Shaping the American Landscape: Reflecting on a Legacy

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Shaping the American Landscape: Reflecting on a Legacy

Shaping the American Landscape: Reflecting on a Legacy

To celebrate the 2009 publication of Shaping the American Landscape, a series of regional symposia was held to celebrate the legacy of the remarkable pioneers who have shaped our collective landscape.

On the evening of October 8, 2009, after ten years in the making, TCLF unveiled its latest publication, Shaping the American Landscape: New Profiles from the Pioneers of American Landscape Design Project, published this September by the University of Virginia Press. The opening event was held in New York City in a private room overlooking the restored sculpture garden at MoMa’s The Modern. In the company of nearly 100 friends and supporters, TCLF celebrated this second comprehensive volume in their ongoing Pioneer series with many of its Board members and a dozen of its contributors in attendance. The festive evening was hosted by Board member Peter McQuillan and Adam Rose, and concluded with an intimate speaker’s dinner during which time M. Paul Friedberg and Laurie D. Olin reminisced about MoMa’s garden in the 1960s.

The following day, on Friday, October 9, the New York Botanical Garden served as a launching-off point for the first of five regional symposia. The symposia were all organized by TCLF with the American Society of Landscape Architects as an educational partner and Garden Design magazine as the official media partner for the series. For this first venue, speakers included Dr. Keith N. Morgan, Dr. Thomas Campanella, Dr. Thaisa Way, M. Paul Friedberg, and Laurie D. Olin. The symposium placed a spotlight on New York City and the region, spanning 150 years of landscape design -- from picturesque to vest pocket parks. In summary, this symposium and the others that followed looked back to celebrate and evaluate regionally significant landscape legacies while also reflecting on what this heritage means to practitioners, historians, and educators today.

On the heels of the NYBG symposia, on the following Tuesday, TCLF convened its second regional symposium placing a spotlight on the landscape of Tennessee. This symposium was convened in concert with the annual meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and hosted by Cheekwood Botanical Garden, a masterwork landscape of the Country Place era designed by Bryant Fleming. Keynote speakers included TCLF Board members, Kurt Culbertson and Arleyn Levee as well as Frances Lombard. Following the morning lectures, Ben Page led a mobile workshop in the garden.

The next two symposia had a more narrowed focus. First, a spotlight on Post War Landscape Architecture in Northern California (October 23-25), followed by an exploration of the legacy of Pittsburgh native-son, landscape architect John O. Simonds (November 5-7).

Of all of the symposia, the California symposium was the most ambitious, and also turned out to be the most emotionally charged. With regional sponsors that included The Garden Conservancy, the California Garden and Landscape History Society and the University of California, Berkeley, the three-days of events began with an opening reception hosted by the National Trust for Historic Preservations, Western Regional Office. For this opening venue, attendees were treated to the Marvels of Modernism signboard exhibit, as well as a display that was organized by the Special Collections at the Environmental Design Archives that included representative works of many of the pioneers in this latest publication including Garrett Eckbo, Geraldine Knight Scott, and Doug and Maggie Baylis.

The following day, with around 150 in attendance, the stage was set by historian Marc Treib who provided a sweeping overview of the era. During the course of the day speakers included Garrett Eckbo’s last business partner (Ken Kay) and his last employee (Walter Hood). The afternoon sessions included a riveting panel discussion of former Halprin employees and colleagues (Paul Scardina, Steven Koch, Gary Roth, Andrew Sullivan, and Ed Westbook). This session began with an announcement of Mr. Halprin’s declining health (he passed away the following morning). It was at this moment that the fragility of the legacy that was being celebrated became clear. The day concluded with a provocative panel charged with reflecting on what the legacy means today that included Cheryl Barton and Marta Fry. Sunday’s festivities included a tour of Modernist landscapes in the Bay Area that began at Halprin’s Levi Plaza and concluded at the home of the late-Bob Royston, with attendees enjoying the late-afternoon sun from the Royston’s cantilevered terrace overlooking Mount Tamalpais.

TCLF kicked off November with the opening of George Eastman House’s travelling photography exhibition, Marvels of Modernism, at the Andy Warhol Museum on the evening of November 5. The festive evening included 130 attendees, the opening of the exhibit on view through January 3, 2010, and a preview of a video commissioned by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (who was also the symposium cosponsor) about the history and preservation of John Simonds’ masterwork, Mellon Square. The audience included many of Simonds family members, former employees and friends. Following this gala event, an all day symposium explored Simonds role as a practitioner, educator and author, as well as his influence on Pittsburgh and beyond. The day concluded with an overview of the recent preservation work underway at two Simonds-designed Pittsburgh parks -- Mellon Square and Allegheny Commons. This concluding session and the walking tour that followed the next day were led by Patricia M. O’Donnell and Marion Pressley.

The final 2009 Pioneers symposium was held on November 13th and was hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation along with the landscape architecture programs of the University of Illinois and the Illinois Institute of Technology. This symposium explored the diverse legacy of landscape architecture in the Heartland -- from the Prairie Style landscapes of Jens Jensen and Alfred Caldwell to celebrated 1960 commissions by Dan Kiley such as the South Garden at the Art Institute and the Chicago Filtration Plant. A particularly personal panel discussion was moderated by Peter Osler and explored Kiley’s work in the 1960s and 1980s with Chicagoland practitioners, Joe Karr and Peter Schaudt. Over thirty students attended thanks to the generous support of Christy Webber Landscapes, Hoerr Schaudt, and Bill Quinlan.

Overall, in just a five week period, over 800 participants attended these five regional symposia and events hosted by a dozen national and regional organizations. Looking ahead, TCLF aims to post a number of these papers online, in addition to planning several symposia in 2010 that will take place in Atlanta, Georgia; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.