Daniel Chester French dubbed his Glendale residence, “Hotel Chesterwood.” With good reason: during the 1912 summer season the family entertained sixty overnight guests. In 1914 the number climbed to ninety! It is hard to imagine the amount of work required to take care of such an onslaught of visitors: housekeeping, meal-planning, entertaining, transporting to and from the train station, etc. French and his family got by with a live-in staff of three (one maid, one cook, and one butler), a chauffeur, and a few seasonal field-hands. We can imagine the laundry room bustling with the constant changing of linens and towels, and the cook hurrying about, preparing meals for the family and their guests.
There are two guest books in the Chesterwood Archives at Chapin Library: 1911-24 and 1925-33. A previous researcher indexed one of the books; I recently indexed the other and combined the two lists to create a master document of all the guests at Chesterwood and when they visited, from 1911 to 1933. The document is over twenty pages long. Margaret’s “One Line a Day” diary also references visitors to the house, but these names have not yet been collated.
The French family’s guest books were signed by writers Adeline Adams (author of Daniel Chester French, Sculptor), Marguerite Putnam Bush (published stories in magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal and Atlantic Monthly), and Leila Mechlin (art historian and published of The American Magazine of Art); artists Evelyn Beatrice Longman (studio assistant to French and a noted sculptor in her own right), Henry Kirke Bush-Brown (a sculptor and adopted nephew of Henry Kirke Brown), Walker Hancock, Augustus Lukeman, Voilet Oakley, and Frank Waugh; landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of New York’s Central Park) and Charles Platt.
Another item found in the files at Chesterwood is a type-written list of “Distinguished Guests at Chesterwood Through the Years,” assembled by a previous researcher. The list includes some additional names not included in the guest books, such as writers Henry James and Edith Wharton (the writer brought her dogs along to tea on July 3, 1905, as recorded by Margaret in her “One Line a Day” diary); dancers Isadora Duncan (who entertained French and his family with a dance around the fountain), and Jacob’s Pillow founder Ted Shawn and his wife, Ruth St. Denis (pictured below).
Also included on this list are artists John LaFarge, Malvina Hoffman, Paul Manship, and Herbert Adams, sculptor of “La Jeunesse” which is currently in the Residence Dining Room but usually resides in the Studio Reception Room. See below and also http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/20010387
These notable personages might have been joined at the dinner table by Margaret’s friends from New York City. As French wrote to his brother, William Merchant Richardson French, in September 1909: “Margaret has a flock of young people in the house at present, who keep us from getting rusty. There is ‘something doing’ most of the time, except in the morning when there is a calm until about ten o’clock or so, for none of them get up to breakfast.” Margaret’s “One Line a Day” diary is packed with breathless jottings about the activities she and her friends enjoyed, who was staying for dinner or sleeping over. These notes co-mingle with a word or two about her parents’ guests. A few photographs in the collection depict Margaret and her cohort along with a visitor or two from the older generation, such as her father’s close friends William Brewster and Newton Macintosh.
The Frenches clearly enjoyed entertaining and filling their house with friends and merriment. In addition to the constant stream of house guests, the Frenches also hosted Friday afternoon teas, celebratory dinners, parties in the studio, weddings, theatricals, recitals and concerts. While not the largest or most luxurious “cottage” in the Berkshires, Chesterwood must certainly have been the one that assured a good time for all who visited. The French family lived generously.
French wrote to his brother William on October 27, 1912, “I sometimes feel as if I had more than my share of this world’s goods, but at least we manage to share our possessions with a good many people.”
One of the most intriguing items in the Chesterwood archives at Chapin Library is Margaret’s “One Line a Day” five year diary or memory book. Spanning the years 1905 to 1908 (the year 1909 is mostly blank), Margaret faithfully wrote a sentence or two every day. The diary takes great effort to read: it is densely compact, Margaret’s handwriting is not always legible, and mysterious references abound. For this blog post, I will focus on one typical summer day across the years: August 9, 1905-08.
On August 9, 1905, a Wednesday, Margaret wrote “Went down to the store in morning. Played tennis in aft. and drove over to Stockbridge. Mamma & Pappa went to Concord, N.H. for a week.”
The store she refers to is probably the Glendale Store. Records in the Chesterwood archives include a ledger of all the groceries and other items French had ordered from the Glendale Store. Margaret played tennis on the court French had installed in 1903. The court is mentioned in French’s October 11, 1903 letter to his brother, William Merchant Richardson French, “I am making a tennis court back of the studio at the west of the ‘vista’ path. It is a good deal of an operation, involving much grading, &c. It will be an ideal place for a court, however, and I think I shall enjoy it, as well as Margaret and her friends for whom it is built.” There are many photographs of Margaret and her friends on the tennis court, so it was indeed enjoyed. Chesterwood to Stockbridge via Glendale Middle Road is approximately 2-1/2 miles. Margaret didn’t have an automobile of her own until 1909, when she turned twenty. So it is likely she went to Stockbridge in a horse-drawn buggy with the French’s driver, Simpson. She writes that her parents set off for Concord, NH, where French’s nephew Thomas Hollis lived with his family.
On August 9, 1906, a Thursday, Margaret wrote, “Birdseye at station, down to N.Y. with him. He wanted to take me to lunch at Martin’s. . . Birdseye is simply great!” Birdseye is probably Birdseye Blakeman Lewis (1877-1917), who married Charlotte Pearsall Thorne on June 27, 1908 (Margaret attended the wedding, and made note of it in her diary). The following is a link to a somewhat sensational article about Birdseye Lewis:
On August 9, 1907, a Friday, Margaret wrote, “Up at 6. Took 8:05 for Norfolk with B, Mrs. P., Elinor & Mrs. Stanley. Tennis tournament. Lunch at Hotel, with all & another man, but lots of people. More tennis.” Margaret probably attended the annual tennis tournament for the Connecticut State championship on the courts of the Norfolk Country Club. She does not indicate the name of the hotel where they lunched, but there are a couple of inns near the Country Club where the group might have dined. It is interesting to note that the following day, August 10, 1907, Margaret wrote that she and Birdseye danced a Virginia Reel at a party at the Stockbridge Casino. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockbridge_Casino
On August 9, 1908, a Sunday, Margaret wrote, “To Stockbridge, out on river with Jack. Jack home to dinner with us. Studio after, danced, barn-dance, garden in moonlight, lunch on tennis court with Jack Morse.” Jack is probably John Porter Morse, who eventually married Margaret’s friend Clara. The Morses were frequent visitors to Chesterwood, and the French family Guest Books indicate their presence in July 1911, June, July and October 1912, and September 1919. Both Clara and John have an “E” next to their name in their entry in Margaret’s Birthday Book. While it is unknown what the “E” stands for, it appears that many of the French family’s closest friends, such as Dorothy Schoonmaker, Evelyn Beatrice Longman, and Sarita Clark also have an “E” by their names.
From Margaret’s diary entries we learn about the summer activities she enjoyed: tennis, boating, dances both at the Casino and in the Chesterwood studio. She always had many friends around. French wrote to his brother on September 6, 1909, “Margaret has a flock of young people in the house at present, who keep us from getting rusty. There is ‘something doing’ most of the time, except in the morning when there is a calm until about ten o’clock or so, for none of them get up to breakfast.” Letters, diary entries, and photographs all attest to the fact that Margaret was popular and fun-loving with both male and female friends. Her diary entries, however, are usually terse and factual, and she does not often elaborate on her thoughts and and reactions to daily events. The entries are therefore useful as documents of daily life, but with only a few comments such as “Birdseye is simply great,” the diary does not allow us to learn much about her personality, hopes, and disappointments. It is possible she recorded those feelings elsewhere.
Perhaps this post might inspire readers to purchase a “One Line a Day” diary and record the daily events of their lives — the entries might be useful for future generations!
Quotes from Margaret French Cresson’s “A Line A Day” diary courtesy of Chapin Library, Williams College, Gift of the National Trust for Historic Preservation/Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Summertime in Chesterwood was a season of leisure, parties, entertainment, and meals prepared for the many friends and family who were visiting the French household. Meals, both simple and lavish, were prepared by the French’s cook, Marie Zimmerman. Mary French had written a menu book which she would consult for ordering up the day’s repasts. In later years, perhaps thinking she might publish the menu book, Margaret French Cresson typed up the introduction and lists that Mary had compiled. “Mary’s Menu Book, Housekeeper’s Assistant” begins:
“Why ask the family at breakfast? Why bother the guests at regular intervals? Why almost lose your mind? Why go about all day with a terrible question hanging over you? ‘What shall we have for dinner? We had lamb yesterday, and beef the day before, and steak the day before that, and chicken on Sunday. Oh dear, what can we have tonight? Why didn’t the Lord in His mercy – towards housewives – invent another animal?’” The menu book includes pages for meat courses, desserts, hot breads, first and second courses, etc. As Mary suggests, “run your finger down the line until it comes to the dish you want for that particular day. Write that down upon the menu.”
The “Meat course for luncheon” list includes some interesting dishes: Fish balls, Chops, Creamed codfish, Creamed chipped beef, Chipped beef and scrambled eggs, Scalloped oysters, Hash, Corned beef hash, Stew, Creamed chicken on toast, Creamed chicken on toast with poached egg, Chicken with curry and rice, Hawaiian chicken, Creamed tuna fish on toast, Canned salmon and potato salad, Deerfoot sausage, Finnenhaddy / Finnan Haddie [smoked haddock], Broiled herring, Kippered herring, Ham croquettes, Chicken patties, Chicken aspic, Broiled ham, Broiled smoked salmon, Smoked herring, Sardines on toast, Sausage or curried meats with rice, Fried ham, Smelts, Liver and bacon, Minced veal on toast.
These lists provide us with an idea of the family’s dining preferences as well as the dining fashions of the day. Creamed meats seem to be popular, and there are many fish options.
Below are two undated recipes found in the Chesterwood archives at Williams College. The one on the left (in Margaret’s handwriting) is for Pear Chips, made with eight pounds of pears and an equal amount of sugar! In addition, four lemons and one box of crystallized ginger are called for. The ingredients are cooked until thick and then put in glasses, so Pear Chips might not actually be “chips” but rather some sort of dessert drink, or perhaps a delicacy scooped with a spoon or slurped through a straw. If I can obtain crystallized ginger, I will try to follow the recipe and will emend this entry with the results.
The second recipe (which may be in French’s handwriting), for Boston Punch, differs greatly from Boston Punch recipes available on-line today. While French’s recipe is non-alcoholic, some of the recipes I found called for Champagne, cider, brandy, triple sec, dark rum, lemon juice, soda water and sugar. I also found a reference to Boston Club Punch, which was the traditional drink of the Boston Club in New Orleans, one of the oldest social clubs in the United States. The light and fruity Boston Club Punch is closer to the French’s recipe, using sugar, orange juice, fresh pineapple,raspberry syrup, cognac, kirschwasser, rum, Grand Marnier, dry white wine, seltzer water, sparkling wine, and twists of orange peel, for garnish.
See http://projects.washingtonpost.com/recipes/2010/11/10/boston-club-punch/ for the full Boston Club Punch recipe.
The menu book and recipes offer a window into what the French family ate and what they served their guests. Much time was spent in the dining room, idling over multi-course meals, and food was an important part of entertaining (as it still is today). It is interesting to picture the Frenches sitting around the dining room table tucking in to their Finnenhaddy before heading out to relax in the garden or take an invigorating afternoon walk. Later in the evening they might gather again for Boston Punch and Pear Chips, and then dine on whatever Mary has chosen from her Menu Book: Welsh rarebit or Shepherd’s Pie for Sunday supper, and Cornucopias, War cake [see http://allrecipes.com/recipe/war-cake/ for a recipe], or Palmiers for dessert.
Recipes and “Menu Book” courtesy of Chapin Library, Williams College, Gift of the National Trust for Historic Preservation/Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
In this 1912 photograph, Margaret French Cresson (Peggy) sits just inside French’s library / study at Chesterwood. The scene is still, composed, and artistically arranged. In her mid-twenties at the time, Margaret wears a lovely dress and her hair is neatly coiffed. She seems to be a decorative object much like the vase she holds. Filtered northern light creates soft lines and gentle silhouettes.
Margaret is seated upon a white continuous arm Windsor chair, which remains in the study today. She holds a luminous green glass vase, and light is reflected on the shining surface of a small pedestal table. The pedestal table is currently by the fireplace in the parlor, yet it doesn’t appear in a 1914 photograph of the room. The green glass vase is also in the parlor, atop a side table. It is difficult to know if the furniture and vase were moved into the study for the photograph, which seems so carefully staged, or if the objects were found there and have since been relocated.
In the photograph, the door to French’s library is painted a bright white and the walls are papered. Today, the door and walls are peachy pink and another set of drapes adorns the window — these are probably decorating choices that Margaret made later on, after she inherited the house from her parents. The patterned wallpaper seen in the photograph still hangs in the hallway, just outside the study.
The photograph seems to be a preparatory image, perhaps taken by the American Impressionist painter Robert Vonnoh (1858-1933), who visited the Frenches in June 1913 according to a guestbook in the archives. The photograph may be erroneously dated 1912, or perhaps Vonnoh saw the photograph during his 1913 visit and was inspired to recreate the scene in paint.
In the painting, the frothy fronds in the vase have become lush flowers, perhaps peonies, and the glass vase sits atop a decorative doily. An artfully arranged pink and gray wrap drapes across the chair back. Yet in both images Margaret looks off to the side, outside the frame of the photograph / painting, as if something or someone other than the photographer / painter holds her interest.
The aesthetically arranged images of Margaret seem to have been inspired by contemporaneous paintings coming out of the Boston School of Painting. Compare this image with paintings depicting beautiful women in decorative interiors by William MacGregor Paxton, Edmund Tarbell, Joseph De Camp, and others. Edmund Tarbell’s Pouring Tea, [1916-20; Oklahoma City Museum of Art] pictured below, is similar to Vonnoh’s portrait of Margaret in arrangement and nostalgic tone.
The portraits of Margaret might also have been inspired by the photographs of antiquarian Wallace Nutting, who recreated and photographed Colonial interiors replete with furniture, decorations, and costumes. See Wallace Nutting and the Invention of Old America, by Thomas Denenberg (Wadsworth Atheneum, 2003).
Photograph of Margaret courtesy of Chapin Library, Williams College, Gift of the National Trust for Historic Preservation/Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Photograph of Robert Vonnoh, Margaret French, (1913, oil on canvas, NT73.45.1299, Chesterwood) by Anne Cathcart. Conservation of this painting supported, in part, by Massachusetts Cultural Council, National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Sites Fund, and the Town of Stockbridge.
Daniel Chester French and boyhood friend William Brewster stayed close throughout their lives. Both French and Brewster showed early interests in birds, and while French became a sculptor of angels with shockingly realistic wings, Brewster studied ornithology, curated the mammals and birds study collections at Harvard University, and conducted birding expeditions throughout North America.
While my research focuses on the materials at Chesterwood and Chapin Library, sometimes a subject leads me to investigate other sources which may provide more information. Since I am interested in French and Brewster’s relationship, I sought some additional resources. One of the jewels that I recently located is a 1916 diary kept by William Brewster in which he recorded his observations of birds while at Concord (MA), Cambridge, and other New England locations, including Glendale. From Monday, July 10 to Wednesday, August 9, Brewster writes of birds, migrations, nests, etc., as well as his day-to-day life while visiting the French household. The diary offers a small but vivid window into summertime at Chesterwood.
Brewster spent much of each morning in his room writing letters and “putting things in order,” copying notes from a Cambridge bird journal, reading, and battling the heat. He writes of playing the victrola “for Dan’s entertainment” in the studio. It appears that some work is involved in playing the victrola — perhaps Brewster cranked the machine while French worked.
Afternoons were spent walking in the woods, through meadows and pastures in search of birds. One afternoon, French and Brewster strolled to a pasture outlook and “remained on [a] bench there for more than one hour, talking.” Other afternoons the two men walked over to the cottage of their friend Newton Mackintosh, the witty writer and journalist. Friday afternoons were Mary French’s teas “at home” and Brewster comments on who attended and whether there was a good crowd or not. On Friday, July 21, 1916, guests for tea included the Choates [Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hodges Choate of nearby Naumkeag], Mrs. [Oscar] Iasigi, and an English couple with their charming three year old daughter.
After sumptuous dinners with other visitors or simple meals with the Frenches, evenings were often quiet affairs. Brewster writes of evenings spent in the parlor talking, reading books and newspapers, or sitting completely silent. Other evenings French and Brewster retired to the studio for more record-playing and talking.
Although the Brewster diary documents only one month of one summer, it allows us to peek into Chesterwood to gain a better understanding of life there. The summers were filled with long walks, evenings in the parlor and studio, and Friday afternoon teas. Looking through the Chesterwood guest book, it is apparent that Brewster was a frequent houseguest, staying for approximately one month almost every summer between 1911 and 1918. However, 1916 was a particularly light year for houseguests. Brewster notes upon his arrival, “She [Mary Adams French] and Margaret seem well but have not been so and for this reason are keeping much out of doors and will have fewer guests than usual this summer.”
Brewster’s ornithological sightings are valuable for bird enthusiasts, but the diary’s notations about daily life at Chesterwood create the beginnings of a tableau showing how the house was used during the summer months, who visited, which rooms they occupied, and how they spent their time.
Below is a link to Brewster’s 1916 diary, which can be read on-line or downloaded as a PDF.
Margaret French Cresson, in the short essay titled “My Hand in the Hand of God,” recounts what it was like as a young girl at Chesterwood:
“In the country, ‘Shall we go for a walk this morning?’ would be the query on the Sabbath Day. And the spontaneity in the question, the look of warm invitation in my father’s eyes, would assure me that this was to be a rare adventure.“
The essay focuses on the outdoor life at Chesterwood. There are no descriptions of her room, dinner parties, or the studio. Instead, it is the trees. “As my short legs trudged our Berkshire Hills beside him, my father would point out to me the different varieties of trees, how the elm was shaped like a feather duster, and the maple was round and compact like a lollypop on a stick–nice, practical comparisons that a little girl could remember.”
She writes of her excitement for the first Sunday walk after arriving at Glendale: “For that first Sunday morning when we arrived in May was perhaps the most wonderful of all. . .” And comments on her frustration with some of the guests: “by the time full summer had come, there were always guests in the house who accompanied us, more or less unbidden, on the Sunday walks. This was a trial, for they were generally out for exercise and seemed only slightly aware of the wonders that surrounded them.”
Margaret recalls that there were always guests in the house during the summer. In autumn, the family had a few short weeks when the social season had died down, and she was able to enjoy the woods on her own. Like her father, she too seems to loathe returning to New York City for the winter. Although her diaries and engagement calendars document a lively and busy lifestyle in the city, apparently what she and her father loved most was a quiet walk in the woods.
“The autumn was the time that my father loved best. . .It was a breathtaking time of year, almost as breathtaking as Spring, and more poignant, because it had such little time to live, and we must catch it at the source and run with it and see it through to the end. The city was calling, and school again — with its dreary rooms and buff-colored walls, and there would be months of it, eight months nearly, to be gotten through somehow. And the only way that I could get through would be to soak in now, while I still could, all the ecstasy of this red and yellow forest. I couldn’t wait for next Sunday, I couldn’t wait for my father, so I stole out alone in the late afternoon to wander through the woods into the pasture, hoping, as I went past the studio door, that he would notice and follow when he could.”
It would seem from paging through the French family guest book, looking at Margaret’s engagement calendars, and viewing the many photographs of summertime visitors, parties, and events, that each member of the French family was outgoing and fun-loving. Indeed, Peggy, as she was known to friends and family, was friendly, bubbly, and often surrounded by admirers. In this short essay, however, she tosses aside the social atmosphere of Chesterwood and focuses on the natural beauty of the property and the landscape.
Perhaps what the sculptor loved about Chesterwood was not the lively social life, the teas, parties and benefits, but rather the chance to walk with his daughter among the elms, deep within the “strength of the forest.”
Today, visitors to French’s home and studio are encouraged to walk the extensive trails. Outdoor sculpture enlivens the landscape as visitors soak in the peaceful surroundings. “Nature’s beauty that has no end; this is something that has always been and always will be. . . Tomorrow the sun will shine again, the blade of grass will grow. Life and love are for all time. And this – this – is eternal.”
All quotes from Margaret French Cresson, typewritten essay, “My Hand in the Hand of God,” Chesterwood Archives
The dismantling of Daniel Chester French’s Chesterwood studio is currently underway and renovation should begin soon. As the works are covered, or packed and moved to storage, my next project is to focus on the family Residence. French, along with his wife Mary and daughter Margaret, lived at Chesterwood from late May to early November, escaping stifling New York City for the colorful social life of the Berkshires. I am looking for answers to the following questions: How was the Residence used during French’s lifetime? Who visited and what did they do while visiting? How were the rooms used? How did the French family fit in with the greater Berkshire “cottage” society? How has the Residence changed over time? How can we bring the house forward, attending to twenty-first century needs, while keeping in mind the house’s rich history?
At my disposal are the many historical files and photographs stored in the house itself; French’s diaries, guest books, and letters; Margaret French Cresson’s files, letters, photograph albums, scrapbooks, and writings in the archives at Chapin Library, Williams College; Mary Adams French’s short stories and other writings; and articles and books about the social lives of the summer inhabitants of the Berkshires.
In my research, I hope to uncover information about the French household and lifestyle. Rather like a fly on the wall, I hope to peek in on the sculptor when he’s not working in his studio. I hope to see Mary entertaining a constant flood of visiting friends and family, and Peggy romping about the grounds, throwing parties, and feverishly writing in her diary.
This blog will serve as a conduit between my research and the interested public. Monthly posts will highlight discoveries and enlighten the reader as to how the French family lived, loved, and relaxed at Chesterwood during the late spring, summer, and early fall. As French memorably remarked, “I spend six months of the year in New York, and the other six months in Heaven.” In the next few months I hope to bring that Heaven more clearly to light.