TOUR TARLETON CASTLE
ENTERING THE CASTLE
One enters the castle through the formal entrance, nestled in the fold between the tower base and the conventional part of the structure. Climbing a short stair, you step through an arched doorway. Inside there is a fountain on your left, it’s sound makes you pause. Fountains have the power to put you in the moment, the movement of water is a part of our physical make-up, and it invites contemplation. Above the fountain is a balustrade and a glimpse of the space beyond. On the right, a short winding stair brings you to the main floor (second level). You are now in the Gallery, here you find a signboard informing of current events at Tarleton Castle, on your right is a commercial kitchen. Our inspired chef, assisted by rotating helpers, is preparing a hearty lunch. The aroma of sauteed vegetables reaches you, some of them grown in the castle gardens. Ahead and slightly right is a short hall leading to another entrance that can be reached via a ramp and bridge. Straight ahead is a Rumford fireplace*, on the left of the fireplace is a doorway which leads to a covered bridge. On your far left is the stairway to the upper levels. As you approach the stairway and look overhead you can see upwards to the floor of the sixth level. Framing the stairway are two large window walls extending two levels. The staircase railings house cast bas-relief panels, depicting the journey from urban to rural settings, that many made during the 1970’s and 80’s.
UPPER LEVELS OF THE CASTLE
On the third level, there is a library, shelves arrayed along zigzag walls and sweeping around the curved outer wall of the tower. It forms a balcony around the opening that follows the stairwell, a good spot for a cup of tea and some research for the artists work. This level also houses accommodations for the staff.
On the fourth level, there is an additional room for staff and a short bridge over the open space which accompanies the stairway. Crossing this bridge, there are two doors, one to the “backstage” and one, an entry to a small theatre. It is an intimate space for nine or ten in the audience and two or three at most as performers. Inside the theatre, a small group is viewing film of the creation of art in a distant land.
THE TOWER STUDIO
Returning to the stairway climbing again, you reach the fifth level, this is one room, smaller now than the main level as the tower walls taper inward two and one-half degrees. This room has views to Vermont and to the west. The tower is formed by twelve vertical posts with curved girts between them. Outside at each “o’clock” of the twelve posts are gargoyles. These sculptures are inspired by the woodland creatures that inhabit the forest around us. This level was designed as a studio, primarily for drawing and painting. In this space students learn, artists make finished works or illustrate plans for larger or 3D work. It offers a space that is at once, expansive and yet cozy. It is a retreat, but with the world laid out around its walls. The levels above only partially block the view to the peak, it is thirty-seven feet from its floor to the top. Today, there is a figure drawing group. What we think we see if often preconceived. Our brain tells us that we are seeing what we have already seen before. These artists are fighting that instinct. They are forcing their eyes to observe, and their hands to interpret that observation.
The next stair is smaller and tighter in radius, it wraps around the chimney and takes you to the sixth level. Here you will find a tiny observatory, more of a Merlin fantasy than a serious scientific endeavor. The telescope can be poised to peer out the eyebrow dormer of the towers cone. The room is empty of people now, but tonight, if it is a clear one, a small group will observe and marvel at the larger show that we are all a part of.
THE VIEWING PLATFORM
Climb once more, and you will reach a small landing, the seventh level. Here a door opens to reveal a triangular balcony which starts with a truncated point inside the cone, and then projects out beyond the roof line. The cone is small in diameter at this height, so you can see in a wide radius around the peak. A tower has to have a destination, a literal point that you achieve. The journey up should provide anticipation, the building’s shape and details do that. Now you step on to a balcony that provides a view to other peaks in New Hampshire and Vermont, but also the grounds and structures of Tarleton. As you pan across the tree tops, you can see people loading an outdoor kiln, metal being shaped and ground by the metal shop, activities that change by the season. Here comes a bus groaning up the hill, kids for a workshop, metal casting today.
What about that doorway on the main floor that led to a covered bridge? That bridge connects us to the next part of the castle. It has an arched Burr truss. This arch supports the bridge and creates a graceful portal below, it leads to the Refectory.
The refectory (or dining hall) will function as an all-purpose, all-function space. It will house a flexible floor space, with a food service area, a fireplace, and an A.D.A bathroom. Down each of its long walls will be standards, flags made by the artists and students who come here to create. Each will have a chance to leave an example of creative work, enhanced by interaction with one another. As artists with different backgrounds, skilled in different techniques and learning new ones. These standards will represent the vibrancy of their time spent here.
In the Southeast corner of the Refectory, stands south tower, unlike the main tower it is foursquare. Its base interlocks with the Refectory foundation and climbs with it for a while, but it breaks free and projects above the roof line of the hall. There is a staircase in the tower, but it wraps around a small elevator, which allows a wheelchair, or those unable to navigate stairs, to reach its top. There, you can look towards Vermont or back to the main tower from the crenellated walls.
Today, you’ve found two activities here, a rehearsal for a dance performance. Chairs are folded, the dancers are on the floor, not the stage because there is a group of artists and builders making their set. Building anything is best when artistry is part of its fabric, art is best when it has the integrity of being well built. When the two are synchronized we have things worthy of, and with the ability to last for lifetimes.
In the halls cellar, there are dormitories, bathhouses and a laundry to house visiting artists. The castle forms the hub of Tarleton, it feeds, sleeps, provides room for drawing, painting, and workshops. It provides space for lectures, exhibitions, conferences, and performances. It is also meant to inspire. Designed as a sculpture with smaller pieces part of the fabric of its surfaces. Its stylized lines with Art Deco and Gothic influences are meant to give a feeling of permanence. To show we can make art to speak beyond our time, as well as our own.
The grounds surrounding the castle hold and house even more. The first structure that you may see upon arriving at Tarleton Castle is the barn built in 2000. It houses the visitors center and offices. Above these areas is the woodshop and wood sculpture section. Mechanical cutting and shaping of sculpture and components take place in the shop. Wood carving, sanding, assembly and finishing are in a wing on the East side of the facility.
Below the barn, the carriage house, built in 1983, sprawls low across the ground towards the castle. It contains the metal studio and a small recreation room. In this metal studio, fabricated pieces take shape. Welding, grinding, forging and hammering. In an adjoining shed, molds are made for cast metal, then cast in a fiery blast in outdoor furnaces.
MINI STUDIOS & SCULPTURE PATHS
Following the road, around the carriage house towards the castle, if you keep going, a small bridge leads to the woods. Here are the sugar house, wood and equipment shed, and tent platforms. Trails lead to sculpture paths, nature paths and places to draw and reflect. The forest creatures may intrude on your thoughts, but they are busy with their own work. A pileated woodpecker shyly checks on your position as it looks for insects in the bark of a rotted tree. Chickadees have little fear and may even land on your shoulder. Larger creatures put in surprise appearances.
Throughout Tarleton, we have built small studios to house the facilities to create the art we wished to, and need to, make. Additional studios for ceramics, glass, printmaking and more are created when required to fit the needs of the participants. Outdoor kilns, furnaces, sheds for fabrication. Spaces that fit and interact with the forest around them.
You have “seen” the facility, but what makes Tarleton Castle function as a supportive community? The buildings, natural areas, and spaces foster many inspirations. The forest itself provides endless imaginings. The buildings show our human desire for beauty and performance. Further, they create spaces to interact. Yes, there will be exhibitions, lectures, conferences, but the daily interaction and exchange of thoughts on technique, structure, effect and more, are a constant source of energy. An energy that reaches every nook and cranny of Tarleton. Over coffee, a walk on a trail, while unloading sculpture materials, contemplating another’s work, reflecting at a bonfire, all chances to observe, absorb and illuminate.
I hope you have enjoyed your tour of the finished Tarleton Castle. We are not there yet. Please check with us often and see our progress. We feel it is a worthy project and hope that you will feel the same and help us bring it to reality.