- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2003

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — America’s cities exploded In the years after the Civil War, as did their demand for big, bold works of public art to celebrate the country’s newfound urban vigor.

Many of those pieces were created by Daniel Chester French, whose work includes some of the most renowned outdoor sculptures in the country, from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to the Minute Man in Concord, Mass.

But to do the work of making cities beautiful, French needed country air, and for much of his life, he spent six months a year in this quiet corner of the Berkshires.

Today, 120 acres of Chesterwood, as French’s farm is known, are open to the public. About 23,000 visitors a year stop by while doing some summer relaxing or fall leaf peeping or making a trip to the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum.

There are extensive grounds and a large collection of French’s work, thanks to his daughter Margaret French Cresson, who assembled them after her father’s death in 1931 and donated the property to the National Trust, a preservation organization, in 1969.

Each year from 1897 until his death here at age 81, French took in the magnificent views and even served tea on his porch to friends and strangers alike. It was hardly summer vacation, however: French worked six days a week, running a busy operation out of a studio he built and laboring on some of his most famous monumental pieces, including the famed seated Lincoln that is the centerpiece of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

French was born in New Hampshire in 1850, and later he tried to find a place there suitable for summering, but it was too far from his winter home in New York. In 1896, the family discovered Stockbridge, and French’s wife fell in love with the place.

“His wife had a real pleasant experience walking down the elm-covered main street to the cemetery,” says Chesterwood’s director, Michael Panhorst. “She said something to the effect of, ‘Danny, I don’t know where you’re going to live, but I’m living here.’”

It’s easy to see the appeal. The house and studio overlook Monument Mountain, then down the Housatonic River valley to Mount Everett, 17 miles away on the Connecticut and New York borders.

French enjoyed country living but remained the epitome of Yankee thrift. As a boy, he showed his talents sculpting turnips, but by the turn of the century, he was running a thriving business, with assistants turning out commissions in his studio here, then moving them outside on a 40-foot railroad line to view them in full light.

French created more than 100 works of public sculpture. The Minute Man statue is near the site of the first major fighting of the Revolutionary War. (The farmer holding a plow in one hand and musket in the other is now used by the National Guard.) Others include the DuPont Fountain in Washington’s Dupont Circle and, most famously, the seated Lincoln, a smaller model of which is displayed in the studio.

Chesterwood is on Williamsville Road, a mile south of the intersection of Routes 183 and 102 in the Glendale section of Stockbridge.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily May 1 through Oct. 31.

Admission is $10, with discounted rates for children, seniors and the military and a $25 family rate.

For more information: 413/298-3579 or visit www.chesterwood.org. For help in planning a trip to the Berkshires: 800/237-5747 or www.berkshires.org.

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