacation day was perfect.

Anonymous said...

We were just there, too ... and on a rainy day also! But our studio guide said NOTHING, not one word, to anyone except to tell a man that he could not take pictures inside. We missed all that good information! Darn!

Anonymous said...

And do you know who gave DCF his start in sculpting? Louisa May Aclott's little sister, May Alcott Nieriker (known as Amy in Little Women).

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