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Garden Archives

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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).

While the archive was accepted and stored at Dumbarton Oaks, efforts to organize it and catalog it were insufficient. For six decades researchers have struggled with the documentation for the design and construction of the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks. It is voluminous and somewhat fragile. Many drawings are large and unwieldy to use in tandem with related photos or letters. None of the documentation was cataloged or indexed. 

In 2009 we digitized the correspondence related to the gardens, with an eye to eliminating use of inferior microfilm copies of letters while still limiting the handling of originals. We hired a professional indexer with a horticultural background and we began a project that originally addressed only the correspondence. But along the way to creating a web-accessible correspondence index offering digital access to the letters, we began to imagine how much more powerful online access would be if we could offer digital surrogates for not only the correspondence, but also the original drawings and historic photographs. Thus was born the Garden Archives project.

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