Margaret Cresson French
At Chesterwood, there are few sculptures by Daniel Chester French’s daughter Margaret on display. But the superb modeling and arresting expression of Girl with Curls make it quietly magnetic. The anonymous subject of the life size Girl with Curls must have been a young woman Margaret knew, and was probably carved by the Piccirilli Brothers studio in the Bronx.
In 1921 Margaret married architect William Penn Cresson, and had one child who died in infancy. Whatever her private sorrow, Margaret found her life’s work through sculpture, as her father did.
Were it not for Margaret, we wouldn’t have Chesterwood and its storehouse of sculpture, maquettes, and tools. She worked hard to preserve her father’s legacy in many ways: writing a memoir, serving as tour guide, and ultimately leaving the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. When her father was alive, she was both his model and student, the ultimate muse. In leaving Chesterwood to America, she added immeasurably to our knowledge of neoclassical sculpture.
Margaret French Cresson, August 3 1889 — October 1, 1973
Ethel Cummings, model for Daniel Chester French’s last work, “Andromeda,” was a housemaid in the French household. A humble beauty, Ethel has been immortalized in marble—a story which has some parallels to the original demigoddess. A mortal girl rescued by Perseus and made into a constellation upon her death, Andromeda’s beauty sealed her fate–one fueled by a mother’s vanity, dramatic rescue, and finally, immortality. Though this Andromeda, neoclassically Caucasian, was carved from Georgia white marble by the Piccirilli Brothers workshop in the Bronx, the original Andromeda was an Ethiopian princess. Maquettes for Andromeda (below), French’s last work, are now displayed near the lifesize version at Chesterwood. #GoddessID
Renaissance Woman, Sarah Bernhardt, was a sculptor at heart. After beginning her stage career, she started studying sculpture seriously at the age of 25. “After the Storm” is one of her most well-known works.
Daniel Chester French’s summer home and studio, Chesterwood, in Stockbridge, Mass. is a more inspiring place now than ever. Many of his studies and maquettes, long stored in the studio basement, are now displayed in a climate-controlled sub-gallery in the Barn visitors’ center. I saw much more than I can write about in one post, but I was struck first by these two maquettes symbolizing Manhattan and Brooklyn, studies for the monumental figures that were formerly on the Brooklyn Bridge. Manhattan, at left, definitely has attitude and wears a tiny city on her head. Brooklyn, on the other hand, is more relaxed, gazing into the distance, holding a book and seated amidst flowers. Read their saga here! #GoddessID
Margaret Foley, one of the eminent American sculptors in Rome during the last quarter of the 19th century, was a very popular portraitist. Her skill in modeling low relief, and her accuracy in delineating facial features, could be a mixed blessing for the subject. Mrs. Cleveland apparently preferred other portraits in which an artist gave her a more pleasing, neoclassically influenced visage. cmoa.org
I’ll be working on a life size portrait head in clay as part of my demonstration at Chesterwood, in Stockbridge, Mass. on Saturday, October 19th from about noon until 4. This inspiring historic site was the studio of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial. I’ll be working as French would have sculpted, in wet clay with tools that haven’t changed very much in 150 years.
(The small head above, about 1/4 life size, is an imaginary portrait of Louisa May Alcott).