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Friday, May 28, 2010

Garden History and the Customary Postgraduate Trip to Europe

This past month, college graduates across the country walked across a stage of some sort, diploma in hand, wondering what to do next. Perhaps some of them will treat themselves to the old tradition of touring across Europe while they contemplate the future. In 1906, after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School, Thomas Warren Sears did just that. According to his travel diary (a photocopied version is located in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens’ Thomas Warren Sears Photograph Collection), Sears took hundreds of photographs during these travels through parts of England, France, Italy, and Germany. On July 22, 1906, Sears wrote that his hands were as “black as a stone” from developing seven dozen 8”x10” glass plate negatives.
The Thomas Sears Collection contains over 4,000 glass plate negatives, 114 glass lantern slides, and plans and drawings of landscapes he designed. Also included in this collection are photographs which document his trip abroad. These images show Muskau Park, located on the border between Germany and Poland on the Neisse River. Prince Hermann Pückler-Muskau designed and created Muskau Park from 1815 to 1844. Pückler-Muskau was a landscape architect and author of Hints on Landscape Gardening, published in 1834. Due to financial difficulties, Pückler-Muskau had to sell the grounds in 1845. When Sears took his photographs in 1906, Muskau Park was the pleasure grounds of the von Arnim family dynasty. The park remained a private garden until the Arnim dynasty was dispossessed of the land during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. During the 1960s, the East German government took over stewardship of the land and began restoration work. In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Muskau Park to the World Heritage List.

Sears was impressed with this park and the town of Muskau (renamed Bad Muskau in 1962) and wrote in his diary that he had been “treated like a king” there. Pückler-Muskau’s work on these grounds continues to be renowned for the way it blends with the surrounding landscape and utilizes local plant material. According to UNESCO, this park’s design helped facilitate the development of landscape architecture as a discipline in Europe and America. Sears, in his mid-twenties and a recent graduate, was probably influenced by Pückler-Muskau’s work. His image collection represents just a fraction of the historical records that the Archives of American Gardens maintains in order to give researchers insight into the design of American gardens and landscapes.

Where might today’s graduates find inspiration?

Carolyn Chesarino, Intern

Archives of American Gardens

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