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Home Away: The Meadowlark

Chesterwood, MA – One comes to semi-secluded sites such as this to collect thoughts, to walk on the woods, to visit nearby cantinas and try local libations. But since I don’t drink and I have a very bad relationship with the insects living in the woods around here, I must concentrate solely in my thoughts, and Chesterwood is designed to help you achieve the goal. Someone said today that a prominent artist, visiting Chesterwood in the early 1900, said that one comes out of this place transformed, changed. The visitor’s, who’s name I don’t recall preceded me and many other artists in residency at Chesterwood in the art of thinking and sleeping. Yes, I forgot to mention that since the day I arrived I have been collecting thoughts and sleeping like a log, with vivid and inexplicable dreams in technicolor. However, it is important to mention that my quarters are separate from the main house that once was the summer home and studio of Daniel Chester French. In fact, my home away from home is a cottage designed as a secondary studio for the sculpture, about four hundred yards south of the formal residence, closer to the Housatonic River.

An idyllic vision of The Housatonic Valley, Massachusetts

The Lower Studio

According to those who know better, French needed an ancillary studio where he could work in seclusion whenever the presence of family, friends, visitors, clients, models and assistants in the main Studio became distracting. To build this cottage-studio hired neighbor Will Hawkins to in 1905. Located at the edge of the pasture across the road from the main Studio and sitting on the crest of a hill overlooking the Housatonic River, the two-story clapboard structure, dubbed the “Lower Studio” by the sculptor had one big workroom with a large north skylight and a small casting room. As with the main Studio, a railroad track and flatcar were employed, but there were three small tracks instead of one large one. By pushing a sculpture out onto a deck above the river, French could walk fifty feet down the hill and view his work as if it were placed on a five-story building. This studio was christened “The Meadowlark” in 1932 when the sculptor’s nephew Prentiss French and his wife, Helen, expanded it and began using it as a summer domicile. Beginning in 1983, it was the site of the Guggenheim Sculptor-in-Residence program. During the summer, demonstrations of the visiting sculptor’s technique were given here. Today, and for the next two weeks, this will be home.

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