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Ian Hamilton Finlay and the Creation of the Garden at Stonypath/Little Sparta

Stephen Bann, CBE, University of Bristol, Beatrix Farrand Distinguished Fellow 2008–2009, Spring

Most of my current research concerns the history of museums and collections, from the seventeenth century onwards, and painters, photographers and printmakers in nineteenth-century France. The opportunity of the Beatrix Farrand Fellowship has enabled me to turn my attention to the history of a contemporary garden: Ian Hamilton Finlay's Stonypath/Little Sparta. Finlay was one of the first garden creators to be featured in the Contemporary Landscape Design collection at Dumbarton Oaks. Documents relating to his career as a poet and artist also exist in several American institutions. This stay has enabled me to make an overall survey of these archival materials, and has resulted in several different outcomes. I wrote a substantial draft of an essay on Finlay's early artistic influences, including his contacts with major American poets and artists. I was also able to index and annotate the unique collection of digitized color slides of the garden held in the Dumbarton Oaks collection. Taken in 1976 and in the 1980s, these had never been identified individually. My project led to correlating them with other early photographs, as well as analyzing the ways in which photography featured in Finlay's self-criticism, through the testimony of documents in various collections (Indiana, Texas, Smithsonian). In my research paper, I speculated on how a history of Little Sparta utilizing such different kinds of resources might develop. In my related paper for the forthcoming symposium at Dumbarton Oaks, I will be discussing the significance of the immediately preceding stage in Finlay's career (1965/66).