Sitting amongst New Hampshire hills, ponds, state forests, rivers, and covered bridges is an idyllic former summer colony in Cornish that was once home to America’s greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Unbeknownst to me prior to Voices & Visions winning the National Park Service contract to produce a documentary-style film to screen at the Visitors Center of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, I had actually encountered the artist’s work many times before. A large equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, led by the winged angel of Victory, is the centerpiece of the Plaza Hotel entrance to Central Park. First exhibited as a work-in-progress at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, the General is depicted leading the march through Georgia to seize Atlanta for the Union forces. History has oft-quoted his candid statement that “War is Hell,” and in this great work of art, Saint-Gaudens creates motion and emotion in the bronze, with wind billowing back Sherman’s cloak and tension straining his facial features.
Yes, it’s clear: I loved this project! The footage that we used was shot in 2009 by a company that produced a PBS documentary, but it was owned by the National Historic Site. Upon getting the job to produce a 15-minute informational video to be viewed by visitors to the grounds, we were provided with 60 hours of unedited interviews and b-roll, as well as the opportunity to become art history students of the life and work of Saint-Gaudens.
As a writer, this job started with me. I spent a week feeling like I was researching for a major term paper, but the library was mostly in the form of oral accounts that I transcribed and imbibed. I supplemented this knowledge base with Internet-based facts and one old-world source of information: a book. Slowly the vision of Saint-Gaudens came to life in my imagination, then on my computer screen, subject to some minor revisions by the experts who have made the Historic Site their professional home for decades.
The sensitivity, beauty, and craftsmanship, yet novelty and originality that were the hallmarks of this sculptor’s works and were vivified in the script, inspired the motion graphics created by our designer Lori Newman and the flow of the archival and still images and video footage our editor Curt Fissel wove together. Diane Moser, a music historian, composer and performer, found and re-created period music from the Cornish Colony (recorded by audio engineer Chad Moser), adding era-appropriate feeling to works that were largely focused on Civil War heroes. And narrator David Rosenberg was so taken by the story that he has already made a trip up to Cornish to see the National Historic Site!
In retrospect I realize it’s a funny coincidence that all of our video production partners who worked with us on this film (Lori, Curt, Diane, Chad, David, and me) are from Montclair, NJ – a town long known as its own artistic colony of a sort. During the course of this project, we were all highly inspired by learning about the Shaw Memorial across from Boston Common, honoring Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment — the first volunteer regiment of African American troops raised in the north; the monument to Civil War naval hero Admiral David G. Farragut, which sits in NY’s Madison Square Park; and in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the impactful statue of a contemplative Abraham Lincoln in bronzed motion, rising out of his Greek-style chair.
Examples of Saint-Gaudens’ works can be seen in a number of spots across the US, but the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site is filled with works that spanned his lifetime and give color to US history and his unparalleled personal experience. This national park is open from Memorial Day weekend to Halloween, 9 am to 4:30 daily, and is located at 139 Saint Gaudens Road in Cornish, NH, just off NH Route 12A. Please wander around and enjoy the grounds, but first watch the informational video to give yourself the contextual background that will elevate your experience.