“He was a tall, well-dressed, dignified man. He had a well-waxed mustache and a Van Dyke beard and wore glasses. He was proud of the ownership of Merrywood and kept it always looking neat and well-tended. He was somewhat autocratic, as was his wife. He was very much respected and well-liked by all.” (From Stone Pond p 58)
It was this well-liked man, Frances Stewart Kershaw, who designed St. Francis Chapel in 1926. Drawing his ideas from the peasant chapels in Europe, he made it look as if it had always been there. Kershaw had an esthetic sense, if not an educated palate, having worked at the Museum of Fine Arts in the department of Chinese and Japanese Art, first as a Keeper and later a Curator following in the in the footsteps of Okakura Kakuzo who was a Japanese aesthete and Curator of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Kershaw was not a degreed expert, but he graduated from Harvard, taught English at Noble and Greenough and socialized among the elite art circle of Boston which included those connected with both the MFA and the Gardner Museum. He and his wife Justine lived on Bond Street in the South End and with her funds purchased Merrywood in 1916 after which they summered there until his death in 1930. He cultured a British accent and took on the role of the Lord of the Manor, entertaining guests and catering to the needs of his wealthy wife Justine and her sister Alberta. He took pride in his privileged place at the Estate, but was not above sweeping leaves from the entry.
The chapel project was his special contribution. Indulging his wife’s interest in religion It was used daily for morning services at 8 am and hosted many church groups who would come there for conferences and retreats. In the early days when there was a belfry, there was also a working fireplace, a touch that made it warm and welcoming both for early morning worshipers and group meetings when there was a chill. The chapel was reportedly in “intensive use” after it was built and Justine loved having attractive young clergymen around who would take charge of the schedule. So Mr. Kershaw was involved in the creation of this special little architectural gem and most likely had a few conversations with Mr. Allen about its decoration. Allen would have come to know him and understand his personality so that when the time came for a bust to memorialize him, the portrait was created from a personal place, using more than just a photograph or painting to guide him. He could show his personality, and so he did. Agnes Allen gives this accounting:
“In 1930, he made a marble bust of Mr. Kershaw to go in their home in New Hampshire. Originally, it was to go in their memorial chapel, but it was finally placed in the house and a St. Francis tablet made for the chapel. Mrs. Kershaw broke into tears when she saw the bust – so like her husband, and she wrote afterward, ‘I like to think there is in the world something so beautiful as this portrait you have created. The face as I saw it today is entirely familiar, with all the loveliness of character I am accustomed to see there, but with a new radiance with which I am not so familiar. It was because of this look that I sent for you. You have caught it and developed it astonishingly; and now my husband stands transfigured before me with this marvelous beauty!’ Mrs. Kershaw’s friend and agent, so to speak, more recently caretaker of Mrs. Jack Gardiner’s palace, seemed equally delighted and impressed with the likeness. I, too, felt this radiant beauty she spoke of.”
Since the whereabouts of the bust have not yet been discovered, only a picture of a painted portrait can be shown and an old out-of-focus photograph of what is most likely the plaster copy of the original clay model from which Allen would have carved the marble bust.
It is perhaps interesting to note that Samuel Dacre Bush, who bought a copy of Torso of a Dancing Girl, owned a Mansion Estate in Marlborough he called “Windacre by the Mountains.” He was almost certainly friends of the Kershaws since he is recorded as a patron of the arts and friends with Tarbell, Benson and Sargent. He also owned property in Boston so he was part of the Boston elite art circle.
Adio DiBiccari, Allen’s student, lived for a while at the Kershaw Estate on Stone Pond. His story and his involvement there are recorded in Stone Pond and in Adio diBiccari, A Life in Art.
Marble Portrait bust