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Old Orchard Exhibit Opens And Makes Art of History

RISD Students Reclaim Historic Wooden Materials and Create Art

Tom Ross, superintendent of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, hosted a reception for the new exhibit at the Old Orchard Museum, Reclaimation: Sculpting History. “It’s a good fit for Sagamore Hill,” he said, “It’s like a play on words, we are reclaiming the cultural landscape here at Sagamore Hill. We are returning it to the way the Roosevelts knew it when they lived here; and the exhibit is using those organic natural materials for the RISD project. It is the re-use of the wood from the site that makes these works of art incredible. That shows the spirit and history of TR in Oyster Bay.”

The RISD students came to Sagamore Hill with their American Studies teacher Dan Cavicchi to learn about Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President. Mr. Ross pointed to a chair made by one of the students and explained, “It’s larger than life, just like TR himself.” The students toured the house and land and met with the staff. They also read books about TR for the assignment.

“TR was an orinthologist, and a proponent of the strenuous life. He saw the need of conservation and not just preserving but to use the land and not completely destroy the land. He wanted the public to use parks so they could experience the land. Still he made sure it didn’t become over commercialized. His early 20th conservation effort kept 230 million acres of land to be put aside for the citizens of the United States,” explained Superintendent Ross. His wife Kerry, an artist, and their sons, Cameron and Nate, were also visiting the exhibit. 

Excitedly Mr. Ross lead the way to a “Point to Point Walk exhibit”, one of TR’s favorite ways to walk through the woods. He would set a path and continue on it over hills and rocks, over fallen trees and through streams. Park Rangers still lead those Point to Point walks with visitors to Sagamore Hill. Artist Elish Warlop created four unique sculptural forms cut from tree trunks, set on posts, that have sections that open up to reveal the longitude and latitude of their location. 

“All the pieces are for sale,” said Mr. Ross. A list of the students’ email addresses was available at the counter so people can contact them for purchase after the exhibit closes.

One artist created a book. Another constructed a wooden ring, called a “symbol of power” that had the Roosevelt family motto on the inside Qui Plantavit Curabit: he who plants will preserve. On the outside is George Washington’s motto, “Life, Liberty and Property”. Artist Andrew Prioli linked the two presidents on the one structure in his wooden circle about a foot round. 


Course Faculty Members

RISD faculty members Dan Cavicchi, assistant professor of American Studies, (linking American history and literature), was the person in charge of bringing the students to Sagamore Hill to study the site and the man. With him was Dale Broholm, with the prestigious title of Senior Critic. That title means he is a critic and a professor, and allows him to work in an advisory task, and additionally to give “no service or serve on committees” in the school, he explained.

The projects begin in Mr. Cavicchi’s classes where he gives the research assignments for the studio work. The students go from Mr. Cavicchi’s leadership to Mr. Broholm’s. The men attend each other’s classes. The course the two created with their students is very successful and they have a list of sites waiting to be studied. The next one is the Frederick Law Olmsted site in Brookline, CT., where a big elm came down, said the men. 


RISC Next Project

Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is recognized as the founder of American landscape architecture and the nation’s foremost parkmaker (he designed Central Park). The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site bid farewell to its “Olmsted Elm” on the morning of March 30. The wood will be used by RISD students, after studying Mr. Olmsted and his design philosophy, and the site’s history. They will produce furniture, sculptures and other artwork such as students created for Sagamore Hill.

 Mr. Cavicchi said his  RSD students were not able to visit the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, which  is in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Mr. Washington lived here until age three, returning later as a teenager. It is a NPS site and is representative of 18th-century Virginia tobacco farm with farm buildings, groves of trees, livestock, gardens, and crops of tobacco and wheat, representing the boyhood environment Washington knew.

Wood and other organic material from the landscape rehabilitation project was provided to students enrolled in the joint course offered by RISD’s Department of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences and the Department of Furniture Design. 

They did receive plant material, from the sites and one of the objects d’art created is a wooden sculpture of a TR hat with a cockade of boxwood from the Washington site created by Athena Lo. 

One of the students created spinning top cherries to represent the famous story of Washington cutting down a cherry tree as a youth and admitting that he had done so, which was seen as proof of his honesty – recently called a myth. Artist Brendan Keim created the pieces as a hoax.

The professors said the focus of the project was to be inspired by the site; to learn things through experience; and to bring  history alive.

A visit to the Old Orchard Museum at Sagamore Hill will show you how well the RISD students achieved their goals.

You can also call to see when the next Ranger Guided Point-to-Point walk will take place, that Theodore Roosevelt created for his children and guests. For more information about Sagamore Hill please call 922-4788 or is visit