Friday, September 11, 2015

August 28: Augustus' Place

After a fair hotel breakfast, the morning took us on a short drive to New Hampshire’s only National Park site.  Forget the grand vistas or peaceful fields that once hosted death.  Nah. Let’s talk art.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (GO-dins) is considered one of America’s greatest sculptors and, in my opinion, bore a striking and eerie resemblance to Dustin Diamond from “Saved by the Bell.”  (If Diamond ever gets his life out of the toilet, maybe he can be cast in a biopic of Saint-Gauden’s life.)   If you have ever held American coins or walked through any number of art institutes across the world, you have seen his work or the work of his students.

Born in 1848 in Dublin, he was raised in New York only to return to Europe as a young man to gain further study in sculpture.  Returning to New York again, he went on to receive a commission for the Admiral David Farragut statue that cemented his reputation as a sculptor on a world level.  Like so many artists, once you get that first piece out of the way, people will line up to have you do more.

His Standing Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, Diana, the Puritan and the Adams Memorial are just some of the works he churned out in his lifetime.  

As a Civil War nut, I found myself in awe of the Shaw Memorial when I was in Boston Common a few years back. Low and behold, he did that, too.  Completed in the blazing fast timeline of 14 years (the same amount of time it will take the Republicans to field a good Presidential candidate), it is considered one of his greatest pieces and, by some, one of the greatest public monuments ever made.  The model of the grounds here in New Hampshire was much smaller than the 11’ by 14’ original cast in Massachusetts. 

If you are not familiar with who Robert Gould Shaw was, go ask Mathew Broderick. He portrayed him in what has to be one of the best Civil War movies ever made – Glory.  The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor that year went to DenzelWashington.  Plus Morgan Freeman?  Really. Go see this movie.

However, for the layperson, Saint-Gaudens greatest contributions to American culture might be his work with coins.  A numismatist (say that 10 times fast!), he was invited to develop new coins for the US Treasury by President Teddy Roosevelt.  His Double Eagle $20 coin is thought by many to be one of the most beautiful coins ever made.  The original version, stuck 11 times to ensure maximum detail, can sell for over 2 million dollars at auction.  The fact that only 20 were made might influence that number, huh? This Ultra High Relief was not circulated as it was discovered that it did not stack well! A “squished version” of the coin (if I can use advanced vocabulary) was finally minted from 1907 to 1933. 

But his efforts with coins did not stop there.  A celebrated teacher, he used his home in Cornish, New Hampshire (the now National Park site) as a studio and school for students of sculpture.  The famous Buffalo Nickel and the Washington Quarter (the very same one that is possibly in your couch, creating that clunking sound in your dryer or gummed into the cup holder of your car) were designed by his students. 

The opportunity to visit this site was basically the only site-seeing opportunity of the day. After zipping through a covered bridge, we pressed on for the six hour drive to eastern central Pennsylvania.  The GPS had us perilously close to New York City (within 80 miles or so) so traffic was a bit thick at times and quite the contrast from rural Maine.  At one point, we were in New Jersey.  I’m still trying to get my IQ points back.  They got sucked out of my head when we crossed the state line.

Lodging was a tent site in the Blue Rocks Family Campground.  While our original thoughts suggested this would be the dreaded KOA clone with game rooms, swimming pools, screaming kids, RVs up the ying-yang and preposterous tenting options, we were mostly….right.  All were true except the camping. 

We found ourselves on a pleasant wooded hilltop site easily 50 yards from the next tent and well beyond the hubbub and chaos below.  Nice.  We might as well have had to the woods to ourselves.  We did share it with a Scarlet Tanager.  He “chick-burr”-ed his way into the sunset.

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