I have been asked to write about my personal reflections and the impact of working with Dan Kiley.
Dan was my friend; to my honor we became very close. Indeed the last project he undertook was one of mine, but more about that another time.
To know him is to know his values, his priorities, his life. Many have a love of life, Dan honored life.
Dan's passion for nature manifested itself in many ways, sometimes surprising, always revealing. Early days just getting to know him, at his office/house by Lake Champlain I was sitting in the living room meeting with Dan and several of his colleagues. It was a beautiful big space in an old house with great full height wooden window/doors all along one side, slid open on this wonderful day to the lawn the trees and grass and beyond to the lake. The fauna was there as well, a cow rounded the corner of the house lazily grazing. The finishing touch I thought for this bucolic scene when... the cow took a turn, walked thru one of the big openings into the living room clomping on the wooden floor, round the grand piano and stood there chewing away looking at us. Unperturbed, Dan said “Oh that's Jenny, would someone take her back out?" They did and the meeting continued almost as though nothing untoward had happened. For Dan, man and Nature were integral, were one, were life.
Dan was a spiritual person, not intellectually but intuitively and not as mere romantic ideas but on a very high plane. A profound Modernist, secure and open to all that was good to be found in history, he sought harmony and order and serenity in his work as sure as any Classicist. He loved the idea of the metaphysical quality of nature, of essences, the continuity of life and nature. Conversations with Dan revealed in fragments the influence of Jung and Emerson, Thoreau and Rilke and Goethe. He loved embracing the real with the mysterious, discovering the poetry of site waiting to be revealed. Joseph Campbell’s phrase, “follow your bliss” could be said to characterize both Dan’s life and his search for essence.
His work invoked elements of movement, of sequence, the unveiling of experience, the enrichment of the seasons, the sense of smell as well as sight –mint planted close by to paths to be brushed against releasing their fragrance. A rich variety to be found within powerful organizing ideas.
I remember just after school, before any knowledge of La Nôtre (in a polar opposite of Dan’s Harvard experience, we knew nothing of history), traveling along the coast in Southern Italy and seeing orange groves, regular grids of trees swooping in unison up hillsides and swerving back down again, beautiful as a flock of birds. A memory stored and brought back years later in Dan’s work when, for the hillsides of the Getty, where there were those proposing mimicking nature with scattershot plantings, Dan conceived a grid of Live Oaks stretched like a fine veil powerfully and subtly anchoring the buildings to the site, his great realized legacy there.
In all of Dan’s work one sees and learns that one need not shy away from the hand of man, that the vibrancy occurs when man’s mark intersects with nature and that the clearer the mark the more powerful the result. One learns that Naturalism is void of power like any counterfeit.
When I think of Dan, unbidden is the remembered image, his balanced stance, one foot back a bit as a boxer might, elbow raised, hand flat - sweeping horizontally, sparkling blue eyes beneath a straw hat, pursed lips, speaking softly… yet with passion and energy in happy anticipation of what could be.
“Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream things that never were and ask why not”.
-Robert F Kennedy