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Free Concert Showcases Blow-Me-Down Farm Plans

  • The view behind Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish, N.H., now a part of the Saint Gaudens National Historic Site, is photographed on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. (Valley News - Libby March) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2017

The sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens first came to the Cornish area in 1885, encouraged to visit by his friend Charles Beaman, a New York City attorney. Beaman owned nearly 43 acres of prime bottomland along the Connecticut River at a property he called Blow-Me-Down Farm.

Once Saint-Gaudens established himself at the nearby house he called Aspet, other artists, writers and musicians soon followed, and the Cornish Colony was born.

This Saturday, Opera North will perform at Blow-Me-Down Farm as part of the celebration of the company’s 35th anniversary.

The performance, which is free and open to the public, also heralds an effort by the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, part of the National Park Service, to turn Blow-Me-Down Farm into a permanent venue for the visual and performing arts, or what it calls a “national park for the arts.”

In 2010, the National Park Service accepted the donation of Blow-Me-Down Farm by the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial, the site’s nonprofit partner, to the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, said Superintendent Rick Kendall in a phone interview.

The question then became, how best to put Blow-Me-Down Farm to public use?

When park officials submitted a management plan for public comment what they heard back, said Kendall, was the desire that the performing and visual arts, and arts education, play a leading role in the preservation and use of the farm. The park service then put out a call to area arts organizations for proposals.

“Being a fairly small National Park, we realized we couldn’t see that vision through by ourselves: we needed partners to make that happen for us. We would have a role in that, but there are people out there who do arts presentation and education better than the National Park Service ever could,” Kendall said.

Opera North is one of those partners, said Evans Haile, Opera North’s general director, in a phone interview.

“We are excited about the potential use of Blow-Me-Down Farm as a true artistic and cultural destination for the performing and visual arts,” Haile said.

Last summer, the park service and Opera North collaborated on a concert held at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock.

“We’re happy to continue to work with them,” Kendall said.

The concert this year, Haile said, will include previews of the Opera North season: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Cole Porter’s classic musical Kiss Me, Kate, and Jacques Offenbach’s light comic masterpiece La Belle Hélène, as well as other pieces by Puccini, Porter and Jerome Kern.

The performance also will be, said Kendall, “a wonderful opportunity to open the gates at Blow Me Down farm to explore an unparalleled view of the Connecticut River,” one not often seen because the farm has rarely been open to the public.

Of the 10 buildings on the property, nine of them, including the main house, a caretaker’s cottage, a barn, a dance hall, blacksmith shops, sheds and an 1850s Victorian playhouse, could be used for arts-related purposes, Kendall said.

The farm will be open from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Pooh Sprague, of nearby Edgewater Farm, and the Horsemen will perform from 3 to 4:30, and Opera North will perform from 4:30 on. The performances will take place under a large tent, rain or shine. Guests are encouraged to bring their own picnics, but Boisvert’s Curbside Kitchen will also be selling fresh seafood, hamburgers and french fries. And there will be free cupcakes for all, said Lisa Morrison, Opera North’s marketing manager.

The larger objective, said Haile, is to turn the farm and its buildings into office and performance space, and artists’ studios, in collaboration with other arts organization.

“I strongly believe that the Upper Valley has the potential for being a national cultural destination. A place like Blow-Me-Down Farm has history, beauty and nature — all of the elements that could be a true incubator for the arts,” Haile said.

That would be very much in keeping with tradition, said Kendall. “Ultimately our goal is to capture the magic of what once was the Cornish Colony, where artists can come and create art, and where visitors can see the performing arts in action.”

Opera North will also offer a Lake Sunapee musical dinner cruise at 6 p.m. next Thursday, for $100; and will perform “Celebrating America’s Songbook” at the new Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro, Vt. on Sunday, July 23, at 5 p.m.

For information on “A Celebration of Opera North’s 35th Anniversary” go to operanorth.org or call 603-448-4141.

The address for Blow-Me-Down Farm is 364 New Hampshire Route 12A.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.