The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Fountain Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks
"We are definitely in an era of building; the best kind of building-- the
building of great public projects for the benefit of the public and with
the definite objective of building human happiness."
--Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated in reference to New Deal projects.
Many political, economic, and social shifts were taking place between the Gilded Age and the 1930s. Dumbarton Oaks stands as an iconic model of the many trends in American culture in the tumultuous 1920s and 1930s. One important shift in landscape architecture took place during the Great Depression. This was the ending of estate building and a trend towards public works such as parks and parkways.In Phoebe Cutler's book, The Public Landscape of the New Deal, she talks about the "linkage" to the landscape:
In the 1930s Americans still viewed the landscape, along with church and family, as a force in character formation. Recreation enjoyed the moral hegemony that conservation still retains. This idealism imbued the landscape.
The shift in landscape architecture projects from the private to the public sphere was rather smooth. In Cutler's The Public Landscape of the New Deal, this transition is partially explicated:
The progression from country estate to city park was a natural one. For years landscape architects had been battening their practices with the embellishment of the country estate, and in the process they compiled a stock of design constructs easily transferable to the public landscape.From designing country estates, landscape architects had the opportunity to experiment with a wide range of design constructs. The expertise of landscape architects was needed as much if not more in the public works of the 1930s as during the Country Place Era between 1890 and 1920. The actual profession of landscape architecture thrived in the shift between the private and public works. Spanning from Jefferson's time to the transcendentalists and even to the present day, the natural American landscape has always played an important part in America's understanding of itself. Our landscape connects to our nation's self-understanding. Nature in America is a kind of proof of our special relationship with God, and also helped America separate itself from Europe.
In Mac Griswold's book,The Golden Age of American Gardens,the connection is made between the Hudson River School and the thoughts about and perceptions of the natural American landscape:
All through the 19th century, forces both cultural and horticultural conspired to raise an interest in nature and gardening. The paintings of the Hudson River School captured the sweeping majesty of the American wild-- now that the wilderness frontier was safely far away. A new romanticized domesticity, complete with a garden, became the Victorian ideal.
The reason that the Hudson River School was significant was because it involved the rendering of the American landscape. This first native school of American Art dated from the 1820s. It began as a loosely organized group of painters who took as their subject the unique naturalness of the American continent, starting with the Hudson River region in New York, but eventually extending in time and space all the way to California and the 1870s. The time period in which the school's artists were active was a time of momentous social, political and economic change in American history, and the work of the Hudson River School artists represents part of the process of national self-conceptualization taking place in those years.
In the course of its fifty year history, the paintings of the Hudson River School spoke in symbolic language to both a great hopefulness and a wistful reminiscence of the American "experiment", a celebration of the primeval American landscape. These landscape paintings lay claim to an important place in American art history and in the American cultural consciousness. They represent the undeniable place that nature has and continues to occupy in the American imagination.Visit a virtual gallery of Hudson River School landscape paintings.
Some of the social change that was happening leading up to and beyond the Gilded Age involved culture. It was constantly being redefined by and for Americans. Henry James lamented that there was no culture in America and that there was no escape "into the future, or even into the present; there was an escape but into the past."
In Levine's book High brow/Lowbrow, he discusses Henry James' view on culture in America:
James was not quite accurate. For him and for many others there was also an escape into Culture, which became one of the mechanisms that made it possible to identify, distinguish, and order this new universe of strangers. As long as these strangers had stayed within their own precincts and retained their own peculiar ways, they remained containable and could be dealt with: Afro-Americans dancing their strange ritual dances to exotic rhythms within their own churches; Irish women "keening" (wailing) weird melodies over their dead at their own wakes; Germans entertaining family and friends in their own beer gardens. But these worlds of strangers did not remain contained; they spilled over into the public spaces that characterized nineteenth century America and that included the theaters, music halls, opera houses, museums, parks fairs and the rich public cultural life that took place daily on the streets of American cities. This is precisely where the threat lay and the response of the elites was a tripartite one: to retreat into their own private spaces when possible, to transform public spaces by rules, systems of taste, and canons of behavior of their own choosing; and, finally, to convert the strangers so that their modes of behavior and cultural predilections emulated those of the elites-an urge that I will try to show always remained shrouded in ambivalence.
The Significance of Dumbarton Oaks