Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era

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In this lavishly illustrated volume, Robin Karson traces the development of a distinctly American style of landscape design through an analysis of seven country places created by some of the nation's most talented landscape practitioners.

In the mid-nineteenth century Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park, developed an approach to landscape design based on the principles of the English Picturesque which also emphasized a specifically American experience of nature and scenery. After Olmsted's retirement in 1897, these precepts continued to ground a new generation of American landscape architects through the next four decades, a period known as the "country place era," a time of rapid economic, social, and cultural change.

In the early twentieth century, new fortunes made it possible for wealthy Americans to commission country estates as a means of aggrandizing social status. These private havens also offered their owners respite from crowded cities and a way to preserve and celebrate places of distinctive landscape beauty. The commissions provided burgeoning numbers of landscape architects with opportunities to experiment with stylistic influences derived from Beaux-Arts, Arts and Crafts, and even Asian principles.

The chapters in this book trace a progression in the period from the naturalistic wild gardens of Warren Manning to the mysterious "Prairie style" landscapes of Jens Jensen to the proto-modernist gardens of Fletcher Steele. Other practitioners cov ered are Charles Platt, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Beatrix Farrand, Marian Coffin, and Lockwood de Forest Jr. The projects profiled follow a broad geographic arc, from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to Santa Barbara, California. All seven landscapes are now open to visitors.

Analyzing these designs in context with one another and against the backdrop of the professional and cultural currents that shaped larger projects — such as parks, campuses, and planned communities — Karson creates a rich and comprehensive picture of the artistic achievements of the period. Striking black-and-white images by landscape photographer Carol Betsch illuminate the transporting spirit of these country places today, while hundreds of drawings, plans, and historical photographs bring the past to life.

University of Massachusetts Press

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Editorial Reviews

This book by Karson (Library of American Landscape History), handsomely illustrated with plans and historic photographs and with photographer Betsch's wonderful work, focuses on eight American landscape architects and seven places they designed in the roughly four decades following the death of Frederick Olmsted in 1903. . . . Summing up: Recommended.
Landscape Architecture
Formidable in scope and impressive in presentation.... Altogether, text, visuals, and format work to produce a significant and beautiful book. Building on past scholarship and pointing the way for future investigations, Karson's work contributes significantly to the profession's history and our understanding of its evolution. Landscape historians will devour what's here; others should find inspiration in planting schemes, design details, scale relationships, and photography. This is a feast to be savored and digested slowly, over time.
The American Gardener
Yet again Robin Karson has hit the ball out of the park. This is, after all, the American landscape historian who has received much critical acclaim for her previous books. Her latest opus is an edge-of-the-seat discourse on seven sublime American gardens, their extraordinary owners, and their exceptional designers.... The book is generously illustrated with historic photographs. These are complemented by the superb modern black and white pictures of Carol Betsch, which exquisitely capture the spirit of each site. Too often, Americans prefer to focus on gardens on the other side of the pond, from England to Japan. In this book, as in her previous works, Karson redirects us towards our homegrown antecedents. And we are that much richer for it.
This book by Karson (Library of American Landscape History), handsomely illustrated with plans and historic photographs and with photographer Betsch's wonderful work, focuses on eight American landscape architects and seven places they designed in the roughly four decades following the death of Frederick Olmsted in 1903.... Summing up: Recommended.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558496361
  • Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2007
  • Pages: 428
  • Sales rank: 1,127,042
  • Product dimensions: 10.30 (w) x 12.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Robin Karson is author of Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect and The Muses of Gwinn, and coeditor of Pioneers of American Landscape Design. She serves as executive director of the Library of American Landscape History.

University of Massachusetts Press

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  • Posted March 3, 2009

    A must for anyone interested in historic gardening

    The book was a real eye-opener for me. I have visited many of England's historic gardens, but was almost entirely ignorant of the great American gardens, particularly within the landscape tradition, documented by this fascinating book. From Olmstead after the civil war, right up to Fletcher Steele in the 1970's, the book weaves a fascinating history of the great landscape designers working in the United States, many of whom were women. Beside giving an interesting overall picture, the book concentrates on several of the most important designers and their most important commissions. Much of this world vanished with the great depression, the income tax and the labor shortage. This book makes it come alive again.

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