This video is the sixth in a series of cultural landscape videos produced by the National Park Service (NPS) Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation (OCLP). The video is made possible through the efforts of Vanessa Hartsuiker, a digital media production intern with OCLP, in partnership with the American Conservation Experience.
To view more videos in the series click here.
Rick Kendall: Saint-Gaudens was probably best known as being that preeminent sculptor of the Gilded Age. He has works that are all around the United States and even across the pond into Europe and elsewhere.
Thayer Tolles: What Saint-gaudens did which really turn monument making on its end, was conceive of the monument as part of an environment. It wasn’t just simply a bronze sculpture standing on a plinth. It was a sculpture that responded to the trees, the buildings, the paths, the park, other man-made and natural structures in its environment.
Henry Duffy: Aspet is the name of the house and from it the name of the property which is now memorialized in the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.
Rick Kendall: With the beautiful gardens, and the tall hedges, and columns from the buildings and so forth, a visit to the Aspet landscape really can be a journey of discovery through all of the various landscape features. You come around a corner and boom, there’s a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln or the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. You come through a door in a hedge room and wow, there’s Mt. Ascutney framed on the on the horizon in the distance.
Charles A. Platt: But it is a wonderful combination of the mountain, of the valley, and the hillside. Which interestingly is in places deeply sculpted by the retreat of the glacier, the glacial lake.
Rick Kendall: The Aspet landscape has to be one of the most studied landscapes in the entire state of New Hampshire. Working with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, the park and Olmsted Center have essentially completed four volumes of cultural landscape reports that include site history and existing conditions, landscape analysis, a special volume focused just on hedge management, and then treatment recommendations for how do we maintain this landscape on into the future.
Saint-Gaudens made tons of improvements to the landscape, almost too numerous to mention. In fact, his son, Homer Saint-Gaudens, actually was quoted as saying that in his father’s 22 years of living and working at the landscape hardly a week went by without him, you know, regrading the landscape to his intense enjoyment. Saint-Gaudens, really thrived on changing the landscape.
Bill Noble: We’re talking about the landscape at Aspet and we’re focusing on the gardens and the landscape architecture of it. Sometimes lost in the story are all the sports and cultural uses of that property. We look now at a broad field facing Mt. Ascutney, well that was a golf course. There were toboggan runs set up on the lawns. It was not just his family’s home but there were sculptors working in the studios. There was lots of young energy.
Thayer Tolles: Saint-Gaudens was a magnetic person and so it’s not surprising that once he started going to Cornish during the summers that people followed in his wake. In other words, a very talented group of artists, musicians, writers, actors, architects, landscape designers, gathered in Cornish.
Rick Kendall: Organically an art colony formed with Saint-Gaudens and his property sort of at the center.
Bill Noble: Mrs. Saint-Gaudens opened the studios to the public, summers shortly after her husband’s death and then in 1919 the Saint-Gaudens Memorial was established. The Saint-Gaudens Memorial’s purpose was to preserve the Saint-Gaudens legacy and that included bringing the public to the site to see his sculpture and to see where the artist found his inspiration and worked and then eventually to broaden its mission as a living memorial and to include the work of other Cornish artists and other practicing contemporary artists.
Henry Duff: Augusta Saint-Gaudens worked out what was going to happen to the contents of the house and then she turned her attention to the landscape. She went to Ellen Shipman who was a member of the art colony. Ellen eventually produced plans for a much simplified landscape because there were many, many flowerbeds and Ellen agreed with Augusta that no public institution would take care of all that so they removed them all and made a much more simple garden, which we can see today.
I’ve been at Saint-Gaudens for twenty years and I’ve been here so long because it is a place that has gotten into my psyche. It’s a place full of stories. It’s full of wonderful tales of art, and literature, and music, and politics, and all sorts of cultural and landscape features that really make me expand my own mind in my own appreciation of the 19th century and the early 20th century that you can see here, not only to Saint-Gaudens, but to the legacy of the Memorial and the National Park Service that’s brought it forward into the current time.
Thayer Tolles is the President of The Saint-Gaudens Memorial.
Henry Duffy is the curator at the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.
Rick Kendall is the Superintendent at Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park
Charles A. Platt is the former Board President of The Saint-Gaudens Memorial
Bill Noble is a former Gardener/Trustee with The Saint-Gaudens Memorial