Saint-Gaudens Aspet: The Next National Historic Art Park?

New legislation may cause Augustus Saint-Gauden's "Aspet" to become a National Historic Art Park. What is the significance of this? Who exactly is Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and what influence has his work had on numismatics?

New legislation may cause Augustus Saint-Gauden’s “Aspet” to become a National Historic Art Park. What is the significance of this? Who exactly is Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and what influence has his work had on numismatics?

On May 12 legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress called “Saint-Gaudens National Park for the Arts Redesignation Act,” that seeks to redesignate the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire as the Saint-Gaudens National Arts Park. The site is maintained by the National Park Foundation.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) is one of the most well-known and highly admired artists and sculptors in American history, and his story starts just like that of many Americans. Born in Ireland to a French father and an Irish mother, his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was only 6 months old. He was raised in New York City, and after discovering his talent, he went on to study art not only in the U.S., but also abroad in Italy and France. He is undoubtedly the most accomplished American sculptor of his time, who best represented the “American Renaissance” in art and what was known as the Beaux-Arts generation. The latter was named for the famous French school, Ecole des Beaux Arts, in Paris, where he studied. Some of his most famous works include Civil War monuments and bar-relief sculptures that are considered the finest ever made.

Saint-Gaudens is well-known to numismatists as the key figure in President Theodore Roosevelt’s effort to produce a renaissance in American coinage. Roosevelt worked with Saint-Gaudens to replace what was widely considered to be bland coinage of the time with coins whose artistic excellence would rival those of the extremely High Relief Silver Tetradrachm of Ancient Greece! In particular, Saint-Gaudens impact on American coinage comes primarily from his beloved designs for the $10 Indian Gold Eagle and especially the $20 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle; two coins that literally revolutionized both American coinage and numismatics. Generations of coin collectors got their start from collecting one of these two beautiful coins. His 1907 Ultra High-relief Double Eagle, which was recreated in 2009 as a commemorative Double Eagle, is considered his finest numismatic achievement.  Creating art and coins with high relief was an essential aspect to his approach, which was inspired by the bas-relief art of France and the coinage of Ancient Greece, which includes many coins with a much higher relief than those of any other period.

The bipartisan legislation, includes companion bills from both chambers of Congress, including House bill, H.R. 5206, introduced by Rep. Frank Giunta (Republican of NH), and Senate bill, S. 2923, introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat of NH). So far the legislation is still in early stages with the house bill having been referred to the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands, while the Senate bill has been read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and then on June 15 hearings were held by that committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks. The practical significance of the legislation, if enacted, is that any reference to the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in laws, documents, maps, records, etc. would be considered to be one to the National Arts Park. 

Saint-Gaudens lived and worked at his residence in Cornish from 1885 until his untimely death in 1907 to cancer, just after completing his famous coin designs and with many unfinished works and designs left behind. His presence there attracted a large number of people from many different fields. Men and women practicing art, architecture, law, music, and many others relocated to Cornish, where they became known as the Cornish Art Colony.  As the legislation notes, this was one of the earliest art colonies in the U.S. and one of “the richest and most diverse concentrations of artists ever assembled” in this country.

The text of the bills also notes: “The core of the Cornish Art Colony is currently preserved at Aspet, the estate of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and at the Blow-Me-Down Farm, which served as a social hub for the Colony, both of which are part of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site; and throughout the long history of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, the Historic Site and the partner organization of the Historic Site, the Saint-Gaudens Memorial, have promoted the arts through the regular presentation of musical concerts, historical dramas, visual arts exhibitions, artistic workshops, and the oldest artist-in-residence program in the National Park Service, creating a vibrant artistic community that promotes the creation, performance, and interpretation of the artistic heritage of the United States.”

On June 26 a famous bronze cast of President Abraham Lincoln created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens will be unveiled in Cornish. The monument, currently held at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, captures the period when Lincoln was still largely unknown and rose to appeal to New Hampshire Republicans to end the immoral contradiction of slavery.  It is the first monument he completed at Cornish, and Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, said it was the best likeness of his father he had ever seen.

The legislation, provided it receives enough co-sponsors, passes both chambers, and is signed into law by the president, should serve to draw greater attention to this historically significant location. More people will be enabled to learn about the important legacy in art and coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, which are an essential part of America’s artistic and cultural heritage.

ModernCoinMart previously sold High Relief Proof Saint-Gaudens Winged Liberty commemorative that is based on the original design for Saint-Gauden’s famous Double Eagle. In this first design, Liberty is depicted with wings and a Native American headdress based on the sketches and unfinished plaster models he left behind. ModernCoinMart (MCM) has worked closely with both the Saint-Gauden’s Historic Site and with famous 12th Chief Engravor of the U.S. Mint John Mercanti to finish the plaster models. With this finished model, we were able to Mint stunning silver and gold versions of this coin that never was!  These commemoratives were struck by the renowned British Royal Mint through a private contract, assuring exceptional quality on the finished product.

If you are interested in owning one of these, act quickly! ModernCoinMart’s initial quantity sold out very fast, and although they got more in, there is no telling how long it will be available!

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