Category Archives: American gardens

Life in gardens: dance!

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It’s the first day of the last month of summer.

In observance of this moment, you might want to put on something gauzy, go outdoors, and cavort {gambol, caper, dance, frisk, frolic, rollick, romp, leap and skip about playfully} — as many were apparently wont to do in the first decades of the 20th century.

These performers were certainly influenced by American dancer Isadora Duncan, who, by 1900, was performing and teaching a “natural” modern dance. “With free-flowing costumes, bare feet, and loose hair, she took to the stage inspired by the ancient Greeks, the music of classical composers, the wind and the sea,” according to the Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation.

All photos here via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, except for “Sisters of the Sun,” which is via Shorpy.

What mattered in Isadora’s Hellenic dances was not the Greek themes or the gauzy costumes, but the uninhibited vitality, the sense of a glorious nakedness.”

– Lewis Mumford, 1905
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The Sunday porch: New York City

Murray house, 1922, NYC, by Frances B. Johnston, via Library of CongressAwning-covered back terrace of the Murray house, 129 East 69th Street, New York City, 1922. Hand-colored glass lantern slide by Frances Benjamin Johnston, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This looks so pleasant, but I also like the view in the other direction.

Murray house, 1922, NYC, by Frances B. Johnston, via Library of CongressLooking from the terrace to the sandbox, same house, photographer, and source.

What a nice-looking small outdoor space for both the parents and a child. (For grass, they had Central Park only three blocks away.)

According to the Library’s online catalogue, this garden was designed by Clarence Fowler. It was awarded the second prize for a city garden at the 1922 City Gardens Club of New York City photography exhibition at the New York Camera Club. Today, the house and garden no longer exist.

Johnston used these slides in her lectures on city and suburban gardens.

. . . She follows her own fingers
With her eyes as if she could see the wind
Retouching the dunes, as if she could hear it
Trembling along the sand, the lovely fragments. . .

David Wagoner, from “A Girl Playing in a Sandbox

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The Sunday porch: Airlie, N.C.

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“Miss Lula Thorne’s house,” Oakland Plantation, Airlie in Halifax County, North Carolina, between 1935 and 1938, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Beautiful vines and interesting columns.  And I really like the four small sconces — one on each side of the door and one at each corner.

There were similar vines and sconces on this other North Carolina house here.

Oakland house was probably built between 1823 and 1828 for Elizabeth Williams Thorne Drake and either her first or second husband. It still stands, but, at some point after the 1930s, the porch was rebuilt to match the late Federal “temple form” style of the rest of the house. You can see it about 2012 here and here.

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Vintage landscape: Yorktown, Va.

More big (boxwood) love.  .  .

#1, Nelson Hse. garden, ca. 1930, FBJohnston, LoC“‘York Hall,’ Captain George Preston Blow house, . . . Main Street, Yorktown, Virginia. Table in boxwood garden,” 1929, by Frances Benjamin Johnston.*

The house is more often called the Nelson House for the family that built it in the 1740s and owned it throughout the 19th century.  George and Adele Blow purchased it and began to restore it in 1914.  In 1968, it became a National Park Service site.

#2, Nelson hse., 1903, WHJackson, LoCThe front of the house and Main Street as it appeared about 1902. Photo by William Henry Jackson for Detroit Photographic Co.

#4, Nelson Hse., c. 1915, HABS, LoC The front of Nelson House in 1915. This photo is part of an Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

(There’s a photo of the front of the house and the younger boxwoods in 1862 here.)

#5, Nelson Hse., c. 1915, HABS, LoCThe front door, inside the boxwood hedge, 1915, HABS.

#9, view from hall, Nelson house, ca. 1915, LoCThe center hall, looking out the front door, 1915, HABS (photo cropped by me).

#6, Nelson Hse., c. 1915, HABS, LoCThe side view of the house, ca. 1915 (I think it may be later), HABS.  The front boxwood hedge is on the left.

#16, Nelson Hse, ca. 1930s, FBJohnston, LoCThe side garden in the 1930s by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

The garden during the Blow’s ownership was designed by Charles Freeman Gillette, a landscape architect known for working in the Colonial Revival style. Today, little remains.  The giant boxwoods at the front of the house are gone.

#19, Nelson Hse, ca. 1930s, FBJohnston, LoCAnother view of the side garden in the 1930s by  Frances Benjamin Johnston.

More big boxwood photos here and here and here and here.

*All photos here via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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Vintage landscape: Danville, Virginia

Oak Hill, Danville, Va,1930s, via Library of CongressMore massive boxwood hedges — this time at Oak Hill, near Danville, Virginia, ca. 1930s, by Frances Benjamin Johnston, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The house was built in 1825 by the Hairston family. It burned down in 1988.

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