The Currier Connection

Protecting Center Pond

An aerial view of Center Pond and surrounding lands, in October gold. (photo © David Flemming)

An aerial view of Center Pond and surrounding lands, in October gold. (photo © David Flemming)

When I first met Henry Fuller, he was a retired Wall Street stock broker living in the house he’d inherited from an uncle. It was a grand place, overlooking the hillside meadow just above Nelson village. More than once I was invited to visit, sometimes for a party, but sometimes just to talk, admire the view, and chat about the Harris Center’s land protection efforts in Nelson, which began in his neighborhood in the early 1990s.

Henry’s land had lots of road frontage, and more than 1,300 feet on scenic Center Pond. By 1994, he had decided how his land should be protected in perpetuity, and it was a little complicated. Over the course of two years, he gave us conservation easements on most of his 100+ acres, including his 46-acre house lot with its pond frontage. Then, in his estate plans, he left the house lot and another 17 acres to Dartmouth College, 13 acres to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, and 18 acres to the Town of Nelson — all protected by the conservation easement given to the Harris Center. He also gave 9 acres to the town for its cemetery. The result was that the Harris Center ended up with 94 acres to monitor, split among four landowners.

By the summer of 2001, Henry had passed away, and a lion’s share of his estate was left to his favorite cause, the Currier Museum. His bequest, the Currier’s largest ever, included a prized collection of 60 works by noted 19th-century American painters, his collection of paperweights, and a significant endowment for purchasing art.

An Artful Gift from the Harris Center’s Fairy Godmother

A photo of "A Royal Dessert," a still life by William Harnett.

“A Royal Dessert,” by William Michael Harnett — now part of the Currier Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

Meanwhile, also by 2001, Mrs. Virginia Baker had become a strong supporter of the Harris Center and the SuperSanctuary. (I called her the Harris Center’s fairy godmother.) That year, there was a fire in her house that was successfully brought under control, but she realized that it could have destroyed an important piece of art given to her by her grandmother-in-law for her wedding. Entitled “A Royal Dessert,” it is an 1881 still life by Irish-born painter William Michael Harnett. He became a leading 19th-century American painter and was the subject of a major exhibition in 1992, which traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. So, “A Royal Dessert” was considered quite valuable and hadn’t been on public display since it was exhibited in 1883 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

By 2004, Mrs. Baker had an ingenious plan to give the painting a safer home and wider audience — and give the Harris Center a huge boost, too. Knowing the Harris Center wouldn’t be the best place for such an important piece of art, she donated it to the Currier Museum, but not in full. Instead, she gave the Currier 25 percent interest and donated the other 75 percent interest to us! Well, the Currier was hard-pressed to exhibit 25 percent of a painting. So after about a year of negotiations and appraisal work, we received a generous check, drawn from the Currier’s “Henry Melville Fuller Acquisition Fund” and earmarked for the SuperSanctuary.

— Meade Cadot