When you think of Stockbridge you might think of Norman Rockwell, but there’s another institution that’s just as important to Americana: Chesterwood. The lesser known, yet equally significant Stockbridge mainstay lays claim to the studio, house, and gardens of famed American sculptor Daniel Chester French. You may recognize his work— the Minute Man in Concord, MA, the fountain at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., the Continents at the U.S. Custom House in New York City, and, of course, the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Located on the back side of Monument Mountain, Chesterwood’s 125 acre property was purchased by Daniel Chester French in 1897. The site opened to the public in 1969 when French’s daughter Margaret French Cresson donated the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation shortly before her death in 1973. For its year-long 50th anniversary celebration in 2019, Chesterwood will honor the legacy of both Daniel Chester French and his remarkable daughter who, because of her foresight to put the property into trusteeship, ensured her father’s legacy and the importance of monumental sculpture as public art. The festivities will launch in June with a garden party that will depict a typical scene at Chesterwood during Daniel Chester French’s time: dancing on the lawn, sculpting in the studio, and music along the Woodland Walk.
When asked about Daniel Chester French, Manager of Marketing and Business Operations Margaret Cherin says that, “A lot of people don’t know that French’s work can be found in almost every state in the country. He lived at a time when public monumental sculpture was en vogue.” While most of his work was commissioned, he spent his finals days on a special piece that remains at the center of the Stockbridge studio: an unfinished sculpture of Greek mythology princess Andromeda chained to the rock. Set upon a railroad track, once a year Andromeda is pushed out into the sun for to be seen in the natural light and to pay homage to the brilliance of the sculptor.
Although owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Chesterwood’s business operations are relatively independent, which means that the small staff, led by Executive Director Donna Hassler, decides on which service providers they employ, what kind of local products they procure, and what kind of currency they accept. As the newly appointed curator of the gift shop, Margaret Cherin looks forward to bringing in more locally crafted goods, like pottery, jewelry, and textiles, and to developing relationships with local vendors in order to recirculate the BerkShares that they bring in through gift shop sales and admission. The first retail location to carry BerkShares Postcards, Margaret sees BerkShares as a marketing opportunity to reinforce the connection to the Berkshire economy.
With the newly commissioned biography Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French by Harold Holzer for its 50th Anniversary, Chesterwood anticipates and influx of national attention but encourages the local community to be at the forefront of the celebration. Margaret says, “We like to see ourselves as a real resource for Berkshire residents. We’re a culturally rich area and we’re proud to be part of that community.”