A Visit to Aspet

One of the most famous of the Saint-Gaudens’ sculp­tures is of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a white com­man­der, lead­ing the all-black 54th Mass­a­chu­setts regiment.

By Paul Chouinard, Pres­i­dent of the Danville His­tor­i­cal Society
On Sun­day, July 12th, Bernadette and I, along with friends, ven­tured south along the Con­necti­cut River to Wind­sor, VT where we crossed the Con­necti­cut over VT’s longest cov­ered bridge. Our des­ti­na­tion was the Saint-Gaudens estate, Aspet. This National His­toric Site is located in Cor­nish, N.H. on Route 12A. Our plan was to enjoy a pic­nic on the lawn of the estate, located on a hill, high above the Con­necti­cut River, over­look­ing Mount Ascut­ney in the dis­tance. We enjoyed our pic­nic while lis­ten­ing to a cham­ber con­cert by Rogers & Mil­li­can per­form­ing the music of Johann Nepo­muk Hum­mel. The mag­nif­i­cent peren­nial gar­dens and the sounds of nature pro­vided a per­fect atmosphere.

Augus­tus Saint-Gaudens, some­times known as the Amer­i­can Michelan­gelo, was among the fore­most sculp­tors of the late nine­teenth and early twen­ti­eth cen­tury. He arrived in Cor­nish in 1885. He rented an old inn for the sum­mer and over time he adapted the house to his needs and con­verted the barn into a stu­dio. He ulti­mately pur­chased the prop­erty and con­tin­ued to sum­mer there until 1892, when it became his year-round home. Over the years he trans­formed the prop­erty into a cen­ter for artists and intel­lec­tu­als of the period, who formed what has become known as the “Cor­nish Colony.” The Colony included: painters Max­field Par­rish, Thomas Dew­ing, George de For­est Bush, Lucia Fuller, and Kenyon Cox; drama­tist Percy Mac-Kaye; Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Win­ston Churchill; archi­tect Charles Platt; and sculp­tors Paul Man­ship, Her­bert Adams, and Louis Saint– Gau­dens, brother of Augus­tus. They cre­ated a dynamic social envi­ron­ment, cen­tered around Saint-Gaudens.

August Saint-Gaudens was born March 1, 1848 in Dublin, Ire­land, to a French shoe­maker and his Irish wife. Six months fol­low­ing his birth, the fam­ily immi­grated to New York City, where Augus­tus grew up. After com­plet­ing school at age 13, he pur­sued his inter­est in art as a career and was appren­ticed to a cameo cut­ter. While work­ing days as at his cameo lathe, Augus­tus attended art classes at New York’s Cooper Union and the National Acad­emy of Design. At 19, he com­pleted his appren­tice­ship and trav­eled to Paris, in pur­suit of becom­ing a sculp­tor, where he stud­ied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1870 he left Paris for Rome where he stud­ied clas­si­cal art and archi­tec­ture for the next five years. While in Rome, he met an Amer­i­can art stu­dent, Augusta Homer, whom he later married.

Fol­low­ing the Civil War, many artists received com­mis­sions to memo­ri­al­ize impor­tant events of the war and its heroes. Among Saint-Gaudens’ diverse works, his great­est legacy may be his pub­lic mon­u­ments, five of which are ded­i­cated to heroes of the Civil War.

In 1876 Saint-Gaudens received his first major com­mis­sion: a mon­u­ment to Civil War Adm. David Glas­gow Far­ragut. Far­ragut had gained fame for his com­mand of the Fed­eral Fleet in the bat­tle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864, in which he defeated the Con­fed­er­ate fleet Com­manded by Adm. Franklin Buchanan. Unveiled in New York City in 1881, the Far­ragut mon­u­ment was a tremen­dous suc­cess; its com­bi­na­tion of real­ism and alle­gory marked a depar­ture from pre­vi­ous Amer­i­can sculp­ture. Saint-Gaudens’ fame grew and other com­mis­sions were quickly forth­com­ing. Saint-Gaudens’ increased promi­nence allowed him to pur­sue his strong inter­est in teach­ing some­thing he did steadily from 1888 to 1897. He tutored young artists pri­vately, taught at the Art Stu­dents League in New York City and took on a large num­ber of assistants.

Saint-Gaudens’ other Civil War Com­mis­sions include his eques­trian mon­u­ment to Gen­eral William Tecum­seh Sher­man in New York’s Cen­tral Park. Sher­man com­manded Fed­eral forces in a famed march from Atlanta to Savan­nah in 1864 in which he prac­ticed a scorched earth pol­icy. This mon­u­ment includes real­ism and ide­al­ism with winged Vic­tory lead­ing a res­olute Sher­man on his march to the sea.

Saint-Gaudens’ “Stand­ing Lin­coln” in Lin­coln Park in Chicago is one of the finest rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the Civil War Pres­i­dent. Fol­low­ing Saint-Gaudens’ death, one of his stu­dents, Daniel Chester French, who stud­ied under him at the Arts Stu­dents League, would ulti­mately be com­mis­sioned to cre­ate the sculp­ture of Lin­coln for the Lin­coln Memo­r­ial in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Per­haps Saint-Gaudens’ great­est achieve­ment of his Civil War com­mis­sions was the Shaw Memo­r­ial described as a “sym­phony in bronze,” which took 14 years to com­plete. This mon­u­ment, located on Boston Com­mon, depicts Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a white com­man­der, lead­ing the 54th Mass­a­chu­setts reg­i­ment, made up of black sol­diers, in their attack on Fort Wag­ner, Charleston Har­bor, South Car­olina on July 18, 1863. Colonel Shaw and many of his reg­i­ment were killed in the assault. The affect por­trayed in the faces of the sol­diers depicts their ded­i­ca­tion and deter­mi­na­tion to make the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice to erad­i­cate the oppres­sion suf­fered by gen­er­a­tions of slaves who had toiled in the South.

Saint-Gaudens is also well known for his medals and coins. He did com­mem­o­ra­tive medals for the Cen­ten­nial of George Washington’s inau­gu­ra­tion in 1889, the World’s Columbian Expo­si­tion in Chicago in 1893 and the Theodore Roo­sevelt Inau­gural medal in 1905. Saint-Gaudens designed three coins for the U.S. Mint: the one cent Indian Head penny and the 10 and 20 dol­lar gold pieces.

Among Saint-Gaudens’ achieve­ments are his por­trait reliefs. Con­sid­ered the most com­pli­cated and dif­fi­cult type of sculp­ture bas-relief (low relief) has been com­pared to “draw­ing in clay.”

A visit to Saint-Gaudens’ Aspet offers many rewards. There are the mag­nif­i­cent peren­nial and sculp­ture gar­dens to enjoy while lis­ten­ing to beau­ti­ful music on Sun­days, at 2:00 PM, through­out July and August. In addi­tion one may tour his home and stu­dio as well as the New Gallery & Atrium. The entrance fee is $5 per per­son, chil­dren age 15 and under are free. There is no charge for the con­certs. For fur­ther infor­ma­tion: Saint-Gaudens Memo­r­ial www.sgnhs.org.

To see more pho­tos related to this arti­cle, click here.


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5 Responses to A Visit to Aspet

  1. Mark R. Moore says:

    A great arti­cle. A note that the Indian Head Penny was designed by James Bar­ton Lon­gacre. We still honor Saint-Gaudens as his “dou­ble eagle” obverse that was engraved on the twenty-dollar gold piece (the 1933 ver­sion holds the record for a U.S. coin sale) is the same which appears on our mod­ern day quar­ter ounce, half-ounce and one ounce gold bul­lion coin. The first orig­i­nals car­ried his clas­sic sym­bol­ism to a degree unknown before or since in Amer­i­can coinage as the twenty dol­lar coins car­ried the date in roman numer­als. It was truly like car­ry­ing an art piece in your pocket

    • Paul Chouinard says:


      Thanks for cor­rect­ing me. I was actu­ally refer­ring to the 1910-S Indian Head (Saint-Gaudens) U.S. Gold Eagle (Ten Dol­lar Gold Piece) not the Inidan Head penny as I stated in “A Visit to Aspet”. Thanks for mak­ing the correction.


  2. Mark R. Moore says:

    Thanks for your response. Again–a great arti­cle. One thing I did men­tion was that the dou­ble each, the twenty-dollar gold piece also for the first time in Amer­i­can coinage car­ried the motto “E Pluribus Unum” on the side of the coin. This may have helped pre­vent “clipping”–the prac­tice of some peo­ple to chip off por­tions of gold and sil­ver coins to melt down and reuse while still retain­ing the face value of the orig­i­nal piece. This accounted for the ser­rated edge of the sil­ver dol­lars and most of our coins today.


  3. Mark R. Moore says:

    corrections–“one thing I did not men­tion…” and “the dou­ble eagle…” in the sec­ond sentence

  4. Fred Herrmann says:

    Hi Paul,
    Happy to find this arti­cle. I have become a col­lec­tor of Mor­gan dol­lars and I also have a few 10 & 20 dol­lar gold pieces. All works of art. Also have a few dol­lars frm 1795–6-etc. Imag­ine hold­ing a coin that might have been in the hands of Wash­ing­ton, Adams or Jef­fer­son. I also have a National note from the Cale­do­nia National Bank. Hope this finds you healthy and happy.

    Best regards,
    Fred Herrmann

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