Renovation of French's studio at Chesterwood nears completion

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 7, 2014 to correctly attribute a quote to Stephanie Meeks, current president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was incorrectly attributed to Richard Moe, past president.

STOCKBRIDGE -- When the time came for renovations to the studio of famed sculptor Daniel Chester French, the process was a little more extensive than just tossing a tarp over French's original sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and having at it.

After about a year of work at a cost of an estimated $1 million, an extensive renovation of the exterior and interior of the studio is nearly complete.

Chesterwood officials have set May 24 as the grand reopening. Although there are still a lot of scaffolds and packing crates littering the studio floor, facilities superintendent Gerry Blache is confident.

"We'll be ready," he said.

French has been called "the Dean of American Sculpture." His statue of Lincoln is "one of the most recognizable statues in the entire world," according to Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust For Historic Preservation, which owns and operates Chesterwood. ""It's an almost spiritual moment to see French's statue of Abraham Lincoln."

The need for studio renovations first surfaced a few years ago, according to Executive Director Donna Hassler. The stucco that coats the walls of the studio was crumbling.

"We actually started planning how to replace the walls a few years ago," said Hassler. But no matter how Chesterwood went about the renovation work, a vast majority of the 700 or so pieces of sculpture by French would have to be moved out of the way.

Two principal exceptions were the Lincoln statue, which was the original six-foot prototype of the marble statue that sits in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Lincoln was packed into a sturdy crate in the studio.

The other exception was French's three-ton sculpture of the goddess Andromeda. That, too, was crated.

Allegrone Construction of Pittsfield carried out the renovation work, and the design teams were Mesick Cohen White Baker Associates of Albany and Quantum Engineering of Selkirk, N.Y. and Robert Silman Associates of Washington D.C.

The stucco was removed and replaced by new stucco. While the old stucco was being removed, the entire studio was wrapped in plastic to protect it from the elements.

Because the project was carefully planned, Hassler reported that the work itself went off "pretty smoothly. Without a hitch."

Nothing was dropped?

"We don't use the word ‘drop' in here," Blache said.

Blache explained that the renovation will enable Chesterwood officials to present French's studio a little closer to what it originally looked like.

Hassler said there were no major surprises during the reconstruction work, except perhaps one.

"We discovered that the collection itself was still in remarkable shape," she said. "The work French did here has been preserved very well, and that was a pleasant surprise."

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile

At a glance ...

n What: Chesterwood, the country home, studio and gardens of sculptor Daniel Chester French. Run by the National Trust For Historic Preservation, a privately funded, nonprofit organization.

n Where: 4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge

n When: Chesterwood will reopen May 24. It is open to the public until Columbus Day, Oct. 13. A preview gala will be held May 23.

n Admission: Adults, $16.50; NTHP members and children, 13-17, $8.25; Friends of Chesterwood and children under 13, free.

n History: French purchased the Glendale property in 1897. In 1898, he completed the studio. French died in 1931. The National Trust acquired the estate in 1968.

n Information: Visit the website at or call (413) 298-3579.


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