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Robert W. Patterson

Patterson, Robert W., 1905-1988

Robert W. Patterson (1905-1988) joined the staff of Dumbarton Oaks as a consulting landscape architect in 1946. Beatrix Farrand hand-selected him to aid her and eventually take over as she slowly transitioned into retirement. At seventy-two years old, Farrand suffered from gout, arthritis, and fatigue that prevented her from traveling to Washington D.C. from her home in Bar Harbor, Maine. Hiring Robert Patterson provided the solution.   

Farrand chose Patterson for a number of reasons. He was Harvard-trained, although he never completed a degree. His skills included landscaping, engineering, architecture, and conservation. Most importantly, Patterson lived in Bar Harbor and Farrand already knew him and his work.  He came to Mount Desert Island in 1934 to take a job for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Acadia National Park, and by the mid-1940s, Patterson had earned a reputation in Maine as a skilled architect and landscaper. Farrand was impressed with his work. She consulted with Patterson on projects at Reef Point, the University of Chicago, and the Arnold Arboretum before she chose him as her successor at Dumbarton Oaks. At Reef Point, Patterson functioned as both assistant director and member. Thanks to their shared work history and friendship, Farrand felt she could trust Patterson to maintain the integrity of the Dumbarton Oaks garden design, and she said as much in letters to then-director, John Thacher.

Patterson made several trips a year from Bar Harbor to Washington, D.C., always timed to coincide with seasonally important changes to the gardens. From 1946 to 1948 he served as Farrand’s eyes and ears, reporting back to her and taking instructions regularly. However, in 1948, Farrand tendered her resignation and Patterson became head consultant.

During his time at Dumbarton Oaks, he designed several garden features. At the request of Mildred Bliss, Patterson planned a Garden for the Blind, a Byzantine Garden, a new design for the North Vista, and three suggested layouts for a Garden Library. His suggestion for a Garden Library at the North end of the Tennis Court (now the Pebble Garden) got far enough for architect Frederick Rhinelander King to visit the site in 1952 and make sketches. Ultimately, none of Patterson’s plans were used in the garden, and his tenure as landscape architect served primarily to maintain the original Beatrix Farrand design.

In 1956, Patterson left his consulting position at Dumbarton Oaks. The frequent travel between Maine and Washington proved too exhausting, and so he reduced his role to membership in the Garden Advisory Committee. At home in Maine, he focused his energies on Bar Harbor, and his old friend Beatrix Farrand, who was in the process of selling Reef Point. Patterson purchased the property, and helped Farrand dismantle the house and gardens. Patterson also planned and built the house at Garland Farm, Farrand’s new home where she lived until her death. At Garland Farm, he paid homage to the demolished Reef Point house by integrating salvaged design and architectural details.

After Farrand’s death in 1959, Patterson collaborated with Dumbarton Oaks one last time. He and Mildred Bliss worked together on a commemorative retrospective on the life and work of Beatrix Farrand. It was published in the American Society of Landscape Architect’s summer quarterly that year.  



“Annual Meeting of Reef Point Gardens Held.” Bar Harbor Times. September 13, 1945.

Carder, James N. “The Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art.” Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Last modified December 28, 2013.

Garden Archives Correspondence

Woolley, Margo. “Robert W. Patterson Exhibition.” Garland Farm press release, July 6, 2011.