The New American Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Oehme, van Sweden - Landscape architecture exhibition to inaugurate Nassau County Museum of Art’s The Manes Family Art & Education Center
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Exhibition organized by The Cultural Landscape Foundation includes important residential and commercial commissions on Long Island
Washington, D.C. (July 6, 2017) – Nassau County Museum of Art and The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) today announced that The New American Garden: The Landscape Architecture of Oehme, van Sweden will be the inaugural exhibition at the Roslyn Harbor, N.Y. museum’s Manes Family Art & Education Center. The traveling photographic exhibition will on view August 3 – September 7, 2017. TCLF organized and curated the exhibition, which chronicles the careers and influence of Wolfgang Oehme (1930-2011) and James van Sweden (1935-2013). The two practitioners revolutionized landscape architecture with the creation of the New American Garden, a type of garden characterized by large swaths of grasses and fields of perennials, which van Sweden called “vigorous and audacious”; important examples on Long Island include the Americana Manhasset luxury shopping center and residential commissions in Water Mill and Sagaponack, among others. Their style celebrated the seasonal splendor of the American meadow while promoting its inherent ecological, sustainable, aesthetic, and ornamental qualities.
The exhibition includes 52 contemporary and newly commissioned photographs of important residential, civic, and commercial projects. It was created to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Bold Romantic Gardens, a widely influential 1990 book the two business partners wrote with Susan Rademacher, former executive director of the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Inc., and currently the parks curator at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, chronicling 21 projects that introduced the world to their horticulturally exuberant designs. The New American Garden is a project of TCLF’s Landslide program, which raises awareness about threatened and at-risk works of landscape architecture. Nine of the 21 projects featured in Bold Romantic Gardens no longer exist.
A complementary New American Garden website includes dozens of additional images of the featured projects; selections from a 2009 video oral history with van Sweden; recollections by friends, clients and colleagues about van Sweden; and the exhibition gallery guide (available as a free downloadable PDF and for sale as a print publication at the museum store and TCLF’s website).
Oehme and van Sweden created their eponymous, Washington, D.C.-based firm in 1975 and quickly gained critical attention and praise for their work at the Federal Reserve Board Gardens (Washington, D.C.), the first public iteration of their signature style, and at the Water Mill, New York home of Alex and Carole Rosenberg. Their style sharply contrasted with the archetypal lawn-centric landscapes that dominated Postwar America. As van Sweden said in a 2008 Washingtonian interview: “[Our designs] did not feature lawn but tapestry-like plantings and perennials and masses of the same plant—3,000 black-eyed Susans instead of six.” Plants were the dominant and signature feature of their work, and they created gardens to be interesting in all four seasons.
The website and exhibition are divided into four sections:  significant early projects in Bold Romantic Gardens including the Rosenberg residence, the Slifka Beach House (Sagaponack, New York), the Vollmer Garden (Baltimore, Maryland), and the Federal Reserve Board Garden (Washington, D.C.);  Residential Gardens, showing projects in Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Virginia, and elsewhere;  Civic and Commercial Gardens, including the national World War II Memorial, Chicago Botanic Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Forest Park (St. Louis, Missouri), Americana Manhasset (Manhasset, New York), and others; and  Legacy and Stewardship, focused on landscape architecture’s innate ephemerality (nine of the 21 gardens in Bold Romantic Gardens are lost), and challenges to extant projects, notably Pershing Park (Washington, D.C.), for which Oehme, van Sweden & Associates did the planting plan, and which could be demolished to make way for a national World War I Memorial.
James van Sweden grew up in a large Dutch community in Grand Rapids, Michigan, earned a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Michigan, and studied landscape architecture at Delft University of Technology in 1960. After three years in the Netherlands he returned to the U.S. Wolfgang Oehme, originally from Germany, studied landscape architecture at the University of Berlin, graduating in 1954. He moved to the U.S. in 1957 and worked for the Baltimore County Department of Parks and practiced independently before founding a partnership with James van Sweden in 1975.
In many of the projects illustrated in the exhibition, Oehme and van Sweden worked with other practitioners, including the three principals of the successor firm, OEHME, VAN SWEDEN │ OvS—Sheila Brady, Lisa Delplace, and Eric Groft—who continue their legacy.
About the Manes Family Art & Education Center
The Manes Family Art & Education Center at Nassau County Museum of Art is a dedicated education and exhibition space designed to meet the creative needs of the Museum’s local community. Programs will be dedicated to promoting the highest quality art educational experiences. Highlighting and celebrating the unique qualities of visual arts learning, programs will be designed to address the multiple learning styles and abilities of visiting adults and children.
About Nassau County Museum of Art
Nassau County Museum of Art is located at One Museum Drive in Roslyn Harbor, just off Northern Boulevard, Route 25A, two traffic lights west of Glen Cove Road. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors (62 and above) and $4 for students and children (4 to12). Members are admitted free. Docent-led tours of the exhibitions are offered at 2 p.m. each day; tours of the mansion are offered each Saturday at 1 p.m.; meet in the lobby, no reservations needed. Tours are free with museum admission. Family art activities and family tours are offered Sundays from 1 pm; free with museum admission. Call (516) 484-9338, ext. 12 to inquire about group tours. The MUSEUM STORE is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call (516) 484-9338 for current exhibitions, events, days/times and directions or log onto nassaumuseum.org.
Nassau County Museum of Art is chartered and accredited by New York State as a not-for-profit private educational institution and is governed by a privately elected Board of Trustees. The Museum and its programs are made possible through the support of Nassau County under County Executive Edward P. Mangano and the Nassau County Legislature; the Board of Trustees and Museum Members; Sponsors of Exhibitions and Events, Government and Foundation Grants, Corporate and Private Donors as well as earned income.
About The Cultural Landscape Foundation
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 1998 to connect people to places. TCLF educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards. Through its website, publishing, lectures and other events, TCLF broadens support and understanding for cultural landscapes.