Take out a five dollar bill and you’ll see one of the most iconic buildings in America depicted on the back: the Lincoln Memorial. Each year, more than four million visitors make the pilgrimage to the Memorial in Washington, DC, walking along the reflecting pool and up a great flight of stairs into an immense temple. There, they confront an enormous seated marble figure who radiates dignity and wisdom. Now this is a place that matters.
For the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the National Gallery of Art will open a special exhibit on this building on February 12. Designing the Lincoln Memorial: Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon will explore the making of the statue and the Memorial, the careers of sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, and the role the Lincoln Memorial has played in American life. On loan from Chesterwood, a National Trust Historic Site owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, will be the six-foot high plaster final model of the statue. This is only the second time this model has been allowed to travel from the site. Even though it comes apart in seven pieces, it’s still big and fragile so a special crew from the National Gallery of Art will crate and transport the sculpture from Massachusetts to Washington, DC. Along with this exhibit, the enormous gilt Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (French’s contemporary) and the American paintings galleries are returning to public view after nearly two years of renovations. (Read the full release on the loan of the sculpture.)
This year will be a great one to visit Washington, DC, but do visit Chesterwood in western Massachusetts during the summer. Daniel Chester French chose the site for the views and it continues to be a very special place, especially in combination with his home and studio filled with his sculpture, a contemporary sculpture show on the grounds, formal gardens, and woodlands. The place has hardly changed—the road in front is still unpaved!
Here are my suggestions for a nice long weekend in Stockbridge, Massachusetts: visit Chesterwood, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and Naumkeag to get your fill of art and architecture; walk around downtown to enjoy an historic Main Street (Lightworks Arts and Crafts Gallery is topnotch, the First Congregational Church is wonderfully rustic, and the stone horse trough that survives is charming); and finally have a great dinner at the Red Lion Inn (and a good place to stay as well: it’s a Historic Hotel of America). If you’re a food lover, look for Berkshire Blue cheese at a local market—it’s among the best I’ve tasted.
-- Max van Balgooy
Max van Balgooy is the director of interpretation and education for National Trust Historic Sites.
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