starting point of the Lasting Legacies exhibition at the Lawrence
Library opening October 25, 2008, will be two remarkable Williams and their
wills: William Wolcott, whose
last will and testament bequeathed a collection of impressionist paintings
to the people of Lawrence and William
Prescott Frost, whose last will and testament enabled his grandson Robert
Frost to realize his ambition as a poet. The upcoming exhibition in the
Lawrence Library will focus not only on the physical documents but also on the
lasting results of these two legacies.
William Prescott Frost, an overseer in the Pacific Mill, was a stern taskmaster
and disciplinarian. His last will and testament serves as a response to
an anecdote recounted by Frost's biographers. When William Prescott Frost told
his grandson, "I give you one year to make it," Frost then says that he put on an
auctioneer's voice. "I'm offered one; give me twenty, give me twenty, give me
twenty." Frost then says, "My grandfather never brought up poetry again."
Frost's grandfather may have had early doubts about the
vocation of poetry; however, the exhibit will show that William Prescott Frost's
ultimate answer to Robert was the surprisingly generous bequest of his Derry
farm. His only condition was that Robert and Elinor live on the Derry
farm for a ten year period--a shrewd guess of how long it would take Robert Frost
to become a poet.
A newly discovered teacher's ledger in Robert Frost's own handwriting provides a
visual emblem of Robert's transition from the world of the mill, where his
grandfather worked, to the new world of teaching and poetry that he would
discover and claim.
Robert Frost made the most of his grandfather's legacy,
in what some critics feel to be Frost's most creative and productive
period. The upcoming exhibition will zoom in on some of the early lyrics of
Robert Frost to highlight how Frost's individual talent interacted with and
contributed to the English-language lyric tradition. Specifically, the exhibition
will document how Frost, while still at Lawrence High School, came in contact
with the early poetry of W. B. Yeats and Thomas Moore and thereby found his own
"Lake Isle of Innisfree" on the banks of the Merrimack River.
William Wolcott, an Oberlin-trained, community-minded minister, presided over
the Congregationalists in Lawrence for thirty years and counted the William
Prescott Frost family among his congregation. As a result of a wealthy brother's
(Edward) sudden bequest and of the Reverend Wolcott's will, the people of
Lawrence inherited a priceless collection of impressionist paintings. Due to the ever-increasing value of these paintings--a
Monet painting in a comparable series to "Poppy Fields at Giverny" recently sold
at auction for 87 million--the collection known as the White Fund continues to
be held in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Where there was such a will one would expect a lawsuit,
and in fact it took decades of controversy and a ruling by the Massachusetts
Supreme Judicial Court to decide that because Reverend Wolcott's art objects
were given for the benefit of the people of Lawrence, they could not be sold.
However, trustees and art experts concur that the paintings cannot physically
reside in Lawrence until a secure facility can house them there.The full
collection was for the first time fully and beautifully displayed last year in
an exhibit at the Addison Gallery of American Art. Thanks to the efforts
of the White Fund trustees and the Addison Gallery staff, at that time many
Lawrence residents and their school age children were invited to see the actual paintings displayed in a museum setting.
The format of the upcoming Lasting Legacies exhibition will allow Lawrence
residents and other library and Frost Festival guests to view images of the
paintings in a virtual gallery for the first time.Thanks to some new
software and computer techniques, visitors to Lawrence Library will be able to
explore the paintings, zoom in on their canvases, and view several simulations
of impressionist brush strokes.
Additionally, an exhibition guide will make available the results of renewed
research on Frost's early lyrics and on the provenances of Reverend Wolcott's
paintings during the Gilded Age when wealthy Americans collected French
Finally, the exhibition will speculate how Reverend Wolcott seems to have given
Robert Frost and his family the key support they needed for the family to move
beyond its grief for an infant lost to childhood illness to allow Robert Frost
to develop as a great teacher and poet during this period.
As a result of these two remarkable Williams and their thoughtfully made
bequests, the people of Lawrence continue to enjoy the lasting legacies today--in
the form of Frost's poems and Wolcott's paintings. Moreover, thanks to generous
donations from the Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities, the White
Fund,the Stevens Foundations, and the Veritas Bank,and in-kind donations
from the Kao Design Group, Amy Latva-Kokko, Jim Knowles, the City of Lawrence,
the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Cambridge College, the Lawrence History
Center, the Lawrence Library, and the Robert Frost Foundation, this exhibition
can be shown in a newly created gallery space in the lobby of the Lawrence Library.
In the words of another Robert Frost
poem, these are legacies, "for heaven and the future's sake."