Monday, November 23, 2009

Beatrix Farrand Debut at The Horticultural Society of New York

The invitation arrived in my Inbox from the Horticultural Society of New York.  Would I like to be a guest at their upcoming illustrated lecture and book signing featuring landscape historian and author Judith B.Tankard for her book, “Beatrix Farrand Private Gardens, Public Landscapes,” just released by The Monacelli Press?
 
How enchanting!  Immediately, images of New York Society, debutantes, Edith Wharton, Henry James, and “Age of Innocence” came to mind, not to mention Newport Rhode Island (where my husband and I honeymooned), Bar Harbor, and the Long Island estates of the Gold Coast.  I reluctantly concluded my reverie to respond that I most assuredly would love to attend the lecture – Beatrix Farrand is one of the most admired landscape gardeners – as Beatrix referred to the art of landscape designers – and thanked the NY Horticultural Society profusely.   (Kathryn Powis, the librarian at the Horticultural Society, is a peach!)

It might seem curious to think I have anything at all in common with Beatrix Farrand, but in fact, I do J   I am landscape designer, for one and I am a working woman, for another.

OK, I recognize that second one is stretching the point...  And today, it’s hardly a big deal to be a woman garden designer. 
But not so in Mrs. Farrand’s day.
The book notes “Farrand did not share the contemporary misconception of landscape gardening as a ‘congenial, soothing, out-of-doors pursuit to which a woman of taste, who loves flowers, cannot do better than turn her hand.”
Farrand was a charter member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. 
(www.asla.org).   Tankard writes of a Martha Brookes Hutcheson (1871-1959) who was inspired by Farrand, and despite entreaties from her family not to study landscape design – she did.  At MIT and at Arnold Arboretum http://www.arboretum.harvard.edu/ no less. Tankard quotes Martha:  “I was fired with desire, in spite of the fact that it was considered almost social suicide and distinctly matrimonial suicide for a woman to enter any profession.”
How can you not love that passion?   Did you need more proof gardens are sexy?!

Further, Tankard relates Farrand’s reflection: “In later years, looking back on her career, she candidly observed that no woman should attempt the profession who was not in robust health, above average in physical strength, and willing to endure long hours of drafting, fieldwork, and travel.”   (so true…and yet another point of shared attributes…) 

She seems to have a gift for branding, too.  (I have enjoyed a wonderfully successful brand marketing & communications career.)  Tankard reports, “In a letter regarding her work at Yale University in 1922, she made it quite clear that her name should be listed on the rolls as ‘Beatrix Farrand without any qualifying Mr. or Mrs. or Miss, as I regard Beatrix Farrand as a sort of trade name.’”  Take that Madonna! (http://www.madonna.com/)

And finally, my other link to Beatrix is that she and I are neighbors of sorts.  I often point out Beatrix’s 11th Street townhouse, marked by a bronze plaque, that is located right next to (or is it behind?) our New York City Fifth Avenue residence. 


Upon discovering the plaque, I felt it was no mere coincidence that we moved to the building we did, as she and I share an affinity for gardens and plants, painting and travel.   J It was fate…
Therefore, imagine my delight to read in Chapter 2’s “From Society Girl to Career Woman” where Tankard wrote, “In early 1896…Beatrix Farrand’s next step was to set up a studio on the top floor of her mother’s house at 21 East Eleventh Street.“   Beatrix was married here too.  Her Mother, Mary Cadwalader Jones “presided over her famous literary salon at 21 East Eleventh Street, just off Fifth Avenue an Washington Square.  Henry James, Henry Adams, F. Marion Crawford, John La Farge, Theodore Roosevelt, and other friends gathered there for Sunday dinners in the early 1900s.” according to Tankard.   
I love that the plaque is displayed on the townhouse to pay homage to one of this country’s most accomplished landscape design heroes.  And mine…  Beatrix said, “I made up my mind to go in regularly for landscape gardening.”  Me too.  Soul mates…

The book is indeed a wonderful read and belongs on your bookshelf – not only for garden enthusiasts but everyone.  Tankard’s book is titled “Private Gardens, Public Landscapes” and I think that the “private” also describes part of the book’s appeal as the author’s diligent research and intriguing writing delivers insight into Beatrix the person.  There are the woman’s society connections, travels, history, marriage and the marriages and dynasties of the era that bolster the adage that the rich get richer and/or it’s who you know.  Try this doozy the author supplies when describing why Beatrix Farrand was the obvious choice to do the landscape design for the career diplomat Robert Woods Bliss and his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss at what would become Farrand’s masterpiece, Dumbarton Oaks:  “Edith Wharton (Beatrix’s aunt) was one of Mildred Bliss’s closest friends in France, and Mildred’s mother, Ana Dorinda Blaksley Bliss, had given Farrand one of her first jobs in Maine in 1896.  After the death of Mildred Bliss’s father, Demas Barnes, her mother married William Henry Bliss, and it was through their marriage that Mildred had met her own husband; Robert Woods Bliss was her stepfather’s son from a previous marriage.)  Whew!  Threading the politics, Wall Street fortunes, country home designs and liaisons, however, is the book’s main story line: the landscape design challenges -- and those glorious triumphs. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The lecture at the NY Horticultural Society took place in its wonderful library -- a public resource that can be used by anyone: but why not become a member?  For not much more than drinks and appetizers in most New York City restaurants, you get an ongoing, enduring connection to the natural world.  http://www.hsny.org/support_becomeamember.html  

After checking in, I met George Pisegna, Director of Horticulture in person (previously we had just emailed) and we chatted. 

                                          George at Left

The Hort Society provided wine, cheese, and crackers and early guests were talking and catching up. 



A bonus for Farrand lecture attendees was that we got to view the incredible botanical art adorning the library walls.


The 12th Annual International Juried Botanical Art Exhibition was spectacular.  But Hurry!  The artwork is on display just until November 24th.  Recently, the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) jurors including Francesca Anderson offered a walkthrough of the exhibit.  Sorry I missed that (was in the Garden State writing…) as I admire Francesca and her art so much.  Not surprisingly, many of the artists participating in the Exhibit are also part of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Florilegium Society, headed up by BBG’s incredible Pat Jonas, curator of BBG’s Florilegium Collection.  You can email Pat at pjonas@bbg.org  


Then my guest arrived: Helen Conover, Special Needs Educator & Coordinator of High School Special Science Enrichment at the 92nd Street Y. http://www.92y.org/
I am so lucky she is my friend now.  In fact, it is my dear Aunt Margaret http://www.facebook.com/people/Margaret-Appolloni/518288340 who is Helen’s high school friend. She introduced me to Helen  -- a fascinating and amazing woman who has traveled the world for archeological digs from Egypt to Arizona; and visited Russia and Vietnam long before it was easy.  In the early days she did so as a passenger on merchant ships, as did my godmother, Aunt Alice.  Now, I have the good fortune of Helen’s friendship and we have much in common with our love of art and science!

Soon the lecture began with Katherine Powis introducing Judith, who has written six books by the way, on historical gardens and garden design.  In an appropriate nod to our host and the venue, Judith pointed out Beatrix’s practice and intellectual approach to design was fueled by her library of garden books.  Here is an image from the book showing the garden landscaper in her library:


Judith pointed out early career influences that include her aunt Edith Wharton and Gertrude Jekyll’s exuberant perennial borders, in particular. 


and contemporaries such as Ellen Biddle Shipman and, of course, her studies at the Arnold Arboretum under the tutelage of Charles Sprague Sargent. 

Tankard went on to highlight Farrand’s patrician connections and her work for clients such as JP Morgan, Dorothy Payne Whitney and the Rockefellers   Farrand designed gardens in the aristocratic areas of Long Island, the Berkshires, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Tuxedo Park.  The train station and entrance gate at Tuxedo Park are elegant and charming.  I’ve been there.  Tankard noted Farrand most likely provided this work gratis as she and her mother had friends who lived in Tuxedo Park.  Farrand’s most famous designs include the Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, the East Garden at the White House – now known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and of course, Dumbarton Oaks, probably the only extant garden of Farrand’s. 

A Style of her Own:  Tankard showcased Farrand’s artistic prowess  -- the landscape gardener was also an accomplished singer, writer, and painter, and clotheshorse fashionista -- with images of the designer’s many renderings that are included in the book. (and more in common: I am a writer, painter and fashion lover too. Forget the singing, though..)
The black and white garden plans and the watercolor renderings are combined with the many photographs of the gardens Beatrix designed – as well as many photographs of Beatrix – as a child; so cute yet elegant posing in winter on a city street, she seems to be standing in a snow globe – unperturbed with what looks like snowflakes falling around her, she stands erect and wise in her coat adorned with fur and a charming hat cocked to one side for a definite fashion statement. And her debutante portrait in stunning white gown and a to die for pearl choker and feather fan (it can’t be a handbag, could it?) described in the book as “a gown of white silk, with chiffon of the same color. The bodice was cut décolletée and the skirt en traine. Pearl and diamond ornaments were worn, with white roses.”  Wow.  And you must check out Beatrix's furs and pearls photograph by Sarah Choate Sears on page 41!  Exquisite...
And there are also plenty of images showing Farrand working in her greenhouse and library.  


Another “Farrand fashion” reference I like:  “Beatrix Farrand was clearly a product of New York old-world society (one of the Four Hundred), from which she gained her discretion, regal disposition, and crisp politeness but also her compassion for those who were less fortunate”  (See, and some think of New Yorkers as hard-boiled)  “Her conservative manner of dress was consistent with her class; she favored elegant custom-made clothing and accessories, and as a confirmed Anglophile, sensible Scottish tweeds for work.”  Clearly, this is where the similarity between us ends!  




                                             Farrand Garden Art Rendering


Tuxedo Park garden design, demonstrating Farrand's keen ability to balance the formal and informal


The Garden as a Picture: "A garden, large or small, must be treated in the impressionist manner." 1907


Farrand combined her "love of picturesque beauty with the formal tradition of European gardens" in what would become her signature style, wrote Tankard.

Beatrix Farrand is also acknowledged for her incredible landscape design work for university campuses, including Yale and Princeton.  Judith showed one of Beatrix’s espalier-style tree plantings at Princeton where the designer showcased and promoted “vertical gardening.”



A brief Q&A followed the presentation.


Do you have any inquiries about Beatrix Farrand?


Author Judith B. Tankard (left) and me


 Author with lecture guests



You have to get the book www.beatrixfarrandgarden.org or www.amazon.com:beatrixfarrand:privategardenspubliclandscapes  and/or sign on for the Beatrix Farrand Society News www.BeatrixFarrand.org (The 1943 image of Beatrix Farrand on the cover of the newsletter and in the book's first chapter in her Glendhills Studio bears more than a passing resemblance to Glenn Close! http://tinyurl.com/ydnd76t)


Because Beatrix’s life and work is too interesting for this posting. 



Enjoy!

"No life is well-rounded without the subtle inspiration of beauty." 1926 Beatrix Farrand

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