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Filmmakers Examine Links Among Cornish Colony’s Idealists

  • Jonathan Farwell

  • Naturalist Ernest Harold Baynes, show here with a pet fox, lived in the orbit of the Cornish Colony, which is to be the subject of a new documentary film by Etna writer Fern Meyers and Norwich filmmaker Nora Jacobson.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2017 12:04:57 AM
Modified: 6/9/2017 12:05:05 AM

Filming begins in and around Cornish next month for a documentary about the colony of visual and performing artists, the writers and the pioneering conservationists who orbited around Gilded Age sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens late in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Norwich filmmaker Nora Jacobson will direct that weeklong shoot of Land and Legacy of an Art Colony, a project that Etna author and retired musician Fern Meyers said this week she has been “mulling over for years.”

For most of those years, Meyers has been occupied with, among other tasks, writing three books about the Cornish Colony, overseeing the production of three CDs of music by colony composers, teaching Osher at Dartmouth courses about the colony and directing the summer music series at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. That left her little time to think about how to structure such a project, never mind raise the money and arrange the logistics.

Then last fall, after her final season directing the music series, Meyers recalled, she started thinking with more focus about the interconnections among the artists, such as painter Maxfield Parrish, musicians such as composer Arthur Farwell and conservationists such as Benton MacKaye, the forester who developed the idea of the Appalachian Trail running from Georgia to Maine.

“They were idealists,” Meyers said. “They were progressive thinkers. And they were activists. Given the challenges we’re facing now in many spheres, especially the challenges facing the environment — things like declining songbird populations — I’m quite concerned at this moment.

“This is my way of trying to show why the history of the colony is relevant to today.”

The idea of exploring that history intrigues Jacobson, even as she juggles a variety of other projects, including fine-tuning and promotion of her new feature, The Hanji Box.

“I had done some shooting for The Vermont Movie, for the story about black Vermonters who fought in the Civil War,” Jacobson wrote during an exchange of emails on Thursday. “Several had traveled from Huntington, Vt., to join the 54th regiment, which Saint-Gaudens had portrayed in the famous Shaw Memorial. … Beyond my acquaintance with the historic site, I am very interested in intentional communities — in the case of the Cornish Colony not so intentional because it happened quite organically — of artists who come together to work, think, play, talk, live, because they are inspired by each other and seek companionship with one another.”

To tell that story, Jacobson and her crew will follow three descendants of Cornish colonists around the historic site and its environs. Veteran actor Jonathan Farwell, whose father, Arthur, was among the leading lights of the day, will lead that delegation.

“Rather than a lot of interviews with talking heads,” Meyers said, “it’s going to be more of a discovery tour.”

During the shoot, Meyers added, Upper Valley residents will be welcome to fill walk-in roles in a re-enactment of a pageant that Saint-Gaudens hosted at Aspet, his home above the Connecticut River, now the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.

In addition to the 52-minute documentary, which is designed for broadcast on Vermont and New Hampshire public television, Jacobson will shoot a 12-minute version for visitors to the historic site.

To cover the $140,000 that she expects the project to cost, Meyers estimates that so far she’s raised not quite half, including a $25,000 grant from the Byrne Foundation.

“It’s a daunting task, but I’ve had some experience, not only with the music series, but getting a couple of orchestras started. … It’s worth the effort.”

Filming of Land and Legacy of an Art Colony begins in Cornish on July 18. Donations toward its production can be made by check, made out to Meriden Bird Club and mailed to Fern Meyers, 62 King Road, Etna, N.H. 03750. To learn more, including opportunities for walk-on roles in the documentary, email fmsilverwood@gmail.com.

Coming Attractions

In the category of but-wait-there’s-more, go see Norman at the Woodstock Town Hall Theatre this weekend.

Quite aside from the sheer novelty of seeing longtime leading man Richard Gere take on a subtle character role, you’ll spend two absorbing hours watching a stellar supporting cast orbit around Gere’s title character, a New York-based fixer struggling to juggle multiple complicated projects and demanding constituencies. In addition to the familiar faces of Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens and Michael Sheen in key roles, keep an eye out for Charlotte Gainsbourg as a sharp prosecutor and Israeli heartthrob Lior Ashkenazi as a rising politician.

Screenings are scheduled for 7:30 tonight, Saturday night, Sunday night and Monday night. Admission is $7 for members of Pentangle Arts, $8 to $9 for others.

Planetary Matters

Worried about the health of the Earth and its inhabitants? Tuesday night you can choose from two documentaries on the subject, both in South Royalton.

At 6:30, Building a Local Economy (BALE) and Vermont Interfaith Power and Light co-host a sneak preview of From the Ashes at the BALE Commons. The movie, focusing on the impact of the coal industry on the economy, public health and the climate, comes amid the renewed debate over the viability and sustainability of the fossil fuel industry. Admission is free.

Meanwhile, Vermont Law School’s class on ocean and coastal law will show and discuss Sonic Sea, which looks at the correlation between man-made noise in the oceans and unusual behavior of whales. The movie starts at 7, after which a panel of experts that includes oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau will discuss the issues. Admission is free.

Looking Back

The Library Arts Center in Newport continues its series of films from or inspired by the 1960s on Thursday night with a free screening of the 1967 adaptation of Neil Simon’s romantic comedy Barefoot in the Park, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. The lights go down at 7, and popcorn is available. Upcoming screenings include The Parent Trap (the one starring Hayley Mills as the twins) on June 30, Dirty Dancing on July 27 and 101 Dalmations on July 21. To learn more, visit libraryartscenter.org.

Next up in its series of classic movies at free admission, Pentangle Arts screens Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H on Thursday night at 7:30. Still to come are American Graffiti on July 6, All That Jazz on July 13, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on Aug. 3 and Mamma Mia! (with permission to sing along!) on Aug. 10.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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