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Garden Archives

a formidable collection . . . it is rare that a continuous history of a place covering more than 20 years is to be found. Therefore, the papers have considerable professional value. . . . You will of course want to make this material . . . available and useful to students of Landscape Architecture.

Beatrix Farrand to John Thacher, April 11, 1950

In April 1950, Beatrix Farrand wrote to Mildred Bliss recommending that extra staff be assigned to properly archive and catalog the collection of drawings, photographs, and letters that she was about to ship to Dumbarton Oaks. No longer designing landscapes, Farrand felt that her personal archive of Dumbarton Oaks design documentation was “of real value as few places have so long a carefully-kept record of attempts, accomplishments and failures. For the art of landscape these records are worthwhile and they should be kept safely, catalogued and protected” (B:BF 1950.04.06). Farrand soon wrote to the director, John Thacher, warning him that she would be sending “a formidable collection . . . it is rare that a continuous history of a place covering more than 20 years is to be found. Therefore, the papers have considerable professional value. . . . You will of course want to make this material . . . available and useful to students of Landscape Architecture” (B:BF 1950.04.11).

Although the archive was accepted and properly stored in the Research Library, resources to catalog it proved insufficient. For six decades researchers struggled with the documentation for the design and construction of the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks. It is voluminous and much of the material is fragile. Many drawings are large; they are unwieldy to use in tandem with related photos or letters. None of the documentation was cataloged or indexed. 

In 2009 Sheila Klos, the library director, decided the correspondence related to the gardens should be digitized, eliminating use of inferior microfilm copies of letters while still limiting the handling of originals. A professional indexer with a horticultural background was hired and a project was begun to enable easy computerized searching of the correspondence. In pursuing this goal the potential of online access to digital surrogates of the entire collection was recognized and the project expanded to include original drawings and historic photographs. Thus was born the Garden Archives project.

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