Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish New Hampshire is one of those charmed New England places where visitors with all kinds of different tastes can touch many pleasures at one location (map).
First, the Saint-Gaudens site – it’s run by the National Park Service, so you are in for excellent brochures and guides – was the home and workplace of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a major sculptor of the American Renaissance who created many iconic images from 1876 to his death in 1907. Score one for people who love fine art and post-Civil War history.
Next, the property includes more than a dozen buildings – the artist’s home, studios, some galleries, a stable and icehouse, monuments with sculpture, a marble temple – along with a bowling green and walking trails. Peek into the luxurious world of a 19th-century popular artist, along with the so-called Cornish Colony of artists and writers who joined the Saint-Gaudenses here from about 1885 to World War I.
Further, from the Saint-Gaudens site you are a short country drive from the town of Hanover, home of Dartmouth College and all the good dining, shopping, strolling, and picture taking you expect from a New England college town.
And just down the road is the beautiful Cornish-Windsor covered bridge, the link across the Connecticut River and state boundary to Vermont, and the town of Windsor (map). Windsor’s attractions include is the Path of Life Sculpture Garden, a slightly wacky outdoor sculpture collection of oversize figure representing – you guessed it – the path of life. Celebrations here are joyful and sometime lighted by oversized bonfires (map).
Mentioning Windsor – Cornish’s Vermont neighbor across the river – is a good work-around back to the Saint-Gaudens site, where the artist’s sculpture of Abraham Lincoln stands tall, as the first monument Saint-Gaudens created at his Cornish studio. He was persuaded to buy the property by its own beauty and by assurances of local folks that the actual Lincoln’s tall, gangley figure was well-represented in the local male populace. That is to say, he could easily find a good model, and, in fact, he did: a gentleman from Windsor.
Another of the most moving sculptures at the site is the Shaw Memorial, honoring the Massachusetts 54th regiment of African American soldiers. Saint-Gaudens took 14 years to finish the monument, and finally did so because he was told some of the original sponsors were near the end of their lives, and wished dearly to see the work before their own deaths.Look closely into the depths of this beautiful work, and you’ll see in marvelous detail the faces of black soldiers marching four abreast. Saint-Gaudens spent years finding and sketching these faces for this monumental work.