ART 279 - Landscape History and Conservation at Matthew Vassar’s Springside
Semester Offered: Spring
(Same as ENST 279 ) Springside, Matthew Vassar’s summer home in Poughkeepsie, was originally a 47-acre, park-like estate comprising a network of buildings in a verdant landscape, with an orchard and farm. Winding carriage paths gave artfully planned vistas of flora, fauna, and garden elements: fountains, sculpture, duck ponds, meadows with grazing sheep, and wooded knolls. Designed in 1850 by the pioneering American landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, assisted by his partner Calvert Vaux (who later partnered with Frederick Law Olmsted to produce Central and Prospect Parks), Springside is Downing’s only extant landscape, created a National Historic Landmark in 1969. Downing translated the forms of European villas and English landscape gardens to American needs and democratic ideals, designing for people of varied means, reflected in his motto: “a home to every man and a garden to every home”. Matthew Vassar embraced Downing’s belief that well designed homes and gardens were a force for public good, opening Springside to visitors, which prefigured the public park.
Today, the estate is much reduced in scale and scope, although it now boasts many large, mature trees of varied species. We consider the important history of Downing’s work, and the goals and challenges of historic landscape stewardship. Through a field trip to Springside, visits to Special Collections and the Loeb, and discussions with landscape preservation specialists, we consider the significance of this historic site, and confront the question: how can it survive in an altered form, and exist for a very changed time?
Other topics include nineteenth-century responses to indigenous landscape, the rural cemetery movement, poetry and music dedicated to Springside, Downing’s and Vaux’s writings and architectural designs, intermedial designs for architecture and landscape, the emerging role of the landscape architect, and the legacy of Downing’s ideas in the Vassar campus. Yvonne Elet.
Prerequisite(s): Permission of Instructor. Students in Art, Environmental Studies, Urban Studies, Geography, History, and English are especially encouraged to apply.
Second six-week course.
One 2-hour period.
Course Format: INT
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