Goshen's 'living' sanctuary: Three Sisters celebrates 20th anniversary, is subject of Canadian documentary

Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2014
GOSHEN — Eclectic, whimsical, earthy, otherworldly: these are the words visitors used to describe Goshen’s Three Sisters Sanctuary during the sanctuary’s 20th anniversary Saturday afternoon. About 100 showed up for the anniversary celebration.

That reputation drew visitors to the unusual environmental living art display on Route 112 in Goshen as well as a film crew from Canada. The sanctuary and its creator Richard Richardson will be featured in a documentary in the works for the Travel Channel.

“We heard of this place, and it was obvious that we needed to come here,” said Director Isabelle Tincler of CMJ Productions in Montreal.

Christina Clark, Tincler’s assistant, said the documentary is a 13-segment series covering 13 different artists and their creations. Its title, aptly, is “Homemade.”

“It’s about people all over the world who have made their homes in some way part of their living artwork,” said Clark. “We looked for people who work with their hands and use all kinds of recycled or donated materials for their art.”

Tincler said that the crew had already filmed in Austin Texas, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and London, England.

“Our next stops will be in Spain and South America,” she said.

Clark said the crew thoroughly enjoyed its time in western Massachusetts.

“Every one here has been so welcoming. People seem very nice and very liberal, it reminds me of where we come from in Montreal,” she said.

Three Sisters Sanctuary was inspired by a series of tragedies that struck Richardson and his family.

He said his brother Chuck, a gardener, had suggested he plant gardens on the property, which they did. Shortly after that, his brother died of cancer.

“That spring, the gardens we had installed came to life, and I felt that nature was healing my grief,” he said.

As Richardson’s gardens began to grow and change, his oldest daughter, Tina Marie Richardson, suffered a fatal aneurism in 2004.

Since then, Richardson has turned 8 acres of his property into an unconventional landscape of interconnected gardens, stone structures and mosaics that he calls “a place of healing.” The sanctuary is dedicated to his three daughters, Tina Marie, Sara Richardson LaBonte, and Megan Richardson LaBonte.

Visitors Saturday commented on the maze of paths that meandered through and around the property, tying one artistic component to another. One space was enlivened with large bejeweled wooden butterflies, another was an open and tranquil clearing surrounded by tall ornamental grasses with a large quartz boulder in the center.

“It’s incredible. It is like every time you turn a corner you are entering a different world,” said Karen Farley of Amherst. She placed her hand on a quartz boulder, saying “it’s as if you just have to reach out and touch it.”

For some visitors, Saturday was the first time they’d seen the gardens. Deborah Lambert of Northampton said that she often drives past the sanctuary, and over the years, noticed as the front buildings accumulated various colorful artifacts.

“I had no idea that all of this was back here. I love it,” Lambert said.

From the amphitheater and the large stone dragon whose ornate head puffs out smoke when the fireplace in his belly is lit, to the quite pond and wetlands, the sanctuary is a one of a kind experience.

The owner of Good Time Stove, Richardson also restores and sells antique stoves. His storefront has also been turned into a quirky eye-catching work of art complete with a giant tin man that towers over the roof as well as bits and bobs of colorful items that adorn the outer walls.

“Each place we have been is very different, but the common thread they share, is their eccentricity and an unwavering vision,” Clark said.

Clark said the documentary will air on the Travel Channel in Canada, although the company is looking for an American broadcaster to pick up the series.

Fran Ryan can be reached at fryan.gazette@gmail.com