There are only two National Park Service sites in the US that are devoted to art – one celebrates a famous sculptor, and the other a famous painter. Without really doing any research, my mom and I coincidentally ended up visiting both of them in the same week.
In late June of 2017, my mom, Pat, and I set out on a 5-day trip to the White Mountains (which I’ll be writing all about in upcoming posts!). On the way, we took a detour to Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire. Entry to the National Historic Site is a rather steep $10 per person; fortunately my mom had an America the Beautiful Pass. I’m not sure we’d have paid $30 to see this place.
I knew going into this visit that the site preserved the estate of an artist. That was the extent of my knowledge, so we didn’t really know what to expect. As it turned out, we really enjoyed our visit.
The Saint-Gaudens estate is located about 10 minutes down a winding road, surrounded by a lush forest. The estate includes multiple buildings and a lot of land, some of which has been made into gardens. Thanks to the relative clearance of trees, the view from the front porch of the old house is very nice.
In addition, the grounds were beautifully landscaped
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was an American sculptor, and a very talented one at that. His work is on display in multiple locations around the US, including a selection still at the estate. I’d never even heard of him – I imagine most people haven’t – but some of his more famous works include the sculpture of Robert Gould Shaw on the Boston Common, General William Tecumseh Sherman in Central Park, and a bust of Abraham Lincoln, which sits on the National Historic Site grounds.
While the grounds can be explored anytime during the day, the house, called “Aspet,” is open only during certain hours for self-guided tours. It opened shortly after we arrived, so we wandered our way through. There are no sculptures inside; rather, the house is set up to look as it did back in the late 1800s/early 1900s when Saint-Gaudens and his family lived here.
Saint-Gaudens’ studio was also open for exploration. This was a rather large building with giant windows designed, I’m sure, to provide adequate natural light. A collection of his sculptures were on display here, including one of the Diana, the Greek Goddess of the Hunt. Obviously, I had to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pose with my namesake statue.
Saint-Gaudens also designed numerous pieces of currency, including the $20 double eagle coin that was issued from 1905-1907 and many others. Some were never minted, but the entire collection of his designs is displayed here in the studio as well.
Meanwhile, Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut preserves the home and farm of multiple artists over the years, the first being Julian Alden Weir, a man known for his influence in the establishment of the American Impressionist style of painting.
(I say this as though I know what I’m talking about. Don’t be fooled. I know almost nothing about art. The first couple minutes of this comedy bit by Brian Regan comes to mind.)
What I do know about impressionism is that the paintings very much resemble a haphazard collection of brushstrokes. As a style, I really don’t enjoy it that much, but even my untrained eye could see that Weir’s talent was undeniable.
In 1882, Weir made a business deal with a man named Erwin Davis: he would give Davis $10 plus a painting he’d acquired in Europe and Davis would give him a farm in Branchville, CT. And so Weir Farm was born.
Much happened at Weir Farm over the years, including the death of Weir’s first wife Anna following the birth of their third child, and Weir’s eventual second marriage to Anna’s older sister, Ella. Two of Weir and Anna’s daughters – Dorothy and Cora – were integral in preserving Weir Farm. Dorothy and her husband, artist Mahonri Young, lived at Weir Farm after her father’s death. Cora and her husband gained ownership of the adjoining farm, and together the two women maintained the property and their father’s legacy. After Mahonri Young’s death, the farm was purchased by fellow artists/friends Sperry and Doris Andrews, who lived there and maintained the farm until it was finally preserved as a National Historic Site in 1990. Some of the adjoining land is also protected as the Weir Preserve.
The farm is open daily and the visitor center is open 10am-4pm May-Oct. Tours of the house and studio are available during these hours as well, while the grounds can be walked at anytime during daylight hours.
Well, there you have it: a little bit of background on the only two art-related National Park Service sites.
The Important Stuff:
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site:
- Getting there: located off NH Route 12, just across the Connecticut River from Vermont
- Fees and passes: $10 per person to enter, Interagency Annual Passes accepted
- Other: while the grounds are always open, the house and studio are only open during certain hours, so make sure to time your visit around this
Weir Farm National Historic Site:
- Getting there: located along Nod Hill Road near Highway 7 in Branchville, Connecticut
- Fees and passes: free!
- Other: as above, make sure to time your visit around the hours the house is open; if you visit outside of these hours, the NPS passport stamp can be found outside near the information sign in the parking lot