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Out of the Closet and Onto the Wall
Reprinted from The Mountain Ear
Article by Gabrielle Griswold, Staff Writer
November 7, 2002, Volume 27, Number 25

This pencil drawing of the Old Man of the Mountains and Profile Lake is one of 10 sketches by Isaac Sprague (1811-1895).

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SKIERS AND THOSE OF US who live here in the Valley know Mt. Washington's Tuckerman Ravine as a huge glacial cirque famed principally for its headwall, where spring skiing can last as late as June.

The Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, a non-profit organization founded in early 2000, know it as an historic, touristy and natural treasure they want to protect and preserve.

Distinguished botanist and artist Edward Tuckerman (1817-1886) knew the ravine for different reasons, well before it came to bear his name.

One of those early scientists (geologists, mineralogists, naturalists, etc.) who flocked to this region during the 19th century to study the area's flora, fauna and other natural phenomena, Tuckerman both studied and wrote about the plants and lichens that were his specialty. He also sketched and painted them. Ultimately, the profundity of his botanical explorations on the mountain led to the naming of the ravine in his honor.

Now some of Tuckerman's products and possessions have returned to the Valley courtesy of his descendants, who have donated to Friends of Tuckerman Ravine 10 large black-and-white original sketches by Tuckerman's friend, Isaac Sprague, plus a number of smaller sketches by Tuckerman himself, plant paintings and other memorabilia, including his portable desk, botanist's knife and microscope, all henceforth to be located here.

"They've been sitting in closets since the 1800s," noted Friends of Tuckerman Ravine executive director, Al Risch, "so we're calling this project, 'Out of the Closet and Onto the Wall'. The collection itself is called the Edward Tuckerman Collection."

In town last weekend, direct Tuckerman descendant David C. Esty of Bristol, R.I., said that, after reading about FOTR, he had contacted Risch to learn more about the organization, then talked to his three brothers and a cousin about it, all of whom decided they wanted to support it.

"Each one of us had some of Tuckerman's stuff," Esty explained, noting that they then all rounded up everything they owned of their forebear's to donate to FOTR. "There may be more out there, but we don't have any more."

The Tuckerman Legacy

The Flume Gorge, portrayed before the suspended boulder was dislodged (in 1883).

Edward Tuckerman left something other than his name to Mt. Washington. Besides his art, he also left a legacy of scholarship and knowledge." He saw the differences between lichens, and named and painted or drew more than a thousand of them," Esty said.

Born in Boston in December 1817, the eldest son of a merchant, Tuckerman studied and prepared for college at the Boston Latin School. He graduated from Union College in 1837 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, then pursued graduate studies at Harvard College from which he obtained a Law degree in 1839, and at Union College where he obtained a Master of Arts degree in 1843.

Seeking an academic degree from Harvard, he entered as a senior in 1846, graduating with a B.A. in 1847. He then completed Harvard Divinity School courses of study in 1852.

Tuckerman first visited the White Mountains in 1837 and spent the next 20 years searching out botanical specimens. Later it would be said of him that "no portion of the region, however dark its glens or inaccessible its peaks, was untrodden by his footsteps".

His special interest was lichens, and his botanical publications dealt with many New England plants of this group, which he collected mainly by himself in the White Mountains. Up until then, lichens had hardly been studied by American students, and he was the first to explore them in the mountains of New Hampshire.

Married in 1854, Tuckerman was a lecturer in History at Amherst College, where he was appointed Professor of Botany in 1858, a position he held until his death. A lifelong scholar, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1868. His other interests included antiquarian and genealogical research, philosophy, divinity and law. Named for Tuckerman as early as 1848, the Mt. Washington ravine made its first appearance on a map in 1858.

"He was such an eclectic guy, a Renaissance man and a legend at Amherst," said Esty, who spends a lot of time in this area. "He was my father's great-uncle and my cousin's great-uncle. Amherst and Esty are also synonymous. We've all attended there, we're all outdoor people (I'm a volunteer ski patroller at Black Mountain), and we come from a family tradition of scholar-athletes. We're a large family, and a lot of us have Tuckerman in our names. When I first heard about Friends of Tuckerman, I knew I wanted to get involved."

Now and later

Mount Washington and Mount Monroe
Born in Hingham, MA September 5, 1811, Sprague was artist-assistant to John James Audubon in 1843 and produced many of the backgrounds in the ornithological plates. He accompanied Audubon on a trip to the Missouri River, then settled in Cambridge and later moved to Needham, MA. He drew 15 plates for William Oakes's White Mountain Scenery, published in 1848.

Esty himself joined the organization and became a board member in 2001, volunteering his services as an advertising and marketing executive to promote FOTR's mission. Together, he, his brothers and cousin donated the art collection this past summer.

As Risch explained, "The first thing we have to do now is raise money to preserve the original sketches so they won't deteriorate when we put them on display and so they'll endure for future generations to enjoy."

When the preservation process is complete, Gold Leaf Gallery in North Conway will make prints of the original drawings, Risch said. The largest of these will then be mass-printed and made available for sale to the public in numbered, limited-edition sets of 10 prints each. Intervale gallery owner and artist Marty Sage Gilman will lend her marketing expertise to advance the project.

"We haven't figured out all the details yet," Risch added, "Right now, our focus is on getting the word out that we'll be taking orders on-line before the mass printing is finished. We hope to have copies of the prints on our website by Dec. 1, so interested people can view and order them there. They'll also be displayed at the Boston Ski Show from Nov. 14 to 17".

As a non-profit organization, Risch explained, FOTR will use proceeds from print sales to further its short-term and long-term goals, which include protecting the ravine and its fragile alpine environment from over-use, and compensating for dwindling federal support of the Forest Service, which since the early 1930s has protected and managed the area.

A Madison resident and longtime skier, Risch founded Friends of Tuckerman Ravine with some friends of his own two years ago, to raise money and awareness for the area. Since then, he has gone several times to Washington to lobby Congress on the situation and returned not only with funds but also with powerful political allies in U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg and U.S. Rep. John Sununu (both R-N.H.).

Until now, FOTR's biggest fund-raising efforts have been the annual Son of the Inferno (run-kayak-bike) Triathlon and Tuckerman (run-paddle-bike-hike-ski) Pentathlon which culminates at Tuckerman Ravine. Both events are set for April 19, 2003, with the triathlon serving as qualifier for the 2004 pentathlon. (Entry into the 2003 pentathlon is now closed).

Now Edward Tuckerman's own art has come back to where it began, to help in preserving an area he loved. "This collection is so rare," Risch said. "The art is from the 1800s, when so many artists began migrating to New Hampshire to paint the scenic things they found here. We're hoping these prints will attract the attention of people who love the art and history of the White Moutains, and that they'll want to own copies."

Eventually, he noted, a traveling display will be rotated between local venues such as libraries, historical societies and the New England Ski Museum. "However," he concluded, "our ultimate goal is to have a building of our own so we can put the originals there on display permanently."

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Friends of Tuckerman Ravine | Box 844 | North Conway, NH 03860
 Voice (603) 356-0131 | [email protected] | Fax (603) 356-0100