A visit to the Berkshires is not complete without a tour of Chesterwood, the home, garden and studio of Daniel Chester French.
“I hope you will come to ‘Chesterwood’ and rest. It is as beautiful as fairy-land here now, the hemlocks are decorating themselves with their light-green tassels and the laurel is beginning to blossom and the peonies are a glory in the garden. I go about in an ecstasy of delight over the loveliness of things.”
—Daniel Chester French, 1911
One of the most successful sculptors of the twentieth century, French was best known for his statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. French purchased the 150-acre property in the Berkshires in 1896 for a summer estate and studio. He had already achieved national prominence for his bronze Minute Man statue, which resides at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. At Chesterwood he collaborated with his friend Henry Bacon on the construction of a residence and what would become his primary studio space for the rest of his career. The Colonial Revival house with its long veranda was sited to take advantage of the views of Monument Mountain and Mount Everett.
For thirty-five years, the French family spent their winters in New York and their summers at Chesterwood. Family and friends visited the Berkshire retreat all season long, participating in dinner parties, dances, and tennis games. Mary French kept a detailed recipe book to organize her entertaining.
The main garden area is adjacent to the studio. French would often end a day of sculpting with a couple of hours tending the perennial and vegetable gardens, and taking long walks in the woods. A semicircular graveled courtyard is furnished with decorative planters and a pair of curved marble benches called exedras. Bacon designed the central marble-cement fountain for which French created putti relief.
From the courtyard, marble steps lead to an elevated lawn with a central walk of peonies and Hydrangea paniculata standards. The main axis of the garden features a long perennial border planted with pastel-colored flowers. At its end, a pair of white-glazed terracotta columns mark the beginning of a woodland walk. The garden is enclosed by a lilac hedge and hemlocks, and accessorized with a pergola, marble benches, statuary, and a small square pool of water hyacinths and water lilies.
Chesterwood opened to the public in 1955, and in 1962 French’s nephew, landscape architect Prentiss French, designed a new circulation pattern to better accommodate visitors. Today, Chesterwood is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and French's house, garden and studio are open for touring.
The grounds are also used as exhibition space for contemporary sculpture as well as works by French. The studio, barn, and other gallery spaces include sculptural studies for a number of his works, including The Minute Man, The Continents, and Abraham Lincoln.
Chesterwood is open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, daily 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $18. The grounds are 15 acres in size. There are picnic tables, trails for woodland walks, an annual outdoor contemporary sculpture exhibition, and a permanent exhibition of Daniel Chester French's work.
4 Williamsville Rd., Stockbridge, MA 02162, (413) 298-3579, chesterwood.org