Exhibit on ‘American Landscapes of the Country Place Era’ on View at Du Bois Library

Winterthur by Carol Betsch

“A Genius for Place: American Landscapes of the Country Place Era,” a panel exhibition from the Library of American Landscape History, is on display on the lower level of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library through May 10. 

An opening reception on Wednesday, March 5 at 4:30 p.m. will include remarks by author and curator Robin Karson and photographer Carol Betsch. The event is free and open to the public.

Beginning in the late 19th century, new fortunes in the United States made it possible for many city dwellers to commission country estates. Rising cultural aspirations, a widespread belief in the salutary benefits of country life, the availability of beautiful land, and growing numbers of landscape practitioners set the stage for thousands of such places.

From the 1890s to the waning years of the Great Depression, legions of American estates were constructed on the outskirts of cities, in resorts and in scenic locales throughout the nation. Taken together, they comprise an important movement in the history of North American landscape design. Seven examples are the subject of this photographic exhibition: Gwinn, Cleveland, Ohio; Stan Hywet, Akron, Ohio; Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.; Winterthur, Winterthur, Del.; Ford House, Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich.; Val Verde, Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Naumkeag, Stockbridge, Mass.

“A Genius for Place”was a collaboration between Robin Karson, a landscape historian, and Carol Betsch, a landscape photographer. Karson studied hundreds of historical landscapes and selected seven to represent the chronological development of an important movement in American landscape design. Over the course of five years, she and Betsch selected views that would reveal and illuminate the designers’ intentions and express the spirit of each place. Betsch created the photographs with a 4x5 wood field camera.

Both the book and exhibition trace the development of American landscape design by analyzing a group of landscapes that were chosen for their significance, state of preservation, and chronological and geographical distribution. Most are open to the public today. Karson argues that the spirit of the place--the genius loci--continued to guide these 20th century practitioners, even as they began experimenting with other influences, from the Beaux Arts to modernism. An exhibition of original photographs specially commissioned for the book toured nationally from 2000 to 2012.

In conjunction with the touring show, the Library of American Landscape History (LALH) and the University of Massachusetts Press have published a paperback edition of “A Genius for Place,” priced at $29.95.  Copies of the new paperback edition of the book will be available for purchase and signing at the reception.

Karson’s published works include “Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect,” “The Muses of Gwinn,” “Pioneers of American Landscape Design”(co-editor), and more than 100 articles about American landscape design. She is the founding director of LALH, based in Amherst.

Betsch has been a landscape photographer for more than 35 years. Her photographs appear in “The Winterthur Garden,” “The Muses of Gwinn,” “The Gardens of Ellen Biddle Shipman,” “A Modern Arcadia,” and many other books and articles about American landscape design. She is the managing editor of the University of Massachusetts Press.

Founded in 1992, LALH is a non-profit organization. Its mission is to foster understanding of the fine art of landscape architecture and appreciation for North America’s richly varied landscape heritage through LALH books, exhibitions, and online resources.