The creative spirit that moves people to sculpt and paint also tends to inspire an interesting artist home. Lucrative commissions in the days before the income tax meant some artists could live in country estates befitting a Gilded Age gentleman.
New England has quite a few artist homes now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
We bring you six artist homes, one in each New England state. They all open to the public, at least seasonally.
Weir Farm, the home of J. Alden Weir, was a magnet for American artists such as John Twachtman, John Singer Sargent and Albert Pinkham Ryder. It probably helped that the farm was only 20 miles from the Cos Cob art colony in Greenwich.
There are two stories about how J. Alden Weir ended up owning the Weir Farm in Wilton, Conn. One is that Weir had a Manet painting that a collector wanted so badly he offered Weir $10 and his farm for it. According to the other, his wife’s family owned the farm.
As an art student in Paris, J. Alden Weir hated the new school of painting known as French Impressionism, until he didn’t. Eventually he became one of the most beloved American impressionist.
He was born in 1852, the 14th of 16 children, the son of Robert Walker Weir, who taught drawing at the Military Academy at West Point.
Weir befriended many other painters, eventually co-founding The Ten, a group of artists unhappy with the conservative U.S. art establishment.
Weir’s paintings are on display in major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Phillips Collection, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Wadsworth Athenaeum. The 60-acre grounds of Weir Farm National Historic Site open every day of the year to visitors. The farm also has an ongoing artist-in-residence program. Look for Weir Farm on the back of quarters issued in 2020.
Weir Farm National Historic Site, 735 Nod Hill Rd, Wilton, Conn.
Winslow Homer Studio
Winslow Homer, one of the greatest U.S. artists of the 19th century, left the bright lights of New York City for Prout’s Neck, Maine. Then in his mid-40s, he moved partly to be near his family, partly to work in solitude and partly to paint the sea.
His family owned an estate on Prout’s Neck, and Homer moved into the carriage house. He painted the sea in Maine, traveling to the Caribbean during the winter and sometimes to the Adirondacks.
Though he also painted in oil, Winslow Homer knew he’d done something transcendent with his watercolors.
‘You will see, in the future I will live by my watercolors,” Homer once said. He hung some of his exquisite watercolors on the walls of the rental cottages. Now they’re in museums or private collections.
Maine architect John Calvin Stevens transformed the carriage house into a studio and designed the Winslow Homer house. He took as payment a painting, Afternoon Fog. The Portland Museum of Art bought the studio in 2006, restored it and now offers tours in the summer months.
Winslow Homer Studio, 5 Winslow Homer Rd., Scarborough, Maine
Daniel Chester French, like his contemporary Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was no starving artist. He won lucrative commissions, including one for the Lincoln Memorial, and could afford a summer artist home — an estate, really, called Chesterwood.
He bought the Stockbridge, Mass., farm in 1896, and had a studio built on the property. Then in 1901, he rebuilt the farmhouse. For the rest of his life he divided his time between New York and Stockbridge, but used his Chesterwood estate as his primary workspace.
Born in Exeter, N.H., his family moved to Concord, Mass., when he was xxx. His father befriended Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. Young Daniel took art lessons from Louisa May Alcott’s little sister, May. She encouraged him to study art.
He launched his career by winning the commission to design the Minute Man statue in Concord.
Other works include The John Harvard Monument, Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Mass. Commodore George H. Perkins monument at the New Hampshire State House
The statue of General Joseph Hooker in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation now runs the home as a museum and sculpture garden.
Chesterwood opens weekends in May.
Chesterwood, 4 Williamsville Rd, Stockbridge, Mass.
Saint-Gaudens National Park
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was the center of the Cornish colony, which included about 100 artists, writers and politicians from about 1895 to the end of World War I. It stretched from Windsor, Vt., to Plainfield, N.H. President Woodrow Wilson rented a summer White House there, among such artistic luminaries as Ethel Barrymore, Frederic Remington, Daniel Chester French, Isadora Duncan, Maxwell Perkins and Maxfield Parrish.
Saint-Gaudens, born in Ireland, emigrated with his family to New York City in 1848 as a baby. Apprenticed as a cameo cutter, he eventually won lucrative commissions for public statues. Some of his most famous work includes an equestrian statue of William Tecumseh Sherman in Central Park, a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and the gold double eagle $20 coin.
His masterpiece, the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, took him 14 years to create. The bronze bas relief commemorates the African-American 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and its leader, Robert Gould Shaw, who died in battle. Since 1897 years it has stood across from the Massachusetts Statehouse on Boston Common.
Today Saint-Gaudens artist home, studio and gardens belongs to the National Park Service as the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park. The park service has some of his sculpture on display, as well as reproductions of some of his masterpiece.
Saint-Gaudens National Park, 139 Saint Gaudens Rd., Cornish, N.H.
Gilbert Stuart Birthplace
The Gilbert Stuart birthplace is unusual for an artist home, mostly because it’s also a snuff mill.
Gilbert Stuart’s father, Gilbert Stewart, was a Scottish immigrant who worked in the first snuff mill in America. His mother, Elizabeth Anthony Stewart, belonged to a prominent Middletown, R.I., family that owned large tracts of land. The house-and mill had stood in Saunderstown, R.I., for five years when Stuart was born in 1755. Stuart only lived there for six years because his family moved to Newport.
Gilbert Stuart showed early promise and studied painting in England, where he made a name for himself at 26 with his painting The Skater. His work commanded high prices in England, but he spent money carelessly and almost ended up in debtor’s prison.
His most famous work, the portrait of George Washington, has appeared on the U.S. dollar for more than a century. He painted many famous people of the day, including John and Abigail Adams.
He died in 1828, leaving his wife and daughters so poor they couldn’t afford a gravesite. They buried him in an unmarked grave in the Old South Burying Ground.
Gilbert Stuart Birthplace, 815 Gilbert Stuart Rd, Saunderstown, R.I.
Rokeby, the artist home we chose in Vermont, was also a prominent stop on the underground railroad.
Rachael Robinson Elmer was born at Rokeby in Ferrisburgh, Vt., the granddaughter of Quaker abolitionists, on July 28, 1878.
Her father, Rowland Robinson, was an author and illustrator, and her mother, Anna Stevens Robinson, was a painter. They encouraged her interest in art, and let teenaged Rachael study art in New York City for three summers. She fell in love with New York City as a young girl and moved there after graduating from Goddard College. Rachael continued to take art classes, and Childe Hassam taught her to paint scenes of city life.
Rachael succeeded as a commercial artist and married an older man named Robert Elmer. She painted 12 “Art Lover’s New York” postcards showing famous scenes around the city and published them in 1914. They sold like wildfire, and other artists began producing impressionistic postcards. She was said to have changed postcards forever.
She died in 1919 in the flu pandemic of 1918 at the age of 40.
Today Rokeby is a historic farm property and museum that includes a 1780s farmstead, eight agricultural outbuildings with permanent exhibits, and hiking trails that cover more than 50 acres
Rokeby, 4334 U.S. Route 7 in Ferrisburgh, Vt.
If you enjoyed this story, you may also want to read about an artist home you can sleep in n each New England state here.
Artist Home images: Weir Farm studio By Noroton – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4960283; Winslow Homer studio By User:Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28919316; Chesterwood by I, Daderot, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2414120; Augustus Saint-Gaudens artist home, By Ser Amantio di Nicolao – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35171636; Robert Gould Shaw Memorial By Carptrash at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27154774; Gilbert Stuart birthplace By Gibbystuart – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40114851; Rokeby By Mfwills – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11310696.