UMass Exhibition Examines Changes in Historical American Landscapes

A Genius for Place: American Landscape of the Country Place Era
A Panel Exhibition from the Library of American Landscape History

The UMass Amherst Libraries are hosting a traveling exhibition called “A Genius For Place,” on view now through May 10th, 2014.  Organized by the Library of American Landscape History (LALH), the exhibition illustrates and analyzes the chronological development of North American landscape design throughout the “Country Place Era,” or the period of time (1890 to 1930) between the Gilded Age through the end of the Great Depression.  During that time, many wealthy American families, convinced that their hectic, crowded, and unclean city lives required periodic retreats to the fresh air and far-ranging vistas of the countryside for renewal and recovery, erected country “cottages” (some of which were more extravagant than the average mansion today).  Of course, these homes were not complete without elegantly sculpted garden paths, man-made reflecting pools, outdoor courtyards, and a spectacular view to top off the experience of nature-filled country life.  Landscape architects creating the perfect outdoor environments for their clients employed a wide range of techniques, structures, and both modern and historical iconography in their designs.  It was a transitional moment, both for the country as a whole and for the practice of landscape design.

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Robin Karson, founding director of LALH, sees the Country Place Era as a significant time in the history of American landscape architecture: balancing on the cusp of the twentieth century, still weighted with the ideas and traditions of bygone years.  One such was the notion of the genius loci, or the “spirit of the place.”  While in some cultures this spirit takes the form of a protective, guardian-like presence, Western cultures more commonly use the phrase “spirit of the place” to refer to a site’s distinctive energy or aura.  In her book A Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era, Karson suggests that landscape architects during this time were guided by the genius loci to preserve the natural beauty and quirks of the original landscape while injecting more modern, experimental architectural elements into their designs… Read the rest of this entry »

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