John Dixon Hunt

Posted On June 15, 2017 | 15:08 pm | by Dumbarton Oaks Archives | Permalink

As director of Garden and Landscape Studies (then known as Studies in Landscape Architecture) from 1988 to 1991, John Dixon Hunt played a pivotal role in expanding the discipline by integrating the perspectives of garden practitioners with the research of more academically oriented scholars. Hunt’s career at Dumbarton Oaks began several years earlier than his directorship: he was first a fellow (1984–1985) and a member of the senior fellows committee (1985–1992), and, after serving as director, a visiting scholar (2010–2011).

John Dixon Hunt was born in Gloucester, England, in 1936, where he lived until age eleven, when his family moved to Bristol. He received his BA (1957) and MA (1961) from King's College, Cambridge, and subsequently attained his PhD at Bristol University (1964). He then taught at several universities, including Vassar College, Exeter University, the University of York, and Johns Hopkins University, before coming to Dumbarton Oaks. In 1981, during his professorship at Bedford College, University of London, he founded the international quarterly Journal of Garden History, today called Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes.

As a fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, Hunt spent the year focused upon three main topics: the gardening innovations of landscape architect William Kent, Anglo-Dutch gardens, and the social history of the English garden. In 1986, he completed his book, Garden and Grove: the Italian Renaissance Garden in the English Imagination, 1600–1750. Following his fellowship, Hunt became a professor in the School of English and American Studies, University of East Anglia.

Subsequently, Hunt was invited back to Dumbarton Oaks to serve as director of Studies in Landscape Architecture. Hunt brought practicing landscape architects to Dumbarton Oaks at monthly afternoon talks in order to demonstrate that the discipline of landscape studies was not merely comprised of art historical subjects rooted primarily in the past, but also concerned topics of contemporary importance. At these monthly gatherings, a variety of previously overlooked regional and popular garden subjects were discussed. Likewise, he worked to include more practitioners in Dumbarton Oaks activities, recognizing the importance of bringing new viewpoints into the garden and landscape studies field, thereby helping to expand the studies program. He also led and participated in a number of public lectures, seminars, colloquia, and symposia. Michel Conan, director of Studies in Landscape Architecture from 1997 to 2008, wrote of Hunt’s contributions: “Under Hunt, Dumbarton Oaks’ colloquia began exploring new ground. They became an arena for intellectual jousting between various academic disciplines. A new flow of social anthropologists and geographers as well as historians started applying for fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks.”

After Hunt left Dumbarton Oaks, he worked at Mrs. Paul Mellon’s library at Oak Spring Farms for several years before joining the University of Pennsylvania's landscape architecture faculty, where he served as department chair for six years and thereafter remained as a professor emeritus for fourteen years. More recently, as a visiting scholar at Dumbarton Oaks in 2010–2011, Hunt gave a public lecture entitled “The Role of History in Contemporary Landscape Architecture,” the themes of which later appeared in his 2014 book, Historical Ground: The Role of History in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. Hunt discussed the ways that garden design can invoke a sense of presumed historical significance in garden spaces, leading viewers to draw certain conclusions about the history of the space and thereby giving an illustrious sheen to the garden’s present and future. In 2013, Hunt accepted a two-year position at Penn State University as the Eleanor R. Stuckeman Chair in Design.

Composer Hugh Livingston's sound installation, 'The Pool of ‘Bamboo Counterpoint,' installed at Dumbarton Oaks's Lovers Lane Pool, 2015 Composer Hugh Livingston’s sound installation, The Pool of ‘Bamboo Counterpoint,’ installed at Dumbarton Oaks’ Lovers Lane Pool, 2015

In 2014, Hunt again returned to Dumbarton Oaks to participate in the Garden and Landscape Studies symposium “Sound and Sight in the Garden,” which explored the role of ephemeral sensory experiences in shaping one’s experience of gardens. Hunt’s paper, “Beyond Ekphrasis, Beyond Sight, Beyond Words . . .,” discussed the difficulties of relaying the ambiance of a garden to those who are unable to experience it directly, as the vicarious enjoyment of a garden is by necessity reliant on words and images, which fall short when trying to convey sounds and scents.

Currently, Hunt is finishing the last year in his six-year teaching position as a visiting professor in landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, teaching an elective seminar class on “Walking.”