Chesterwood: The Workshop of an American Sculptor (Teaching with Historic Places)

Interior of Chesterwood workshop with sculptures. (Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

This lesson is part of the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program.

When Daniel Chester French spoke of his summer studio and home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, he declared, "I spend six months of the heaven."¹ The setting was perfect for an artist. Through the open door of the studio, French could look out to carefully tended lilies, marigolds, hollyhocks, and zinnias lining a long walk leading north to the woods. Beyond them, French could admire a panoramic view of the rolling Berkshire hills.

Inspiration was replaced with dusty practicality inside the studio. This workspace was designed specifically for creating monumental public sculpture. French spent 34 summers at Chesterwood, working daily in this studio on such important works as the Abraham Lincoln that forms the centerpiece of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The property, operated as a historic house museum by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has changed little since French's death in 1931. Modern visitors still comment on the contrast between the elaborate summer "cottage" and carefully landscaped grounds, and the functional studio of a hard-working man whose business was sculpture.

¹ "Daniel French, U.S. Sculpture Dean, 80 Today" New York Herald Tribune, April 20, 1930; cited in Michael Richman, Daniel Chester French, An American Sculptor (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1976), 199.

About This Lesson

This lesson is based on the National Historic Landmark nomination file, "Daniel Chester French Home and Studio" (with photographs), materials prepared for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Daniel Chester French, An American Sculptor, by Michael Richman. It was written by Rita Koman, an education consultant. The lesson was edited by Fay Metcalf, Marilyn Harper, and the Teaching with Historic Places staff. TwHP is sponsored, in part, by the Cultural Resources Training Initiative and Parks as Classrooms programs of the National Park Service. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the country.

Where it fits into the curriculum

Topics: This lesson could be used in American history, social studies, and geography courses in units on late 19th, and early 20th-century reform movements, on the growth of urban America, or in an introduction to American art history.

Time period: 1875-1925

United States History Standards for Grades 5-12

Chesterwood: The Workshop of an American Sculptor relates to the following National Standards for History:

Era 6: The Development of the Industrial United States (1870-1900)

  • Standard 2C- The student understands how new cultural movements at different social levels affected American life.

Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

(National Council for the Social Studies)

Chesterwood: The Workshop of an American Sculptor relates to the following Social Studies Standards:

Theme I: Culture

  • Standard C - The student explains and give examples of how language, literature, the arts, architecture, other artifacts, traditions, beliefs, values, and behaviors contribute to the development and transmission of culture.

Theme II: Time, Continuity and Change

  • Standard E - The student develops critical sensitivities such as empathy and skepticism regarding attitudes, values, and behaviors of people in different historical contexts.

Theme III: People, Places and Environments

  • Standard A - The student elaborates mental maps of locales, regions, and the world that demonstrate understanding of relative location, direction, size, and shape.

  • Standard B - The student creates, interprets, uses, and distinguishes various representations of the earth, such as maps, globes, and photographs.

  • Standard D - The student estimates distance, calculate scale, and distinguish's other geographic relationships such as population density and spatial distribution patterns.

  • Standard G - The student describes how people creates places that reflect cultural values and ideals as they build neighborhoods, parks, shopping centers, and the like.

Theme IV: Individual Development and Identity

  • Standard B - The student describes personal connections to places associated with community, nation, and world.

  • Standard C - The student describes the ways family, gender, ethnicity, nationality, and institutional affiliations contribute to personal identity.

  • Standard D - The student relate such factors as physical endowment and capabilities, learning, motivation, personality, perception, and behavior to individual development.

  • Standard E - The student identifies and describes ways regional, ethnic, and national cultures influence individuals daily lives.

Theme V: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

  • Standard B - The student analyzes group and institutional influences on people, events, and elements of culture.

  • Standard D - The student identifies and analyzes examples of tensions between expressions of individuality and group or institutional efforts to promote social conformity.

Objectives for students

1) To describe the life, work, and workplace of Daniel Chester French.
2) To determine ways in which French's works reflected the culture of his time.
3) To describe the role of public sculpture in expressing and transmitting cultural values.
4) To compare French's work with public monuments or statues found in their own community.

Materials for students

The materials listed below either can be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a smaller, low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger version.

1) One map of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the surrounding region;
2) three readings on the sculptor Daniel Chester French and his work;
3) One drawing of Chesterwood today;
4) nine photos of French's workplace and some of his works.

Visiting the site

Chesterwood is a historic house museum operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is located on Willliamsville Road, one mile south of the intersection of routes 183 and 102 in the Glendale section of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Follow the signs from the west end of Main Street in Stockbridge. For more information, contact the Chesterwood Museum, P. O. Box 827, Stockbridge, MA 01262, or visit Chesterwood's Web page.

Getting Started

Inquiry Question

Photo of half constructed statue. (National Archives and Record Administration, photographer unknown)

(National Archives and Record Administration, photographer unknown)

What is happening in this photo?

Setting the Stage

Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) was one of the most important American sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period which saw an explosion of civic art and architecture. The years after the Civil War witnessed enormous change as America became more urbanized, industrial, and diverse. Public art, that is works of art designed to be displayed in public places, was seen as a way of expressing the country's emerging wealth and power, commemorating its heroes, and reminding both long-time citizens and newcomers of values and traditions that sometimes seemed in danger of being lost.

Sculptors enjoyed high status during the 50 years between 1875 and 1925. Working in close collaboration with architects and artists, they helped create the "White City" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago¹ and the "City Beautiful" movement, whose grandiose public buildings and formal boulevards seemed to promise a solution to the problems of industrial urbanization. Their sculptures and memorials, inspired by the monuments of classical Greece and Rome, linked the United States, just beginning to think of itself as a world power, with great nations and civilizations of the past. And their portraits of national heroes helped encourage patriotism and "Americanize" the floods of immigrants that many saw as a threat to American society.

¹ The World's Columbian Exposition or Chicago World's Fair or 1893 was an extravagant fair intended to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to America.

Locating the Site

Map 1: Northeastern United States.

Map of Northeastern United States.

In the late 19th century, New York City was the unofficial capital of the nation's art world, but artists often spent their summers away from the city. Daniel Chester French's permanent home and studio had been in New York City since 1888. In 1891 and 1893, French and his wife rented a summer house in Cornish, New Hampshire, an artist's colony created by noted sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. They soon began a search for a place of their own. In 1895 they toured the Housatonic River Valley in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts and visited the town of Stockbridge. In the decades following the Civil War, wealthy and cultivated men and women from Boston and New York had discovered Stockbridge as a place to spend leisurely summers in their large, comfortable "cottages." The following summer, French bought a farm located a few miles from town and began to convert it into the estate he named "Chesterwood" after the French family's hometown of Chester, New Hampshire.

Questions for Map 1

1. Locate New York City and Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Considering the time period, how do you think French would have traveled between these two places each year?

2. Based on the map, how would you describe the location of Stockbridge? Why might wealthy people from Boston and New York City have wanted to spend their summers here? Why might the area have appealed to French as an artist?

Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Sculptor, Daniel Chester French

Daniel Chester French, the youngest of four children, was born on April 20, 1850, in Exeter, New Hampshire. Both of his parents came from old New England families. His father, a lawyer, served as the first president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College and as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, in Washington, D.C., from 1876 to 1885.

French showed some talent for drawing as a child, but it was not until the family moved to Concord, Massachusetts, in 1867 that he became seriously interested in sculpture. Family friend Abigail May Alcott (the inspiration for Amy in Little Women), a painter and sculptor, gave him his first instruction in modeling in clay. His family encouraged his efforts, providing him with lessons with a sculptor and teacher of anatomy in Boston.

In 1873 Ralph Waldo Emerson, famous essayist, poet, and a family friend, helped French obtain his first major commission, the Minute Man. The statue was to be erected at the North Bridge in Concord to commemorate the centennial of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. The U.S. Congress authorized melting down ten Civil War cannons to provide bronze for the statue. Townspeople searched their attics for clothing worn by the militiamen in order for French to make his statue accurate in detail. Several Concord residents posed for the head; the body was based on a famous classical sculpture. President Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other important figures of the time attended the formal dedication in April 1875, but the sculptor was not among them.

French was in Florence, Italy, learning marble cutting, the making of plaster casts, and techniques for creating large pieces of sculpture; later he studied in Paris. Between these trips, he obtained commissions to produce portrait busts and monumental figures for public buildings. He received praise for both types of work, and his reputation grew.

French was selected to produce three large sculptures for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago (the World's Columbian Exposition). Approximately 27 million people visited the exhibits and displays which were housed in some 200 buildings.¹ French's 65-foot-high statue representing the abstract ideal of the Republic was the centerpiece of that extravagant celebration. He soon had more commissions than he could handle. From the early 20th century until his death, French was regarded as the nation's foremost sculptor. His work was so popular that he often had to book commissions two or three years in advance. In the course of his career, he produced more than 100 portrait statues, allegorical or figurative memorials, and architectural sculptures and reliefs. He also served on numerous juries for sculpture competitions and found time to play an active role in the contemporary art world.

French's background and personality were well suited to his work as a public sculptor. A member of the social elite himself, he could move comfortably among the industrialists, businessmen, and civic leaders who were responsible for commissioning and building much of the grand architecture and sculpture of the period. He was sociable and had many friends, but at the core he was a reserved person. He tended to accept rather than criticize the established order, and his strong sense of patriotism was reflected in many of his public works.

French continued to work until his death in 1931 at the age of 81. Not many years before he died, he exclaimed, "I'd like to live to be two thousand years old and just sculpt all the time."² It seems fitting that his funeral took place in the studio at Chesterwood, where he was surrounded by the tools and the treasures of a long and productive life spent doing what he loved.

Questions for Reading 1
1. How was French's talent for sculpture first developed?
2. What role did Ralph Waldo Emerson play in French's early career? What role do you think that "contacts" play in artists' careers generally?
3. How did the opportunity to create works for the World's Fair in Chicago affect French's career?
4. What characteristics of French's personality contributed to his success as a public sculptor?

Reading 1 was adapted from Polly M. Rettig, "Daniel Chester French Home and Studio" (Berkshire County, Massachusetts) National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1974; and Michael Richman, Daniel Chester French, An American Sculptor (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press), 1976.
¹ Stanley Applebaum, The Chicago World's Fair of 1893: A Photographic Record (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1980), 106.
² Margaret French Cresson,
Journey into Fame (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1947), 295.

Determining the Facts
Reading 2: Chesterwood: Home and Workplace

After he purchased the farm that was to become the estate of Chesterwood in 1896, Daniel Chester French was anxious to get to work. His first priority was building the studio. Because the barn was located just a short walk from the house and had a wonderful view, French had it moved so he could use its site for his studio. Then French commissioned his friend, architect Henry Bacon, to design and oversee the construction of his workplace.

When completed, the studio had all the space and technical features a sculptor could want. The workroom was 30 by 30 feet. The 22 foot ceiling rose to 33 feet at its highest point, enough to accommodate even the largest statue. A huge skylight in the north roof and banks of windows on the north and east walls provided ample lighting. Shades on the windows controlled the amount of light. The most remarkable feature was the revolving modeling table mounted on a flatcar on a short section of railroad track leading outside through 22-foot high double doors. Since much of French's work was to be placed outdoors, the artist believed it was important to be able to move a work in progress outside from time to time to see how it was affected by sunlight.

The workroom also contained sculptures in various stages of completion, as well as tools, equipment, and material for producing plaster casts. Portable steps provided access to the top of tall statues. Smaller sculptures were placed on modeling stands that could be rolled to any part of the studio. Shelves held plaster models French wanted to save. A hutch and two chests of drawers contained blueprints, paint supplies, and photographs of French's own work and that of other sculptors. A trap door in the workroom floor provided access to additional storage space in the basement.

Daniel Chester French spent half of the year at his home and studio in New York City. During the six months of the year that he lived at Chesterwood, he spent most of every work day in the studio. He appeared promptly at nine and worked until half past five, with a break for lunch. He generally worked with one or two assistants, who were responsible for preparing the clay, casting plaster models, and enlarging sculptures.

French also met with prospective clients in the studio. The clients first inspected works in progress and plaster casts of earlier works in the workroom. Then they moved into the one-story reception room to discuss design, schedule, and cost for the proposed sculpture. The reception room was very different from the functional workroom. It contained a piano, a fireplace, and interesting furniture such as a carved chest containing costumes used by his models. A built-in bookcase held art catalogues, books on painting and sculpture, period costumes, and military equipment and uniforms. Double French doors led from the reception area to a formal garden with a fountain. The room was so pleasant that the family often used it to entertain guests. In bad weather, Mary French held Friday afternoon teas there, and French's daughter and her friends sometimes used the room for charades and other games.

On the south side of the studio, a piazza provided a view of Monument Mountain. The piazza was furnished with wicker chairs, pottery jugs and urns from Mexico, reproduction Egyptian stools, and large decorative pots for plants. A built-in bench along the wall was flanked by life-size figures from an early version of one of French's projects.

Like the studio, the house at Chesterwood was designed to take advantage of the views. Large windows faced Monument Mountain. French's bedroom on the second floor had the best view of all the rooms on that floor. Filled with images of his daughter, the house reflected French's pride in his family. One of the downstairs rooms recreated the parlor in the French homestead in Chester. Another room was paneled with woodwork taken from the farmhouse that stood on the Chesterwood property when French bought it.

Questions for Reading 2
1. What features made French's workroom so efficient?
2. Use a tape measure to determine the size of the workroom. Why do you think French's studio needed to be so large?
3. How was the reception room used by French and by his family? Why was it important to have such a pleasant room as part of the studio?
4. Why did the studio have a piazza? Do you think it is important for an artist to live in inspiring surroundings? Discuss.

Reading 2 was adapted from Polly M. Rettig, "Daniel Chester French Home and Studio," (Berkshire County, Massachusetts) National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1974; Jane B. Gillette, "The Art of Living," Historic Preservation (March-April, 1992), and Michael Richman, Daniel Chester French: An American Sculptor (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1976).

Determining the Facts
Reading 3: Working on the Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial was planned as the anchor for a western extension of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built on land reclaimed from the Potomac River. For this important location, French's good friend Henry Bacon designed a huge, white marble temple. From the beginning, Bacon's plans called for a statue of Lincoln to be displayed within the temple, and he wanted that statue to be the work of Daniel Chester French. After some delay, French did receive the commission and began work on the Abraham Lincoln. The first step was to prepare a "maquette." This small, three-dimensional, clay sketch, about 7 inches high, showed French's proposed design for the project. "It should interest you to know," wrote French to Bacon in mid-1915, "that I am making sketch models for the statue of Lincoln. At present I am feeling very much encouraged, but I am suspicious of my enthusiasms."¹ By the end of October his first model was finished. He modeled the head on photographs and on the death mask made after Lincoln's assassination. Worried about the hands on the arms of the chair, he studied photographs to see how Lincoln usually placed his hands. French even made casts of his own hands for reference.

After the concept was approved, he created a larger working model, also in clay. This was used to work out the positioning of the figure and the selection of appropriate clothing, drapery, or other ornamentation. French also created a half-sized model, which was used to decide on surface treatments and small details. These models were enlarged by French's assistants. As the scale of the models increased, the forms were refined and adjusted; what might seem to be an insignificant detail in the sketch might be a problem that needed to be corrected when the sculpture was enlarged to many times its original size. The half size model was enlarged to full size by professional stone carvers, but French himself took care of the finishing touches. French worked on the project for nine years. When the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922, he was 72 years old.

Throughout his work on the Lincoln statue, French worried that the size of Bacon's building would overwhelm anything but a massive sculpture. The eight-foot-high model that he brought to Washington to test was dwarfed. He had gigantic photographs made--14 to 18 feet high--and put together on wooden frameworks. Each photograph was set up in turn. Only the largest seemed appropriate for the space. From the originally projected 10 feet, the completed statue grew to 19 feet, placed on a base 11 feet tall.

French turned to the six Piccirilli brothers in New York City for the carving of the final, monumental figure. He had worked with them before and knew that they would make sure that the finished statue replicated his model exactly. French was abroad when the statue was installed in the Lincoln Memorial, but upon his return he hurried to see it. He was nervous; this statue was perhaps the most important of his long career. He wrote, "I was very much relieved to see that it was not too large for its surroundings. I got into rather a panic about this for it didn't seem that a statue that large could fit into any place without being too colossal."²

French was, however, horrified at the effect of the lighting on the statue. Changes to the skylights had eliminated shadows that were essential to French's design, transforming Lincoln's expression into a blank stare. The lighting was still not right when the Lincoln Memorial was officially dedicated on Memorial Day, 1922. The dignitaries and the public did not notice. They found the building and the figure magnificent. The lighting problem was not solved until 1926, when floodlights were installed to shine down on the statue from above.³ French was finally satisfied with his work.

Widely acclaimed when it was first installed, the Abraham Lincoln has awed visitors ever since. French's daughter told a story about one special visitor. French was standing in the shadows of the east chamber one evening working on the lighting. He saw a limousine draw up in front of the memorial. With effort, an old man emerged from the vehicle and, with his head bent, slowly made his way up the steps. As he approached the statue he took off his hat and, resting on his cane, sank slowly to his knees. For a long time he remained kneeling, his head bowed, as if recalling memories that others had forgotten. Then Robert Todd Lincoln, the 83-year-old son of Abraham Lincoln, rose, walked down the steps, and disappeared into the night.4

Questions for Reading 3
1. What is a "maquette"? How was it useful for the sculptor, for the client?
2. Why do you think the sculptor made models of his work in so many different sizes? Which of them do you think could be considered an "original"?
3. What did French do to ensure that the Abraham Lincoln was an accurate portrayal? Do you think these steps were necessary? Why or why not?
4. How do you think French might have felt as he watched Lincoln's son kneel before the statue of his father?

Reading 3 was adapted from Polly M. Rettig, "Daniel Chester French Home and Studio," (County, Massachusetts) National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1974; Michael Richman, Daniel Chester French, An American Sculptor (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1976), and Willadene Price, "Daniel Chester French: The Artist as Historian," Social Education, Vol. 46, No.1 (January, 1982). Information on process adapted from George Gurney, Sculpture in the Federal Triangle (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985).
¹ Daniel Chester French to Henry Bacon, May 29, 1915; cited in Michael Richman, Daniel Chester French: An American Sculptor (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1976), 175-176.
² Daniel Chester French to Newton Mackintosh, February 13, 1920; cited in Richman, 182.
³ Wayne Craven,
Sculpture in America (Newark DE: University of Delaware Press, 1984), 405.
4 Willadene Price, "Daniel Chester French: The Artist as Historian,"
Social Education, Vol. 46, No. 1 (January 1982), 60.

Visual Evidence

Drawing 1: Bird's-eye view of Chesterwood.

Bird's-eye view of Chesterwood.(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Chesterwood is now a historic house museum operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It looks very much as it did during French's time. The two buildings at the main entrance were built by the Frenches as garages. The barn was not converted to a gallery until the 1960s. The parking lot is located on the site of the kitchen garden that provided vegetables for the table, and some of the trees near the picnic area survive from French's orchard.

Questions for Drawing 1

1. Locate the main house and the studio. Where is the studio in relation to the entrance? To the residence? Why was it located there?

2. Locate the gardens. Why do you think they were put there?

3. What general impressions do you have of the house, studio, and grounds based on the drawing?

Visual Evidence

Photo 1: French's studio at Chesterwood.

French's studio at Chesterwood. (National Park Service, Polly Rettig, photographer)

(National Park Service, Polly Rettig, photographer)

Photo 2: The main house at Chesterwood.

The main house at Chesterwood. (National Park Service, Polly Rettig, photographer)

(National Park Service, Polly Rettig, photographer)

Henry Bacon designed this house in 1901 to replace a smaller farmhouse that stood on the property when French bought it. French needed additional space for his many visitors, as well as for the servants that he brought with him from New York.

Questions for Photos 1 and 2

1. What features described in Reading 2 can you see in Photo 1?

2. Find the studio on Drawing 1 and match up the photo with the drawing. Which part of this building do you think is the workroom, based on Reading 2? Which do you think is the reception room? What evidence supports your conclusions?

3. How would you describe the house? What features of the house might indicate that it was a summer residence in a particularly scenic area?

4. In what ways does the house resemble the studio? How does it differ? Why do you think French and his wife wanted to make sure the architecture of the house and the studio was compatible?

Visual Evidence

Photo 3: Interior of the workroom today.

Interior of the Chersterwood workroom today. National Trust photo.

(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Photo 4: Sculpture on railroad track, 1905.

Sculpture on railroad track, 1905.(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Photo 4 depicts a model of one of French's statues on a railroad flatcar on the track that made it possible to move sculptures outside the studio. The model is of one of four sculptured groups, each about 10 feet high, which still stand in front of the former U. S. Custom House in New York City. This sculpture represents the continent of North America. Daniel Chester French was famous for his ability to use sculptures of human figures to personify abstract symbols and ideals.

Questions for Photo 3 and 4

1. How does the view in Photo 3 compare with the description of the workroom in Reading 2? What do you think might account for the differences?

2. All of the sculpture displayed in Photo 3, including the small pieces on the shelf, are plaster casts. French also kept a number of bronze casts of his own work. Why do you think he did this?

3. Can you identify the doors leading outside in Photo 3? Why do you think it would be important to see sculptures like this out of doors?

4. The kind of monumental sculpture depicted in Photo 4 was very popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From your readings, can you suggest reasons why this might have been the case?

Visual Evidence

Photo 5: Minute Man.

Minute Man statue with man holding rifle. (Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

This larger-than-life-sized bronze sculpture stands at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. The statue was unveiled on April 19, 1875, the centennial of the battles of Concord and Lexington, the opening shots of the Revolutionary War. The first stanza of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Concord Hymn, a famous poem much recited by school children of the day, is carved on the base:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

Questions for Photo 5

1. How old was French when the status was dedicated? Why was this sculpture important to him?

2. French's first sketch for the Minute Man was of an awkward militia man grasping a musket and with legs wide apart, as if preparing to run into battle. The final version showed the man standing resolute with one hand holding his gun and the other placed firmly on a plow. Do you think the addition of the plow was important? Why or why not?

Visual Evidence

Photo 6: Abraham Lincoln being installed at the Lincoln Memorial, 1922.

Photo of half constructed statue. (National Archives and Record Administration, photographer unknown)

(National Archives and Record Administration, photographer unknown)

Questions for Photo 6

1. This photo shows the Lincoln statue being put together in the Lincoln Memorial. Even though a machine was used in enlarging sculptures, much of the work still needed to be done by hand. How difficult do you think it would have been to ensure that the 28 individual blocks of marble fit together perfectly?

2. What can you learn about the process of creating monumental public sculpture from studying this photo? What can you learn about the time period?

Visual Evidence

Photo 7: Sketch model of Abraham Lincoln.

Sketch model of Abraham Lincoln. (Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

(Peter A. Juley & Son Collection, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Photo 8: Working model of Abraham Lincoln.

Working model of Abraham Lincoln statue. (Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Photo 9: Detail, Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C.

Photo of the Lincoln Memorial Statue. (Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Photograph by ©Michael Richman)

(Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Photograph by ©Michael Richman)

Questions for Photos 7-9

1. These photos show stages in the creation of the statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial. What differences can you identify between the sketch model and the working model? French rarely changed the basic design he created for the sketch. How do you think the changes you identified affected the final sculpture?

2. What changes can you see between the working model and the final statue?

3. Why do you think French was so concerned about the effect of the lighting in the Lincoln Memorial on the statue?

4. French wanted Lincoln's face to show the dignity of the man, but also the agony of the Civil War leader. Do you think the finished statue reflected the qualities he was hoping to capture? Why or why not?

Putting It All Together

The following activities will help students understand the role of Daniel Chester French and other public sculptors in society and to understand why their work was so highly valued in turn-of-the-20th-century America.

Activity 1: Reading a Sculpture
Ask each student to select one of the works shown in Photos 4, 5, or 6-9, examine it carefully, and make a list of the symbols and other details that they identify. These might include facial expressions; positions of arms, legs, or heads; clothing, objects, or animals included; writing; etc. Have students share their lists. Then ask them to write a short paper in which they explain what message the sculpture they selected is trying to convey and how it communicates that message.

The Minute Man was one of the most popular sculptures of the 19th century. The Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous of all 20th-century sculptures. Ask the students to identify qualities that might contribute to that popularity. Ask them what values these sculptures reflect and why they were and/or are important to the American public. Discuss. Which sculpture do they like best? Why?

Some works of art reflect the society in which they were created. Others push traditional limits, both by exploring new modes and techniques of expression and by challenging the artistic and intellectual status quo. Ask students which of these categories they think applies to French's sculptures.

Activity 2: Sculpture as Work
Explain to students that Thomas Edison once said that invention was "10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." Ask students whether they think this saying applies to artistic work, based on what they have learned about Daniel Chester French. Next, have students work in groups to identify ways that French stimulated his imagination, referring back to the readings and visual evidence. Then ask them to list all of the kinds of work French needed to do to complete a sculpture and put it in place, again using the readings.

Invite an art teacher or an artist from the community to meet with the class. Have the students interview the guest to learn about the kinds of skills and work activity required for artists in different media. Ask the students to decide whether Edison's comment appears to apply to most artists.

Ask them to speculate on why most people think "inspiration" is more important than "perspiration" in the creation of works of art. Do they agree or disagree with that position?

Activity 3: Public Art in the Community
Ask students to choose an example of three-dimensional art in their own community to study. Tell them to look for ornamentation of buildings, sculptures in parks, squares, or other public spaces, war memorials, and carvings found in cemeteries. Have them do research to discover when the work was created. If the work is a sculpture, see if they can find information about the sculptor, the donor, and the event or person commemorated. Then have students photograph or make a sketch of the work to show to the class. Have students explain to the class what they think its "message" was intended to be and how it conveys that message. Have them also describe what elements they found that seem similar to those found in French's work.

Chesterwood: The Workshop of an American Sculptor--
Supplementary Resources

By looking at Chesterwood: The Workshop of an American Sculptor, students learn about the life and work of an important sculptor and about the important role public sculpture played in turn-of-the-20th century America. Those interested in learning more will find that the Internet offers a variety of interesting materials.

Historic Places of America’s Diverse Culture
The National Register of Historic Places online itinerary Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures highlights the historic places and stories of America’s diverse cultural heritage. This itinerary seeks to share the contributions various peoples have made in creating American culture and history.

Chesterwood Estate and Museum
Visit Chesterwood's website for more information on the historic house museum and its activities, including a short history and photographs.

Library of Congress
Search the American Memory Collection for primary resources on public sculpture in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The America's Stories from America's Library Collection, designed especially for young people, has a section on Daniel Chester French, including images of some of his work.

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden
Their exhibit, "From Statues to Sculpture," discusses the evolution of American sculpture from 1860 to 1988 and includes an image of another statue of Abraham Lincoln that French created for the capitol in Lincoln, NE, where the gallery is located.

Save Outdoor Sculpture!
The Save Outdoor Sculpture! Web page includes information on outdoor sculptures all over the country and how to appreciate and take care of them. The interactive SOS4KIDS Web page has activities about looking at sculpture and a map to identify important outdoor sculptures in each state.

For Further Reading
Students interested in learning more about Daniel Chester French and his work, may want to read Michael Richman's biography, Daniel Chester French, An American Sculptor (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1976).

Last updated: June 26, 2023