The Thrasher-Ward Memorial at the American Academy in Rome, an Historic American Landscape

by James O’Day, ASLA

Dedication Ceremony, Thrasher-Ward Memorial, 1925, American Academy in Rome, Italy / image: Photo Archive, American Academy in Rome, photographer unknown, used with permission
Dedication Ceremony, Thrasher-Ward Memorial, 1925, American Academy in Rome, Italy / image: Photo Archive, American Academy in Rome, photographer unknown, used with permission

Since 2010, landscape architecture preservation enthusiasts from every state have been challenged to complete at least one Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) short format history to increase awareness of particular cultural landscapes. The 2018 HALS Challenge theme is Memorialization, Commemorating the Great War. The submission deadline is July 31, 2018.

The First World War had a profound effect on the American Academy in Rome, and the Thrasher-Ward Memorial bears witness to its impact upon the institution and its Fellows. Europe was already immersed in the conflict when the academy held a dedication ceremony on October 1, 1914 for its new home on the Janiculum Hill. Despite the dire circumstances and the Trustees’ concerns, the academy remained open even after Italy joined the conflagration in the spring of 1915. Eventually, the Fellowships were upended when America entered the war in the spring of 1917. The academy was closed, the Fellows were dispersed, and its buildings were repurposed to serve the Italian Red Cross.

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The Gardens of August: Wyndygoul

Lantern slide of Seton’s manor house at Wyndygoul, Cos Cob, Connecticut, circa 1900 image: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-01507
Lantern slide of Seton’s manor house at Wyndygoul, Cos Cob, Connecticut, circa 1900
image: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ggbain-01507

Part of a Research, Reachout & Restore series on historic and cultural landscapes

A century after the start of the First World War and 53 years since The Guns of August was published, the garden where Barbara Tuchman wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning work reveals itself.

Barbara Tuchman’s daughter once mentioned the garden to me in passing, recalling a Japanese maple—or was it a weeping cherry, with layered limbs cascading over stone walls onto the smooth surface of the pond? It was her grandfather’s, Maurice Wertheim’s, garden. This frugal recollection, like a grudging haiku, conjured an elegant landscape. I couldn’t shake it.

Since our conversation many years ago, I pieced together the few threads and clues that I remembered. Earlier this spring, I finally found the elusive garden and learned about its storied past. It remains extant, albeit threadbare. Originally it was the property of Ernest Thompson Seton, a wealthy naturalist and Englishman who bought up six old farmsteads in the village of Cos Cob, Connecticut, creating his country estate in 1900 and naming it Wyndygoul, Scottish for windy glen.

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ASLA Marks Centenary of Rome Prize

The American Academy in Rome image: James O'Day
The American Academy in Rome
image: James O’Day

Centennials are occasions upon which to reflect and bestow honor. This year, the American Society of Landscape Architects has an important, historic event to observe—the centenary of Edward Lawson, FASLA, winning the prestigious Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture at the American Academy in Rome in 1915. Lawson was the first landscape architect to win the coveted prize, which was sponsored by ASLA. It was a turning point for the profession as well as for this newly-minted Cornell graduate.

At the July meeting of the Potomac Chapter of ASLA, Brett Wallace, ASLA, and Shawn Balon, ASLA, of the Executive Committee endorsed the proclamation submitted by James O’Day, ASLA, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Chapter Liaison, to recognize the achievements and historic importance of Lawson’s ASLA-sponsored fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

The presence of Lawson at the academy was a coup de main for ASLA. After years of striving, the nascent and evolving profession would be accorded the same recognition that its “sister” arts—architecture, painting and sculpture—had enjoyed since the academy’s inception in 1894. The new fellowship in landscape architecture made it possible for young professionals to join the collaborative dialogue that was shaping city planning and urban design.

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Edward Godfrey Lawson, “Our First Fellow”

Villa Gamberaia, Settignano, Watercolor plan of villa and gardens by Edward Lawson, circa 1917 image: James O'Day
Villa Gamberaia, Settignano, watercolor plan of villa and gardens by Edward Lawson, circa 1917.
image: James O’Day

In 2009 while researching at the American Academy in Rome, I came upon a cache of images in the Academy’s Photographic Archive. The photographs were diminutive, measuring only 2×3 inches, but the subject matter was colossal—the gardens of the Italian Renaissance. I had serendipitously discovered a collection of nine hundred photographs taken in the early 20th century. I learned that these photographs had originally been known as the “Lawson Collection” and had been reference material in the Academy’s library. The work was attributed to Ralph Griswold, Henry V. Hubbard, Richard Webel, and Edward Lawson. Most of these names were stalwarts of American landscape architecture and easily recognizable with the exception of one—Lawson. I wondered about the mysterious and little-known Lawson—who was he and why had this collection been named after him? Surely, he must have had some prominence. This is where my research and journey began.

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