Preservation Magazine, Summer 2020

A Closer Look at an Intriguing Sculpture by Margaret French Cresson

It’s never easy to follow in the footsteps of a famous parent, but Margaret French Cresson managed to pull it off. Cresson—the daughter of Lincoln Memorial sculptor Daniel Chester French—realized she had a genuine talent for sculpting after trying it out on a dare from a family friend. She studied with artists in New York City and Boston, as well as with her father at Chesterwood, his western Massachusetts estate that is now a National Trust Historic Site.

In 1920, when Cresson was in her early 30s, she created one of her most acclaimed works: Girl with the Curls. The luminous marble portrait head of a young girl—a likeness of Helen Geary, thought to be a family acquaintance in Stockbridge, Massachusetts—was modeled in clay, then plaster, and carved by the Piccirilli brothers, master carvers in the Bronx, New York. “It’s not just a straightforward portrait of an individual,” says Donna Hassler, executive director of Chesterwood. “There’s something that’s really intriguing and conveyed in a thought-provoking way. The subject seems almost at a distance. She’s thinking about something else.” The piece is on display in French’s studio at Chesterwood.

Cresson gained a reputation as a respected sculptor of busts and reliefs and was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1942. She wasn’t the only female sculptor to be encouraged and mentored by French; his onetime assistant Evelyn Beatrice Longman also became a well-known artist. Works by Longman, as well as additional pieces by Cresson, are part of the National Trust’s collection at Chesterwood. Visit the National Trust's collections portal for an online exhibition about Cresson and her work.

Chesterwood Sculpture Margaret French Cresson

photo by: Lisa Vollmer

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design. @mdrueding

Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

Find Out Who Is Listed