The Spoils of the Park: Day 1

This is the blog for my journey across the U.S., to visit the major Olmsted parks, as well as some of the cities and landscapes that inspired the great park designer, Frederick Law Olmsted.  I am traveling as Olmsted would have, mostly by train.  I will write in the parks, engage the public and edit on the train.  The goal is to produce a book written in and on Olmsted’s open spaces: a reflection on the history of “green” aesthetics (including notions of the picturesque, the beautiful, the sublime, etc. that underly American feelings about “nature”) as well an investigation of the current status of public space in the U.S. (including that of public transport).  I also hope to dialogue with many characters in these public spaces.  The journey will take five weeks and includes stops in twelve cities: Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, Louisville, New Orleans, San Antonio, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York.  (I will spend roughly two days in each city, writing in the parks and, in some cases, exploring the environs–such as a visit to Riverside outside Chicago, the first planned suburban community that Olmsted designed, and a visit to Fredericksburg north of San Antonio, which Olmsted passed through on horseback with his brother.)  I will also visit some sites important to Olmsted’s history such as Yosemite and the Biltmore Estate.  I will have to reach Louisville by car and I will fly back to the East Coast from San Francisco.  Otherwise, the journey proceeds by rail.  (I am also interested in the oddly pastoral mythos of trains.)  My journey begins in Boston, where I am writing this (on the Downeaster, to be precise, about a half hour north of the city.)  I am heading to Franklin Park late this afternoon, one of Olmsted’s grandest parks . . .



  1. Ed Cardoni said

    From our most recent successful NEA grant proposal: For his spring 2011 HARP project, Brent Green will continue his investigation of tragic historic figures, expanding on recent projects about composer Ludwig Van Beethoven and inventor Thomas Edison by turning his attention to Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted’s relationship to our region is an important one: he designed the country’s oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways in Buffalo, and the Nation’s oldest state park, the Niagara Reservation at Niagara Falls, NY. While he is revered as the father of American landscape architecture, whose countless designs influence the ways in which we experience a sense of place in the natural world, Olmsted also served as the Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross, during the Civil War, heading the medical effort and tending to the sick and wounded. For his project, Green will explore this and other aspects of Olmsted’s history, weaving together a mythology of the man that is informed by research and interviews with historians and landscape architects. The project will be realized as a series of short films and sculptures that capture Olmsted’s views on harnessing and celebrating nature. Examples might include an empty antique bird cage with the reflection of a bird flying around in the bird mirror or handmade wooden boxes with stop-motion films showing decaying plants and animals inside. The sculptures are akin to multi-media installations Green has done in the past. His Grandfather Clock project featured a beautiful wooden sculpture incorporating animation within the clock’s cabinet; his most recent commission for SITE Santa Fe—entitled Watts and Volts Across a Field—featured three mechanized sculptures that, like a film-still expanded, saturated the gallery with their eerie presence. In addition to the gallery exhibition of the multi-media installation, Green will produce a live performance, featuring music and spoken word accompanying the short films. Hallwalls will collaborate on this project with Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

    Brent Green is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works on his farm in rural Pennsyl-vania. He is widely known for his stop-motion films that combine his interests in sculpture, animation, music, and story telling. Green draws equally from Wagner (in the way that he works across disciplinary boundaries to form a “total work of art”) and Faulkner (in the bleak, heart-breaking tales he tells). Inspired by stories from his Appalachian childhood, his works frequently combine hand-drawn animations and rickety handmade sets, and are narrated in Green’s distinctive, tremulous voice. Green is known for live performances of his frantic, poetic narration, and he and his films are frequently accompanied by critically acclaimed musicians including members of bands such as Arcade Fire, Wilco, Fugazi, and Califone. His 2007 film Carlin, which was selected for Sundance Film Festival, is a tale about the slow death by diabetes of his Aunt Carlin. Shot in the farmhouse where Green grew up with life-sized handmade wooden characters, the film is imbued with the southern gothic haze that suffuses all of his work. Most of Green’s characters are lonely heroes, usually involved in a Sisyphean task. But the bleakness is always tinged with hope around the edges, and when presented in its final form—whether in a gallery, a film theater, or during a live performance—it’s always presented as a celebration. Green’s films have screened in international film festivals including the Rotterdam Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival, and also nationally at such venues as the Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), the Armand Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), the Kitchen (NYC), the Wexner Center (Columbus), and DiverseWorks (Houston). His sculptures were featured in exhibitions at Cleveland’s Sculpture Center and the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, and he was recently commissioned by SITE Santa Fe. He is the recipient of a Creative Capital award and has received grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

  2. Good start Jonathan! Is Franklin Park outside Boston – as you suggest??
    Now can you get a “webster” to reduce the yellow in the green borders. At least on my Mac, they are a bit of an eye burner.

    Safe Journey


    • ecopoetics said

      sorry about that! (I chose my “theme” quickly, on the fly . . . ) Hope the correction is a bit more eye friendly.

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