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Artful Mapping of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

Posted On September 20, 2017 | 11:30 am | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (January 2017)

Spencer Lenfield, Map of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, 2016. Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.AP.GG.SP.051).

Over the years, many maps and plans have been made of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens. Some of these have artistic embellishments that attempt to capture something of the gardens’ character rather than merely outline the garden spaces. The latest of these is a watercolor rendering prepared for the Dumbarton Oaks website by Spencer Lenfield, Postgraduate Media Research Fellow. The map captures the colors seen in the gardens throughout the seasons: the hot pink of Plumb Walk, the yellow of Forsythia Dell, and the reds and oranges of autumn foliage. The map serves to help web visitors virtually explore the gardens:

Discover more about the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, including details on trees and plants, inscriptions, furniture, and ornaments. Click anywhere on the map below to find out more about a garden section.
 
The original watercolor is now part of the Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.AP.GG.SP.051).

In 1935, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, the founders of Dumbarton Oaks, also sponsored artful renderings of the gardens. They commissioned the Czech-American artist, Rudolph Ruzicka (1883–1978), to make the first map of the gardens. Ruzicka included vignettes of plant materials within the map and framed the map with thirty-eight depictions of garden spaces, hardscape elements, and furniture, as they existed at the time. He labeled the garden areas and depictions, providing the canonical names that continue to be employed.

Rudolph Ruzicka plan and vignettes of the Gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, 1935. Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.AP.GG.SP.015. Rudolph Ruzicka plan and vignettes of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, 1935. Archives, AR.AP.GG.SP.015, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Also in 1935, the Blisses commissioned the cartographer, Ernest Clegg (1876–1954), to paint a bird’s-eye view of the house and garden to be installed in the overmantel frame of the Renaissance fireplace in their music room. Clegg worked in ink, watercolor, and gouache and employed aerial photographs of the gardens that the Blisses had had made for this project. A digital reproduction of this map now hangs in the overmantel in order to help preserve the original artwork from further fading and deterioration.

Ernest Clegg, Map of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, 1935. Dumbarton Oaks House Collection, HC.P.1935.01.(I). Ernest Clegg, Map of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, 1935. House Collection, HC.P.1935.01.(I), Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.