BEATRIX FARRAND COLLOQUIUM
I was delighted to be able to attend the recent Beatrix Farrand Colloquium “Working with Farrand/Farrand at Work” at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown on March 8, 2013. The all day colloquium was a veritable who’s who of Farrand experts, including world-renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, and eminent Farrand scholar Patrick Chasse. The topics ranged widely from a straight forward biographical presentation by Judith Tankard on Farrand’s later years and her move from her home at Reef Point to Garland Farms, her last home, both on Mount Desert Island Maine, to an original concept by Robin Veder, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Art History/Visual Culture at Penn State Harrisburg, on the kinesthetic experience of walking through landscape using Farrand’s design at Dumbarton Oaks as an example of such an experience. Dennis Bracale spoke softly about Farrand’s relationship with the Rockefellers while designing the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor, Maine and touched on the spiritual that is present in that garden. Thaisa Way, Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington discussed Farrand’s relation with emerging ecological practices in the early 20th century, introducing the delicate subject of imposing contemporary concerns on historic events. Bestsy Anderson, a PhD candidate at University of Washington and an up and coming scholar to watch in the world of landscape history, spoke on Farrand’s involvement in the design of Edith Wharton’s, Farrand’s aunt, country estate, The Mount, in Lenox, MA.
Each presentation was as interesting and compelling as it was different from another. It would be impossible to choose a favorite or “best in colloquium” presentation. Thaisa Way inadvertently introduced an issue that subsequently predominated the colloquium. In her presentation, the first of the day, Ms. Way consistently referred to Mrs. Farrand as ‘Beatrix Jones Farrand’. This caused some consternation among other scholars who took every opportunity to point out that Mrs. Farrand never used her maiden name, Jones, ever after she was married and in fact went out of her way in her lifetime to inform others that her name was Beatrix Farrand, no other. Several presenters made references to examples of Mrs. Farrand correcting others on her preferred name, the most compelling being a letter that exists from Mrs. Farrand to Princeton University specifically telling them that her name was Beatrix Farrand. Some of the more lighthearted of the scholars could not resist commenting that given the amount of air time devoted to the discussion of her name, Mrs. Farrand would be appalled if anyone at the colloquium called her “Trixie”, a name she allowed only a few intimates to use.
Of all the knowledge and scholarship I was introduced to, and the little I took away with me, Michael Van Valkenburgh’s presentation on his firm’s work on the Princeton University campus resonated because of a question he asks. His presentation did not appear to have the level of preparation as the other presentations, his approach appeared more to be an ad lib commentary on a collection of slides. However, in discussing how his firm addresses the issue of designing the 21st century campus while remaining sensitive to Farrand’s designs from the beginning of the 20th century, he observed that rather than having his designs be directly influenced by Farrand’s designs, when designing at Princeton he asks himself “would Mrs. Farrand like what we’re doing?” And if he thinks she would approve, then he considers that all the permission he needs to design the campus as he sees fit.
I ask myself would Mrs. Farrand, nee Jones, have liked the colloquium “Working with Farrand/Farrand at Work”? I think she would have been delighted that her work, her scholarship and her name lives on.