Saratoga Springs

At Yaddo, statues truly are for all seasons

Now covered by mahogany and Plexiglas
The Four Seasons statues at Yaddo are seen in summer and with their new winter covers.
The Four Seasons statues at Yaddo are seen in summer and with their new winter covers.

The Four Seasons statues at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs are getting a little tender loving care.

The four marble figures that have stood guard over the classic Italian-style gardens since 1909 have endured plenty, most notably more than 100 years of weather as well as a 2005 paint ball fight.

Hopefully, the vandals won’t strike again, and as for the winter weather, the staff at Yaddo has taken steps to decrease mother nature’s impact and at the same time improve the Yaddo experience for visitors this time of year.

The four statues, each representing a season, are now covered by 10-foot-tall framed mahogany cases with transparent Plexiglas. In the past, the four classical female figures were covered with various materials during the winter which offered some protection, but dramatically lessened a visitor’s visual experience.

“We’re hopeful the new statue covers will entice more people to visit the gardens during the winter,” said Tristan Kirvin, Communications and Events Manager at Yaddo. “It will definitely improve the visitor’s experience.”

Yaddo, an artist colony whose mission is “to nurture the creative process by providing an opportunity for artists to work without interruption in a supportive environment,” is located on what was the 400-acre estate of Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina. It opened as an artists’ residence in 1926, four years after Katrina passed away at the age of 69 and 17 years following Spencer’s death in a train crash. It has served as a retreat to 66 Pulitzer Prize winners, including acclaimed writers such as Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, John Cheever and Langston Hughes.

While regular garden tours of Yaddo are offered weekends from May to Labor Day, the gardens are open year-round. And at some point in the fall, before too much cold weather, the staff at Yaddo would cover the up the statues to protect them from the elements.

“We don’t get too many people in the winter, but the ones we do couldn’t see the statues,” said Shane Cassidy, the Facilities Manager at Yaddo. “We knew that in Congress Park in Saratoga they have statues with covers so people can see them year round, so I started playing with the design idea earlier in the year.

”It could have been expensive but we used mostly leftover materials from other projects we had done. We used cedar shakes for the roofs, and we designed them to sort of match the architecture of the buildings already on the grounds. We tried to keep them light-weight, and we’ll be able to take them off pretty easily sometime in the spring.”

The four statues play a key part in the garden’s Halloween-related ghost tours in October, according to docent and tour guide Donna Bates, a teacher in the Glens Falls school district.

“We do have a ghost story connected to the statues, but often times in the past the staff had already covered up the statues by early October,” said Bates, who has volunteered at Yaddo for nearly 15 years. “That was a problem because we’d be standing there talking about the boxes. The last few years they waited as long as possible to cover them up, and now because of the new covers we won’t have to worry about it at all.”

Bates is part of the all-volunteer Yaddo Gardens Association, which helps Yaddo take care of the grounds. The group was created in 1991 by former Yaddo board member Jane Wait.

Spencer Trask, a prominent Wall Street banker and financier, was also on the board of directors of several railroads and was president of the Edison Illuminating Company. He was also a well-known philanthropist who built his wife an expansive mansion in 1893.

Almost from the start the couple began planning a way to eventually turn their home into an artists retreat. While Katrina gave birth to four children, all of them soon died and with no heirs, the Trasks created a trust to help fund their artists retreat in 1900. Trask remarried in 1921 to her husband’s long-time business partner and friend, George Foster Peabody, and it was he who actually finished the project and opened Yaddo in 1926.

“I first went to Yaddo to show it to my father, and then I loved it so much I kept on going back and got more involved,” said Bates. “It’s such a wonderful place, it’s as if you can feel just how wonderful it is when you’re there. I started doing a lot of research on the Trasks and while they were very wealthy, they really did a lot to help other people. They had a lot of tragedy in their lives, but they also gave so much.”

When Katrina Trask married Peabody a year before her death, it sealed the Trask’s dream of making their home an artists retreat.

“Both Trask and Peabody had proposed to Katrina, but she picked Spencer,” said Bates. “All three were life-long friends, and when she married Peabody, who may have loved her all along, it insured that their dream to make their home a place for artists would be fulfilled. Peabody was the one who made it happen, and because he was married to Katrina it make things a lot easier.”

“There are people who regularly visit Yaddo, even in the winter time,” said Kirvin. “While we don’t have guided tours this time of year, you can go to our web site and download a self-guided tour. We do have artists in residence now, but the gardens are open year-round to the public and are free.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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