“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.” (William D. Eddy, Stone Pond, p 58, 1988 edition)
It was this well-liked man, Francis Stewart Kershaw, who designed St. Francis Chapel in Marlborough in 1926 where he and his wife Justine spent their summers. Drawing his ideas from the peasant chapels in Europe, he made it look as if it had always been there.
Kershaw had a strong esthetic sense. He had been born and educated in Columbus, Ohio where as a boy he became inspired by a Japanese student from Ohio State University from whom he began to lean about Japanese drawing. He graduated from that university in 1891 and went on to Harvard where he received both his Bachelor and Master of Art degrees. After teaching English at Noble and Greenough for twelve years, he was forced to resign because of his health. That did not dampen his spirit or his interest in the arts of the Far East. He devoted himself to artistic and philanthropic pursuits, learned metalworking from a Japanese expert from the Museum of Fine Arts and was elected as a master craftsman by the Society of Arts and Crafts of Boston.
As a result, he came to the attention of the famous aesthete Kakuzo Okakura who was head of the Department of Chinese and Japanese Art at the MFA as well as a curator of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Subsequently he was asked to join the staff of the MFA as a Keep in Okakura’s department where he was entrusted with overseeing the administrative work when Okakura was absent and assumed responsibility of supervising the transfer of the huge collection of Asian art from the old Copley Square location to the new museum and supervising its arrangement and installation.
The effort was too much for his fragile health, so he stepped away to a position of less responsibility to study the ceramic art of China. He became one of the few most knowledgeable scholars on the subject and was sought after as a lecturer and expert adviser. In addition, he was Secretary of the East Asiatic Society of Boston for about twenty years.
He married well 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 Cambridge and with her funds purchased Merrywood in 1916 where they summered 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 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 8:00 a.m. 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 Kershaw was involved in the creation of this special little architectural gem and most likely had a few conversations with 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 account:
“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.
Kershaw’s death mask was taken by Allen at the home of Justine and Francis at 6 Bond Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts shortly after Kershaw’s sudden death on January 28, 1930 at the age of 61. He had long been afflicted with a serious illness for which there was no cure. An obituary in the publication Artibus Asiae Vol.3, No.4, by Kojiro Tomita writes “In the death of Francis Stewart Crenshaw the field of Far Eastern art has been deprived of a serious and sincere scholar.” He left “a memory at once noble and inspiring.”