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The Landscape Beautiful

Feature

The Landscape Beautiful
100 years later, the spirit & art of Frank Waugh live on

Jan Whitaker

Frank Waugh playing a flute
Photo of Frank Waugh with his flute is courtesy of Special Collections and Archives.
IN 1902 A SMALL MAN – looking ever so slightly like a garden gnome – arrived on campus equipped with a sketch pad, a flute and panpipes. He had a mission: to train the future farmers of America, at least the ones on his patch, to gaze at the landscape with the eyes of an artist.

Strangely enough, he succeeded. Rather than being laughed out of town, he won the respect of the mostly farm boys who took his landscape gardening classes. They listened to him, and followed him into the forest on field trips, lying on their backs to view the canopy above or bending double, heads between legs, to get a new perspective on a faraway hill. They laughed about it and called him Pinky, but they ended up realizing he was a giant, a man for all seasons.

After a long stretch in obscurity, Frank Waugh is coming back into his profession’s consciousness. He has been included in a recent book on the pioneers of landscape architecture, and his once-widely used textbook, Book of Landscape Gardening, will be reprinted by the University of Massachusetts Press in a series of classic works in the field. Apart from his eminence as a progressive educator, his writings on the natural style of landscaping, his preference for the use of native plants, as well as his work in the teens and ’20s advocating recreational uses for the national forests mark him as someone of significance in the early professionalization of landscape architecture.

As was true elsewhere, landscape gardening was closely allied with horticulture at the Massachusetts Agricultural College, as UMass was then called. Waugh was also the head of that division of the college, organizing and building it even as he started up its new landscape department. He published simultaneously in both fields, and by 1930 had written 18 books, evenly divided between the subjects of fruit trees and landscaping.


HIS HIGH ENERGY AND EASE in writing led him to turn out additional books and countless articles on a variety of subjects, sometimes under pseudonyms. An incomplete list of his published and unpublished works in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library archives fills almost 15 pages with 304 entries. Apart from the dozens of professional essays on horticulture and landscape gardening, he published books and articles on photography, reports and handbooks for the federal government, pieces for newspapers in Boston, Springfield, New York, London and Montreal, editorials for Country Gentleman (where he was an editor) and essays on animal science under the name John Smedley. As the father of six children, he supplemented his professor’s income by writing for popular magazines such as Women’s Home Companion, with intriguing titles such as “Cookery as a Sport for Men,” “Finding Happiness in Winter’s Garden,” and “How to Escape the Movies.” His experiences as an occupational therapist in World War I – he was a pacifist – also provided material for publication.

But writing was only part of it. It was said he “put the culture in horticulture, and the art in agriculture.” His influence in building the arts at the small agricultural college spread outward from the classroom. He set up the campus Fine Arts Series, presenting exhibitions of art and photography, including his own. An avid landscape photographer, he used his photos to illustrate books and make stylish Christmas cards and invitations for departmental events. He made etchings of nature scenes, having studied the craft at the École des Beaux Arts in France (See Souvenir, page 47). He supervised the building of Wilder Hall, probably the first college building in the country created expressly for a department of landscape architecture. He advised on the siting of campus buildings, planted gardens and designed an outdoor theater near what is now the chancellor’s house. He served on the Amherst planning board, developed a landscape appreciation course for the Amherst schools, invented a photographic developing emulsion, consulted with the state highway department, initiated and directed summer school at the college, served as a trustee of reservations and played the flute (daily). Although he was not physically imposing – not much over five feet tall – his immense vitality was said to bring a room to life when he walked in.


THE SPIRIT OF FRANK WAUGH IS alive,” says Annaliese Bischoff, a professor of landscape architecture in the department. She co-taught a course last year with colleague Patricia McGirr in which students read an essay from Waugh’s The Landscape Beautiful (1910) and used a method he developed for appraising landscapes in the field (this one done standing up). Given that Waugh was a man of his times in expecting women to take a secondary role, Bischoff says that she and McGirr were surprised at how warmly human they found him. Even now his joy in life and nature comes through in his writings, she observes.

In fact, today, 60 years after his death and 64 years since he last stood in front of a classroom, there are former students who still fondly remember his art appreciation classes. Ellsworth “Dutch” Barnard ’28, who became an English professor at the university, took a course from Waugh in the fall of 1927 in which students wrote limericks, in acknowledgment of the “limerick as an art form.” Another English major, Barbara Davis Johnson ’36, also took a “just wonderful” art appreciation course, and was one of a group of students who went to the Waugh home on Sunday afternoons to drink hot chocolate and listen to classical music on his Victrola. Frank, his wife, Alice, and their six talented and high-spirited children lived on campus. His children’s careers, in the arts, government, academia and business, where their accomplishments – creating public sculpture for the nation’s capital, writing and illustrating books, translating Japanese poetry and inventing the federal food stamp program – are yet another measure of his influence.

In his first years here, Waugh encountered students who had no acquaintance with art and had never listened to classical music or seen paintings by artists he admired such as Corot, Inness or Turner. In class, he used art prints from his collection to give students a feeling for the spiritual force of nature that artists sought to capture. Convinced that landscape gardening was one of the fine arts, he stressed nature appreciation as essential to doing good design, and he wished “unimaginative real estate speculators” would cultivate it too. To gain awareness of the sky as one of the basic elements of a landscape, he instructed students to lie on their backs outdoors gazing upward – not just on sunny days, but at night, in winter and during rain and snow storms.


AS A PRACTITIONER OF PUBLIC landscape architecture, Waugh designed campuses for agricultural colleges such as his alma mater, Kansas State, and his first employer, Oklahoma State. Although he tried to implement the plans for the Massachusetts Agricultural College laid out by the Frederick Law Olmsted firm, it is difficult to determine just how much influence he had on the Amherst campus. Whatever the case, it wasn’t for his lack of ideas about how a campus should be. He disliked large, imposing buildings and factory-like dormitories, preferring multiple small villages where students would learn, work and live. Words from his 1916 book, The Agricultural College, could be applied to many a campus today. “Looking at our dormitories,” he wrote, “a visitor would be wholly uncertain whether this is a college, a lunatic asylum or a home for inebriates.” He disapproved of many-pillared administration buildings because they went against his “hope that the college spirit is one of democracy, of simplicity, of service, and not the spirit of ... imperialism and of luxury.”

Waugh wanted to get people out into the landscape. In 1917 when he began summer consulting for the National Forest Service, he visited forests in the West and Southeast, looking for opportunities to attract visitors with scenic roads, camping facilities and hiking trails. He recommended the forest service recognize recreation and scenery as values equal to timber production and grazing. He pressed for careful monitoring of the railroads that had virtually free rein in running some visitor facilities. Always a populist, he noted that the railroad’s expensive lodge at Bryce Canyon National Monument catered to wealthy visitors from the East, and urged that less expensive campgrounds be created for the more numerous, less affluent park users who came from nearer by. At the Grand Canyon he advocated for ways of getting people down into the canyon, and he created a plan for redesign of Grand Canyon Village on the rim. In 1920 he designed Oregon’s famous Mount Hood drive, with an eye to unfolding vistas and stopping places.

But what of the department Waugh created? As a believer in the land-grant college mission of public service to rural populations, Waugh never set out to make the college’s program the most elite landscape architecture program in the country. He preferred to help rural students learn to love the land, beautify their environments and find an occupation that could replace farming as it became more efficient and needed fewer hands. As lofty as he could be about the beauty of nature and landscapes, he was very down-to-earth in his devotion to “those actually engaged in tilling the soil,” to whom the Massachusetts Agricultural College, he wrote, owed “knowledge, sympathy, [and] inspiration.”

The early program had more graduates than most schools. By 1923 students could obtain a bachelor’s, master’s or two-year technical degree. Almost half of all graduates in the first decades went into public service, with very few entering private practice. In 1934, five years before Waugh’s retirement, he reported to the American Society of Landscape Architects that in the previous 17 years the department had graduated 217, with 20 of them women. Of the 100 then working in landscape architecture, most were found teaching or in city, state or regional planning, or working as landscape contractors, grounds superintendents, nursery employees or florists.


WAUGH'S REPUTATION LAUNCHED stellar careers for many of his graduates. He was a skilled networker of the “old boy” system, positioning “Waugh men” across the country. He reputedly kept up correspondence with all his former students, but wrote especially frequently to those whose professions were flourishing.

From the start the landscape gardening program educated students who would themselves become pioneers of landscape architecture, pedagogy and planning. Early graduates founded landscape architecture programs at such schools as Michigan State and the University of California at Berkeley. Albert Davis Taylor ’05 helped establish a program of landscape architecture at Ohio State. He designed Springfield’s Eastern States Exposition grounds, a campus plan for Boys Town in Nebraska and a site plan for the Pentagon. Earle Sumner Draper ’15, the first trained planner in the southeastern U.S., completed plans for industrial towns in the South and became a planning director for the Tennessee Valley Authority and a top administrator for the Farm and Home Administration. Irving Root ’17 created a master plan for Alexandria, Virginia, in the 1930’s and later assumed command of Washington’s National Capital Parks. Weld Thayer Chase ’32 designed the landscaping for the Merritt Parkway, while his classmate, Sam Brewster ’32, became Tennessee’s Commissioner for Conservation.

Conrad Wirth ’23, director of the National Park Service from 1951 to 1964, reigns as the department’s foremost alumnus. According to Professor Ethan Carr, Wirth might well be “the most influential landscape architect” in the history of the profession. In 1931 Wirth went to work for the park service, administering the Civilian Conservation Corps later in that decade and then becoming park service director. In that role he oversaw Mission 66, an immense project of renovation begun in 1956 for all the national parks, which involved, among much more, rehabilitating 458 historic buildings, adding 742 new picnic grounds, and constructing and reconstructing 2,767 miles of roads. Under Mission 66, the Blue Ridge Parkway was completed, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which had become structurally unsafe, was reopened to visitors.

The list of illustrious graduates continues into recent decades. Teresa Andresen ’84 inaugurated the landscape architecture program at the University of Porto and formerly headed the Portuguese equivalent of our National Park Service. Jon Rodiek ’67, ’74G, a professor at Texas A&M, edits the journal Landscape and Urban Planning. As director of his own firm, Craig Halvorson ’67, ’70G is one of the top landscape architects working in eastern Massachusetts, with credits including Post Office Square Park in Boston, the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Memorial and a master plan for the restoration of Boston’s Olmsted-designed Franklin Park. Planners from the department direct and staff municipal, regional and state planning offices all over Massachusetts and New England. According to Bob Mitchell ’73, director of planning in Amherst, LARP graduates direct offices in Agawam, Springfield, Holyoke, Medford, Norwood, Belmont and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, among many others.


PLANNING HAS ALWAYS BEEN PART of landscape architecture, but after World War II it grew into a distinct discipline. The department encouraged this new direction when it appointed Ervin Zube head in 1965. After a self-study, a master’s program in regional planning was established in 1968, and in 1971 the department changed its name to landscape architecture and regional planning. In 1988 a Ph.D. in regional planning was added. During Zube’s tenure the department modernized, stressing research and publication. Like Waugh, Zube and Julius Gy. Fabos, who joined the faculty in 1964, established impressive records in research and publishing, with over 200 publications each.

The decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s brought the environmental movement, which filled the department with energy and renewed purpose. “We had the opportunity to do things no other generation had,” says Emeritus Professor Fabos, who has become a world authority on greenways, and who is currently at work on a greenway plan for all of New England. According to Fabos, the department’s planners and landscape architects have always worked closely together. The planners consider social justice and economic development aspects of large-scale town and regional planning, while the landscape architects pay attention to appropriate land use. “You cannot put lines between the professions,” he insists.

Nor, in this field, can you put lines between art and science, or theory and practice. No one in the department today plays the panpipes – as far as is known – and now everyone’s projects are far more technically complex and research-based than Waugh could have imagined. But the zest for natural beauty, the artistic creativity and the sketch pads remain constant. As does the ancient, yet ever-green, vision of humans living peacefully in a garden, whether on campus, in New England or any place in the world.

Formal celebrations of LARP’s 100th will begin October 10-12, 2003, with the Centennial Symposium. For information on this and other subsequent centennial events, visit www.umass.edu/larp.


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