Photo Gallery | Monument Mountain students document renovations at Naumkeag
STOCKBRIDGE -- A group of Monument Mountain Regional High School students are clicking their way into history.
This year's photography students of the after-school Spartan Launch program have formally partnered with The Trustees of Reservations to provide official documentation of the multimillion-dollar renovations currently underway at The Trustees' Naumkeag property.
"With this project, [the students] get to contribute to this brand new component of historical preservation," said Michael Lavin Flower, who teaches and supervises the core group of seven students photographing Naumkeag. The students, all Monument sophomores, include Julia Miner, Becca Houle, Sydnie Strawn, Alianne Schatz, Victoria Ryan, Luke Hildreth and Hunter Andrus.
Last year, through the Spartan Launch program, students did a project documenting various faces and places throughout the town of Stockbridge, including Naumkeag. This year, Flower said the group took on with gusto the assignment to explore this historic home and gardens.
"It's been a great example of how public schools can be helped with private dollars," Flower said. The school purchased cameras with grants, but The Trustees also purchased some lenses, editing software, video cameras, paper and toner for printing.
"If you didn't have a camera, being able to access one and do this now is a good opportunity," Miner said.
In addition to the group taking thousands of digital photographs, Hildreth and Andrus also designed a plan to make time-lapse videos of the restorative work using small GoPro cameras purchased for the program by The Trustees.
"It's pretty cool. There's so much history here," Andrus said. He said that until his first visit with the school, he had never heard of Naumkeag, though he lives in nearby Monterey.
"This building is so much more than a building. There's a lot more that lies within," Andrus said, "and the grounds, things like the Chinese Garden, are amazing."
According to The Trustees, the home, originally designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1885 for New York lawyer Joseph Choate, is a rare, surviving example of a Gilded Age Berkshire cottage. It's a 44-room, three-season country estate situated on 46 acres. The hilltop parcel is beautified by several meticulously manicured gardens, walkways and a grand outdoor staircase known as the Blue Steps, all originally designed by Fletcher Steele, a friend of Choate's daughter, Mabel, and a prominent landscape architect of the time.
In 1958, Mabel Choate bequeathed her family's estate to the care of The Trustees with the purpose that it stay open for all to enjoy.
The ongoing work at Naumkeag is supported by the Campaign to Restore Naumkeag, a three-year, $3 million initiative that included a $1 million challenge grant. Last summer, The Trustees completed the first of five phases in their three-year garden and landscape restoration project at Naumkeag.
The Spartan Launch photography students have now spent three seasons documenting Phase 2, which includes work in the Afternoon Garden, the Peony Terraces, and what's known as the Perugino View. Framed by landscaping features, the latter sights the south side of the Top Lawn looking down at a Great Oak tree against the backdrop of the Berkshire hills.
They've also photographed workers repairing the home's roof, taken their lenses to the hidden rooms and unique interior design features, and visualized inventory of various ceramic and porcelain artifacts inside the house.
Flower said the students have logged more than 100 hours, sometimes coming on their own time, trudging through snow and rain, to conduct their work. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the students caught a break and were able to photograph the gardens coming into to spring blooms.
Mark Wilson, curator of collections and cultural resource specialist for the West Region of The Trustees said that the renovations have been planned and informed based on well-kept documents from the original construction. He said the Monument students' work will help guide any future repairs or construction on the property.
Flower noted that in one instance, it already has. One day, some workers were trying to figure which way the were supposed to layer stones to rebuild a wall along the Afternoon Garden. They asked Flower if he had any photographs. Andrus, as it turned out, had taken photos of all the stones the workers had previously laid out and marked by number. Problem solved.
Roger Tryon, of the Monterey-based Tryon Stoneworks, said he and his crew don't mind being the subjects of the Spartans' work.
"I think it's been great, and I've been wondering when we can get a look at their photographs," he said. "Working on this project has been one of the biggest highlights of my career to-date."
Wilson said in addition to the students' photographs being added to Naumkeag's historical archives, it's hoped that their images and video will be shared on The Trustees' website, in social media, in the gift shop and possibly for an exhibit or interpretive public display.
"To have their perspective has been perfect for what we're trying to accomplish," Wilson said. "It's expanded the work that we're doing and will help us preserve the property and also connect with the community by sharing the work we are doing here."Learn more at thetrustees.org/naumkeag.