Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Back Bay Fens

Frederick Law Olmsted, Plan for the Back Bay Fens, 1887

Within the essays and conversation that make up Landscape Theory (see my previous post), there are many interesting comments that could serve as the basis for posts here, but I'll just pick one example for now.  In the course of the seminar Anne Whiston Spirn observed that we no longer perceive some works of landscape art as having been designed and constructed.  Frederick Law Olmsted's plan for the Back Bay Fens, for instance, was 'the first attempt, so far as I know, to construct a wetland.  Olmsted proposed the Fens as a combination of utility and beauty, a restoration of polluted tidal marsh flats to serve human needs.  The power of that restoration wasn't lost on people in Boston at the time, but within a generation people forgot that it was constructed.'  So, Spirn asked, 'how did Olmsted move from the pastoral, pictorial style he had used in Central Park, to the idea of reconstructing a marsh?  Well, Martin Johnson Heade had been painting coastal marshes north of Boston.  Perhaps his paintings influenced Olmsted.  Certainly they must have contributed to public acceptance of Olmsted's revolutionary proposal.'  

Martin Johnson Heade, Marsh with a Hunter, 1874

No comments:

Post a Comment