The Chesterwood Archives
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, Daniel Chester French (20 April 1850–7 October 1931) developed a talent for sculpture while studying under Abigail May Alcott (sister of novelist Louisa) in Concord, Massachusetts. He also apprenticed briefly with John Quincy Adams Ward in New York City, trained in Boston with William Rimmer and William Morris Hunt, and worked in the studio of Thomas Ball in Florence, Italy.
His first public commission, completed in 1875, was the Minute Man (Minuteman National Park), erected for the centennial of the Battle of Concord at the start of the Revolutionary War. The Minute Man won French wide acclaim and marked the beginning of a distinguished career. For the next half-century, he was in great demand to create public sculpture. By the end of his remarkably productive life he produced more than one hundred such works, in addition to sculpted portraits. His most famous creation is the seated Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial (completed 1922) in Washington, D.C.
In 1888, after working in Concord, Boston, and Washington, French settled in New York City. In that same year, he married his cousin Mary Adams French (1859–1939). In 1896 he established a summer home, “Chesterwood”, in Stockbridge in western Massachusetts, and beginning in 1897 lived and worked there from May through October. The house and studio at Chesterwood were designed by Henry Bacon, later the architect of the Lincoln Memorial, while French himself laid out the estate’s gardens and woodland walks. (Chesterwood is open to the public on a seasonal basis: please visit the Chesterwood website for more information.)
A video introduction to Daniel Chester French by Richard Ager, “Sculpting an American Vision”, is available on YouTube.
Margaret French Cresson (1889–1973), as she became after her marriage in 1921 to William Penn Cresson, was the only child of Daniel Chester French and Mary Adams French. Born in Concord, Massachusetts, she was herself a talented sculptor, working in bronze and marble and specializing in portrait heads, reliefs, and memorial plaques. She studied under her father, with Abastenia St. Leger Eberle and George Demetrios, and at the New York School of Applied Design for Women. She also worked industriously to preserve the legacy of Daniel Chester French and the Chesterwood estate. Her Journey into Fame: The Life of Daniel Chester French was published in 1947. In 1969 she donated Chesterwood and its collections to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Contents of the Chesterwood Archives
In 2010 most of the documents, photographs, and other papers held at Chesterwood were transferred by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the Chapin Library for the sake of improved preservation, security, and access to researchers. Papers related specifically to Chesterwood itself – its land, buildings, collections, and activities – are retained on site in Stockbridge. The Chesterwood Archives, currently around 270 linear feet in extent, comprises seven series:
- Daniel Chester French. 128 boxes. Includes his manuscript account book, the primary reference for his commissions ca. 1901–1931, as well as his work on the Sculpture Committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1904–1906; photographs of his sculpture in progress and in situ; reference photographs; photographs of French and members of his family; architectural drawings, mostly by Henry Bacon (1866–1924); manuscripts; albums and scrapbooks; and miscellaneous ephemera. The fragile account book has been scanned, so that a digital copy may be used (on site) for easy reference; a description of the electronic files may be found here. PDF
- Margaret French Cresson. 172 boxes. Documents and photographs concerning her sculpture; manuscripts and typescripts; photograph albums; correspondence; audio recordings; and miscellanea from her estate. This is the largest unit in the Chesterwood Archives, and is rich with information and insights for the study of art in the first half of the 20th century.
- Mary Adams French. 9 boxes. Literary manuscripts and typescripts, and correspondence.
- Henry Flagg French. 2 boxes. Chiefly letters by Daniel Chester French’s father (1813–1885) to a Miss Dodge.
- Henry French Hollis. 1 box. A typescript journal of travel in war-torn Europe in 1918, by Daniel Chester French’s nephew (1869–1949), then a United States Senator from New Hampshire.
- William Penn Cresson. 30 boxes. Photographs taken by Margaret French Cresson’s husband (1873–1932), a diplomat and teacher; diaries of his travels; writings; and Cresson family photographs.
- Helen Douglass French. 1 box. A small number of papers of an architect and advisor to Margaret French Cresson. Helen Douglass (1900–1994) married Prentiss French (1894–1989), a nephew of Daniel Chester French.
In 1963 Margaret French Cresson gave to the Library of Congress correspondence of her father, herself, and other members of her family, altogether some 23,000 items. A finding guide to this collection is available on the Library of Congress web site (see link below). Most of these papers were microfilmed, and two copies made of the 44 reels: one set is at the Library of Congress, for use generally in lieu of the original documents; the other may be consulted at the Chapin Library in conjunction with the Chesterwood Archives.
The Chapin Library also contains a selection of biographies and other books concerned with Daniel Chester French: Memories of a Sculptor’s Wife by Mary Adams French (1928); Journey into Fame: The Life of Daniel Chester French by Margaret French Cresson (1947); and American Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Thayer Tolles (1999). Offprints of many relevant periodical articles are contained in the Margaret French Cresson papers. Additional references, The Lincoln Memorial by Edward Concklin (1927), Daniel Chester French: Sculptor by Adeline Adams (1932), and The Lincoln Memorial and American Life by Christopher A. Thomas (2002), are available in Sawyer Library. Further books about Daniel Chester French and his work, and about Chesterwood, are in the library of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; these include Daniel Chester French, an American Sculptor by Michael Richman (1976).
The Chesterwood Archives are available for use in the Archives/Chapin reading room in Sawyer Library, Room 441. Most materials are housed on-site, but some larger items are currently in our off-site shelving facility. Researchers are asked to give sufficient advance notice to staff, with details of materials wanted, according to references given in the available finding guides (prepared by Chesterwood staff, PDF):
- Finding Guide to the Chesterwood Archives
- Alphabetical Finding Guide to the Chesterwood Archival Photographs
- Index of Archival Blueprints, Drawings, and Awards
Copyright and Permissions
Copyrights in the Chesterwood Archives held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation were transferred to Williams College and are administered by the Chapin Library. Some photographs in the Archives may be copyrighted by the photographer or his/her heirs. Inquiries about permission to publish or reprint items from the Chesterwood Archives may be sent to the Chapin Library as directed on our contact page. Fees or other payments may apply.
- The Reinterpretation of Daniel Chester French’s Studio (blog)
- National Trust for Historic Preservation
- Daniel Chester French: Sculpting an American Vision VIDEO
- Daniel Chester French Papers at the Concord (Mass.) Free Public Library
- Daniel Chester French by Thayer Tolles
- Daniel Chester French Papers at the Library of Congress PDF
- Designing the Lincoln Memorial
- Minute Man by Thayer Tolles
- Mourning Victory from the Melvin Memorial
- The Friends of Sleepy Hollow (resting place of Daniel Chester French)
The site Daniel Chester French: Sculpture in Situ, by Douglas Yeo, a bass trombonist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Chester French enthusiast, provides lengthy descriptions and photographs of a variety of French’s public sculptures.