When we were last in Europe in... 2001 (kids may have hampered our international travel) one of our favorite places was the Musée Rodin in Paris. Paintings are great and all, but sculpture makes the art tangible and part of our three dimensional world instead of just a different kind of picture.
Like Vermont, New Hampshire has only one National Park. It's Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park just across the river from Vermont. We crossed the Connecticut River on a the longest covered bridge in the U.S., The Cornish-Winsor bridge, just minutes from the park. "Walk your horses or pay two dollars fine." (We didn't get fined.)
Saint-Gaudens is the home, studios, and gardens of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Never heard of him? He was one of our greatest sculptors. He started as a cameo-cutter before moving on to bas-relief and realistic sculpture.
The big monuments he completed, including renowned memorials for Civil War soldiers, statues of Lincoln, and private commissions, form the framework for the park. We moved from one to the next, some in buildings and some outside, finding smaller installations scattered throughout. His realistic and genuine depictions of famous figures, free of idolatry, gave us a glimpse into their souls.
There was so much to see, and we had a limited amount of time, that we focused on the works featured in the Junior Ranger books. The tasks were less about how the park made us feel and more about careful consideration of the sculpture. The kids had to find tiny details that don't lend themselves to casual discovery.
One of the Junior Ranger tasks is to ask a ranger a question. We found the sculptor-in-residence in the Ravine Studio where Cliff Page was working on the Abraham Lincoln-Saint-Gaudens Memorial/Commemorative Plaque. He could have answered the question with a simple sentence or two, but instead he took half an hour out of his day (a day he wasn't even supposed to be in the studio!) to give us an inside peak of his creative process. It's amazing how much goes into the creation of a a piece like the plaque from research to design to production.
We wrapped up our visit with a short hike along the Ravine Trail mostly to get a checkmark for New Hampshire hiking, though it was quite nice. (Don't worry. Mount Washington remains on the list for a future visit.)
Visiting the park and learning about Saint-Gaudens was a great reminder that art is more than paintings and great sculpture is part of the American story. Even though the Saint-Gaudens NHP is a bit off the beaten path it's well worth the trip to visit.
When you go:
- Saint-Gaudens NHP is the only Northeast Historical Park we visited that had a formal entrance fee that was covered by our America The Beautiful Pass.
- Get the official Saint Gaudens NHS app for maps, history, and details of the exhibits.
- Look out for wild turkeys, toads, and killer trees.