Nancy Holt on Nancy Holt

A pioneer in the Land Art movement (and art world hero of mine), Nancy Holt is the subject of a retrospective at the Tufts University Art Gallery which opened on January 19th. A Worcester, Massachusetts native and Tufts graduate (Class of 1960), for the past forty-five years, Holt has created land and site-specific sculptures that explore the summer and winter solstices and sun and moonlight patterns–transforming sculpture into “live experiential instruments.”

On Tuesday January 24, 2012, Nancy Holt talked about her inspiring career as an artist, her process and challenges behind her work. I share some of her thoughts:

Sun Tunnels (1973-1976), Lucin, Utah. Photo by Sean Baron, The University of Utah - College of Architecture and Planning

On collaboration:

I work with a lot of artisans and crafts people and is very important to me the relationship that I have with those people—and is an opportunity for them to have their work appreciated in and of itself.

In reference to Star-Crossed (1979–81) at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio:

Star Crossed, Miami University, Oxford, OH. Photo: The Ohio Outdoor Sculpture Inventory

I’d like to say I think the moon looks better in the pool, so I would say that art improves on nature.

On the passage of time and her work:

I now know more about what happens to my works now through the internet. I get the news items about what’s going on—of people who were at Sun Tunnels…

In reference to Solar Rotary (1995) at University of South Florida, Tampa Campus:

I love seeing my work in different seasons, with snow on them and in this case—I love seeing it with the rain.

On her process:

I didn’t know what process was. All I can say is that certain things inspire me and they live within me and they lead to action later on. It leads to fruition. You never know how it’s going to manifest.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Destroying Art Will Always Hurt Me

In reference to his site specific work Tilted Arc in New York City, Minimalist artist Richard Serra stated in an interview with The New York Times that “to remove the work is to destroy the work.[1]” In the early eighties, Tilted Arc was at the center of a controversy that eventually led the government to dismantle and tank it.

Tilted Arc, Richard Serra, 1981, sculpture, steel, New York City (destroyed). Photo © 1985 David Aschkenas.

This past summer, I caught Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was struck by one drawing in particular titled “The United States Government Destroys Art (1989).” The drawing, part of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, is made using paintstick on two sheets of paper arranged to form a slit at the center.

RICHARD SERRA. The United States Government Destroys Art, 1989. Paintstick on two sheets of paper; 113 x 215 ¼ inches. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Like much of Serra’s drawings, when the drawing above is experienced in person and up-close, it looms over the viewer, it makes us aware of ourselves and of the space we’re in.  Because these drawings are different shades of black with varying degrees of textures, they provoke an intense palpable feeling that lingers on forever.

From left, works from 1989: “The United States Courts Are Partial to the Government,” “No Mandatory Patriotism” (center) and “The United States Government Destroys Art.” Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times. Installation view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Just like with Serra’s Tilted Arc, a similar battle has been unfolding in Downtown Hartford, Connecticut since the late seventies. Steps away from the Wadsworth Athenaeum, is Carl Andre’s Field Stone Sculpture (1977), another site-specific “earthwork” threatened with insensitive changes like the removal and the rearranging of some of its components.

Aerial photo of Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT

The sculpture comprises of 36 boulders arranged on a triangular parcel of land bordered by Main Street, Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Grounds. The stones are all local and are positioned on the ground without looking like much intervention happened. This is the point of many of the works born out of the Environmental and Site-Specific Art movement that emerged in the 1960’s. The works of this movement were made accessible to everyone and often encouraged public interaction. Field Stone Sculpture is accessible by everyone and encourages user interaction.

Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez

Field Stone Sculpture has not survived without polemics. Very much under appreciated by the people of Hartford, the work is seen by many as a testament to the power of time, and by others as a field of “rocks.” Do the people of Hartford not know that this is Carl Andre’s largest work and only public commission?

On a recent fall trip to Hartford, I spent time exploring the adjacent historic burying ground and contemplating the stillness that surrounds Field Stone Sculpture.

Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez

In spite of the hustle and bustle of Downtown Hartford, the siting of the work, the scale and arrangement of the boulders on the land allowed my mind to wander around freely. Field Stone Sculpture could not fit in more perfectly in this location. The handsome Colonial Revival buildings that surround it and the nearby parks designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted create a wonderful “natural” and man-made contrast in this section of Hartford.

On October 30, 1963 an editorial in The New York Times lamented the terrible loss of New York’s Pennsylvania Station, a grand Beaux Arts building designed by the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead and White. “…we will probably be judge not by the monuments we build, but by those we have destroyed” were the words that have now shaped the current preservation movement. Should Field Stone Sculpture in the near future suffer the same fate of Tilted Arc, Penn Station and countless other long lost monuments, Harftord will not be judge by the monuments it will builds, but by those it has destroyed.

It would be a terrible shame to alter Field Stone Sculpture because by simply altering it, would be to destroy it.

[1] Grace Glueck, “What Part Should the Public Play in Choosing Public Art?” New York Times, February 3, 1985, 27.

Making Boston Awesome One Community Garden at a Time

As an urban dweller, there are many things that make me happy to live in a city. One of those many things is being able to talk to people tending their plots in community gardens. According to the Boston Natural Areas Network, there are nearly 200 community and school gardens in the City of Boston and its surrounding towns. These gardens are cared for by more than 10,000 urbanites working towards making Boston a more sustainable, healthier and greener city.

Boston’s community gardens are thriving, but is evident from this sign that people are eager to garden more. The current demand for more community gardens is pushing city planning officials to re-consider zoning in Boston.

Empty, unattended land parcels are eye sores in many of the poorest neighborhoods of Boston.

These empty sites are uninspiring and promote among many other things, blight. In contrast, community gardens promote safe and healthy communities, they nurture good neighbor relationships, promote exercise, healthy eating habits, and many other benefits.

Bostonians are eager to make this city an even more awesome one, one community garden at a time. Are city planning officials listening to the people?

5th Annual Bumpkin Island Art Encampment

For five days this past week, twenty-five artists were invited to live on Bumpkin Island and create works inspired by the human and natural history of the island. The event is in its 5th year, however this was my first experience and most definitely will not be the last.

The works ranged from sound installation, sculpture, performance to mixed media and explore the flora and fauna of the island, the concept of restraint and many other themes. I saw a couple of very interesting works and because all these works are site specific, I’m intrigued as to how they will translate when exhibited in a gallery this coming Fall.

One of the best works I saw was Packrat, by Dirk Adams, Jesse Kaminsky and Helen White. These three artists literally used the entire island as their “canvas” and connected Bumpkin’s flora and fauna through giant string funnels. Unfortunately, the work was too interesting I did not take many photos of it, but I did go on a hike and followed the string until emerged from the harbor waters. I also found the performance by Sarah Buamert of the Pop-Up collective very interesting.

In Pursuit of Urban Nature: Hiking Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace

I’m lucky to live in Boston. With its small town feel and international appeal, Boston is an amazing place to take in the arts, culture and architecture. This spring I posted a blog listing the things every Bostonian must add to their bucket list and although I had experienced everything on the list, there was one exception:  hiking the Emerald Necklace in an entire day.

Earlier this summer, my friend Cristy and I went on an expedition to explore the beauty of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, a string of interconnected parks stretching through many of the city’s neighborhoods and cultural institutions.  As any urban planner, architect, or city enthusiast would tell you, the best way to get to know and experience a city is by walking its streets. This is exactly what Cristy and I did. We started our hike across Park Street Church on Boston Common at around 11:15AM on a Sunday and finished around 5:00PM at the entrance of Franklin Park Zoo in Dorchester.

In the nineteenth century, nature and parks were idealized and venerated, an idea reflected in the landscapes of many cities across the country.  Parks provided city dwellers and factory workers with leisure activities that involved fishing, swimming and many other past times. They provided a relief from the long work day hours and living conditions.

 The power of parks and green open spaces in bringing people from all walks of life together has always fascinated me. I love walking through a park and listening to the many different languages spoken by users. No one understood this better than Frederick Law Olmsted, the genius behind this incredible cultural resource in Boston.

The father of the modern landscape architecture movement, Frederick Law Olmsted’s story is as inspiring and moving as was his vision in transforming the landscapes of America. Along with his son Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., his adopted stepson John C. Olmsted and the rest of the partners in the firm, Olmsted dominated the landscape architecture profession in America for nearly a century. Transforming people’s lives through the beauty of nature was at the core of his pursuit in improving and “civilizing American society.”

Boston Common, 1634, National Historic Landmark; Boston Landmark

Considered the most historic park in Boston, Boston Common was mentioned in town records as early as 1634. The Common was not designed by Olmsted, but it played a pivotal role in the planning of his Emerald Necklace. It was only logical we start our hike at Boston Common, after all, every visitor strolls down the Common on the way to the Freedom Trail.

The Public Garden, 1839. George Meachum, 1859, National Historic Landmark; Boston Landmark

The Public Garden was born out of the filling of the Back Bay in the nineteenth century. It is a botanical garden with formal flower beds laid out in the French Manner and artificial pond which provides for pleasant Swan Boat rides during the warmer months of the year. On its Arlington Street corner stands Arthur Gilman’s Arlington Street Church, a building worthy of looking at. It has sixteen Tiffany stained glass windows which date from 1898 to 1933.

The Esplanade, 1931, National Register of Historic Places

Once part of the smelly Back Bay, this chunk of land was transformed into a spacious park offering many activities including picnicking, kayaking, sailing, outdoor concerts and movies at the Hatch Shell. The Esplanade Association is in charge of restoring, maintaining and preserving this wonderful park.

Commonwealth Avenue Mall, begun in 1858 and continued as the Back Bay was filled in, Boston Landmark

Commonwealth Avenue Mall was America’s answer to the grand boulevards of Paris. The Mall is lined with American and English elms as well as magnolias and dotted with sculptures of noted public figures including Alexander Hamilton, William Lloyd Garrison, Phyllis Wheatley and others.

Charlesgate, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870’s

Olmsted had intended for a grand picturesque landscape here, but as Michael and Susan Southworth of the AIA Guide to Boston write “Charlesgate is the tragedy of the Emerald Necklace.” I hope to see this landscape restore to Olmsted’s original vision in my lifetime.

Apologies for the lack of images of Charlesgate, I will take some the next time I am at the Museum of Fine Arts, but the landscape does not reflect what Olmsted intended.

Back Bay Fens, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1879, National Register of Historic Places; Boston Landmark

A fine example of the English nineteenth century romantic landscape movement.  To some extent, Olmsted original vision has been altered and rose gardens were added along with a baseball field and a war memorial, but the Emerald Necklace Conservancy has been diligently working to restore the plantings and conserve this magical park for centuries to come. Among the architectural and cultural gems along the Back Bay Fens are H.H. Richardson’s “muscular” bridge, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, the Forsyth Dental Infirmary for Children, the Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and galleries at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

The Riverway and Olmsted Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1881, National Register of Historic Places; Boston Landmark

This park is currently undergoing major restoration by the Conservancy. The Riverway originally linked Olmsted Park to Jamaica Pond, but a segment was destroyed for commercial purposes thereby interrupting the “flow” of Olmsted’s interconnecting system of parks.

Jamaica Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1892, National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmark, Boston Landmark

Jamaica Park will always hold a special place in my heart because on our hike along the Emerald Necklace, my friend Cristy and I stopped to catch our breath, admire the beauty of the lake and watch people fish and jog. We were so taken aback by the park’s beauty that I left my camera on a bench only to realize that I had done so 45 minutes later. In short, I did not find my camera but frantically asked everyone I came across at the park if they had seen it. I left my business card with a few people and continued our hike as if nothing had ever happened. Later that night, I received an email from the Jamaica Pond Boat House letting me know that my camera had been found! Joy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stickney and Austin’s Boathouse is a National Historic Landmark and you may read more about these two architects by following these links: here and here (sorry, I don’t remember if I corrected the posts after getting my paper back from the professor). I had the pleasure of conducting extensive research on these two architects for a seminar on Boston Architecture and Planning at Boston University with the wonderful Professor Keith Morgan.

Arnold Arboretum, Charles Sprague Sargent and Frederick Law Olmsted, 1872, National Historic Landmark

One of the most beautiful parks in the city, the Arnold Arboretum is also one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious arboreta. Its collection includes more than 15,000 trees, shrubs, and vines collected from around the world and is one of the best preserved of Olmsted’s landscapes. Every Spring the Arboretum hosts Lilac Sunday, andevent that celebrates the more than 377 lilac bushes in its collection. THE FOLLOWING IMAGES HAVE NOT BEEN PHOTOSHOPPED! YES IT GETS THIS BRIGHT IN THE FALL.

Franklin Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, 1885, National Register of Historic Places, Boston Landmark

The crowning jewel of the Emerald Necklace, Franklin Park is a 520-acre masterpiece that combined “vast rustic scenery with H. H. Richardson’s architecture, Daniel Chester French sculpture, sheep to trim the grass, and a dairy for healthful refreshments.” Its design was influenced by Joseph Paxton’s “People’s Park” at Birkenhead in England. Today, most of the architecture at Franklin Park is now ruins and parts of it have been altered and replaced with a golf course, tennis courts, baseball fields and Franklin Park Zoo. I love the micro environments that Olmsted created at Franklin Park. They make me feel as if I’ve stepped from one landscape into a completely different one. I love going for jogs in and around Franklin Park, it feels as if the city is hundreds of miles away.

Walking the Emerald Necklace, I learned that the best way to continue preserving this inspiring landscape is to nominate it as a World Heritage Site. Why isn’t this system of parks already a World Heritage Site? I’m not sure of an answer, but I believe it should be!

Review: “Susurrus”

Susurrus, Photogragh taken from

To close out its inaugural season of cutting edge programming, ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage invites everyone to remember, record, reminisce and recollect with David Leddy’s experimental play “Susurrus.” A play without actors or a stage, “Susurrus” (pronounced sus-YOO-rus, it refers to a soft murmuring or the rustling sound of wind in trees) is a delightful and mesmerizing journey into the beauty of love, life, and melancholic loss.

Conceived by “Scotland’s hottest, edgiest young playwright,” (Sunday Times UK) “Susurrus” is part of Leddy’s Auricular Series; site specific audio works that are listened to on headphones at locations selected by the artist. The play originally premiered at the Botanical Gardens of Glasgow to wide critical acclaim. It is now on a world tour and opens on May 20 in Boston.

Instead of the traditional theatre setting, George Meachum’s 1859 Public Garden becomes the stage for “Susurrus” and a map of it drawn by Scottish illustrator Laura Molloy, who has illustrated record covers for Belle and Sebastian, becomes the playbill. As for an audience, there is no audience besides you, and every tourist and local strolling around the park (don’t stress, they’re not paying attention to you, so feel free to indulge and rejoice!).

Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this part radio play, part tour-guide, part Avant-Garde Sonic Art and part stroll in the park experience, is an evolving dialogue between Leddy’s character’s, art, nature, the built environment and the participants. As participants, one blossoms into a performance artist throughout the duration of the play.

As we “artistically develop,” we encounter sculptures or uninterrupted vistas that may provoke us to sit and contemplate the play, move around and explore the sculpture’s formal qualities. It is at this point of the performance that we begin to draw visual connections between “Susurrus” and the public art that surrounds us. In between acts (movement from one location to another), we’re serenaded with beautiful joyful, mournful and melancholic opera. These beautifully orchestrated walks also feature the music of Bjork, the popular Icelandic singer.

The unpredictable nature of “Susurrus” makes it a worthwhile and exhilarating experience strolling through the public garden. The play lasts around an hour and 20 minutes, but if you’re like me, briefly stop to look at the azaleas or admire the bark of the dawn redwoods (planted between location 2 and 3 on the “Susurrus” map) while being serenaded to beautiful harmonies.

Listening to birds chirping in the opening act in the midst of the loud sirens of fire trucks driving ,by is all part of this thrilling experience. What is even more thrilling is sitting on a bench intensely listening to Helena (Wendy Seager) telling her family story and of her time seeing a psychiatrist while a large group of tourists imitate the ducklings in Nancy Schon’s “Make Your Way for Duckings” sculpture. Every lasting second of “Susurrus” makes for an extremely memorable experience.

David Leddy crafts a refreshing “theater” experience that engages every one of our senses. Our sense of sight, smell, hearing and touch are all stimulated by the bright flora, fresh cut grass, birds chirping and the chatter of mating geese and the Public Garden map by Molloy.

Don’t worry about looking silly following a green map around the public garden, David Leddy brilliantly acknowledges this “awkwardness” when you get to the Angel Statue sculpture. If the characters in this wonderful and dazzling play can poke fun at themselves, you can too! The closing date is June 05, 2011. 

Tickets are $25, and are on sale now at or by phone at (617) 824-8000

Review: River Street

Saturday May 1st, Daniel Phillips preparing for the installation of River Street (center)

A site specific installation in Hyde Park by Daniel Phillips, River Street fosters an enriching cross-cultural and multi-generational dialogue between people whose memories are encapsulated in the built environment and “outsiders” like me who might be interested in learning about the architectural, industrial, social and natural history of the site in its present state.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, historic places help citizens define their public pasts and trigger social memory through the urban landscape. Hayden investigates the concept of “place memory” through philosopher Edward S. Casey’s formulation, in that place memory “encapsulates the human ability to connect with both the built and natural environments that are entwined in the cultural landscape.”

River Street is installed on the former site of what was until 2004, the oldest operating paper mill in North America. Built on the Hyde Park side of the heavily polluted Neponset River, the history of the Tileston-Hollingsworth Paper Company extends as far back as 1733.

Besides its social and industrial history, the site of the mill complex was architecturally significant until recent years when it succumbed to demolition’s wrecking ball. The firm of W. Cornell Appleton and Frank A. Stearns (Appleton & Stearns), and later members of the illustrious Boston architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns, designed an 1890 “handsome” Georgian Revival office building which is no longer extant. In its present state, the remaining scars resulting from the demolition of the site evoke a sense of loss and nostalgia of an era gone-by.

River Street is a multi channel video projection composed of thousands of photographic stills shot on site by Daniel Phillips. For every one and a half minutes of video, it is estimated that approximately 900 photographs are used to create a time lapse moving image. Each photograph captures the passage of time, the crumbling death of the last remaining buildings on site and the slowly renewing life of the Neponset River Reservation. Projected on the loading bays of a dilapidated water pumping station, River Street triggers our memory by capturing those moments that vanish before our eyes. Moments like ice melting from the branches of trees or the rhythmic flow of the river or the transient life of the graffiti in the area, allow us to visually connect the past with the present.

A collaboration between the artist Daniel Phillips and Finnard Properties; the current owners and developers of the site, this one night installation of River Street was presented in conjunction withthe Boston Cyberarts Festival. The installation on Saturday April 30 attracted many members from the Hyde Park and Dorchester communities. “It was wonderful, breathtaking, unbelievable” says Adrian of Hyde Park, “This is my community, of course I had to be here tonight.”

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010

River Street Tower Still #16, Daniel Phillips, 2010

Riding the Urban Wave

On March 23rd, 2011 as I was walking around the South End photographing murals for an upcoming “project,” I noticed this public art work. It is called LandWave and it is designed by Gillis-Smith/Kilkelly/Cormier led by landscape architect Shauna Gillies-Smith. I think the project is interesting especially given that a good chunk of Boston is built on land reclaimed from the sea, in fact, Boston was known as Shawmut Peninsula. The SHIFTboston blog dedicated a post to this land art work (with more recent images too).

Get Pumped! Introducing Metropolitan Boston’s Newest Museum

A short walk from the Reservoir Stop on the Riverside Line or Cleveland Circle stop on the MBTA, and located inside a gorgeously restored and rehabilitated Richardsonian Romanesque Pumping Station building, is Metropolitan Boston’s newest museum, the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum which opened on Sunday March 27th, 2011.

Designed by Arthur Vinal “Boston’s last city architect,” and built in 1886-87 and expanded in 1897-98, the High Service Pumping Station was the city’s response to the increased demand for clean water resources, which by 1800’s, like many other cities of its size in America, was rapidly experiencing population growth deeming it unfit to live in. The Great Fire of 1872 pushed city officials to locate other clean water resources outside the city to provide a steady and clean water supply for its citizens. As a result of this “push,” the Metropolitan Waterworks was born, breathing new life to Boston and its citizens.

The museum, primarily located in the Great Engines Hall of the High Service Pumping Station contains three massive pumps that will capture the attention of young and old. Through interactive exhibits and displays of tools and instruments, visitors learn of the social, architectural, and public health history of pumping station and its role in the City of Boston. The engines at the museum, once formed part of the largest reservoir water pumping system in the world!

The Great Engine Hall houses the Leavitt Engine, capable of pumping 20 million gallons of water a day is now considered a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The other two engines are the Worthington Engine, the only horizontal and smallest of all them is capable of pumping 15 million gallons of water a day and the Allis Engine, a massive engine which extends three stories above the operating floor and two stories below it. The engines are in the same location they have been since the High Service Pumping Station began operating.

I spent more than an hour “getting to know” the people behind the extraordinary architectural and engineering marvels of the Metropolitan Waterworks. Paying careful attention to (almost) every breathtaking detail of the three massive engines, I walked away with a deeper appreciation for the engineering works of 19th century Boston. Although steam pumping ended in 1976, the engines at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum allow us to experience an aspect of 19th century life in Boston rarely discussed outside academic circles.

The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum offers guided tours highlighting the history of the landscape and other features of the history of the Chestnut Hill/Reservoir area. Please check the museum’s website or call for more information.


This past weekend, I visited the Cambridge Public Library to admire the beautiful restoration of Van Brunt and Howe’s 1888 handsome Richardsonian Romanesque building executed by Ann Beha Architects, as well as the stunning addition by William Rawn and Associates (both Boston firms). I’ll post photos of the library at a later date, but  I wanted to share a public work of art I found interesting.

The landscape (which is not picture in this post), as I learned later was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (the firm has offices in Cambridge), but I couldn’t find out who created the work which wraps around the entrance to the garage underneath the library). Do you know who created it? Was it also part of Michael Van Valkenburgh’s design?

Book Review: Two Books on Landscapes

Gardens of the Hudson Valley
Photographs by Steve Gross & Susan Daley
Text by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner, Forward by Gregory Long
The Monacelli Press, 2010 $50.00 (Amazon)
ISBN 978-1-58093-277-6

Gardens of the Hudson Valley published by the Monacelli Press highlights the exquisite gardens of the National Heritage Area known as the Hudson Valley, as well as the landscape architects that contributed to the cultural and artistic development of this region. Masters of landscape design like Alexander Jackson Downing, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Fletcher Steele have all left their imprints upon the landscape of the Hudson Valley.

This coffee table book recounts the stories of twenty five famous gardens including the estate garden of the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, Lyndhurst in Tarrytown and the Federal style Boscobel in Coldspring, NY. These historic landscapes are not only stunningly photographed by Steve Gross and Susan Daley, but also beautifully narrated by Susan Lowry and Nancy Berner.  The Hudson River Valley is considered to be one of America’s most significant and culturally richest regions in the nation. The authors do a tremendous job at highlighting the historically significant beauty of these landscapes and hint at the impact of these gardens on the development of American landscape architecture.

In case you would like to visit many of the gardens featured in the book ( trust me, you will want to visit them after indulging in all the beautiful photographs), a list of gardens open to the public is included.

Private Gardens of Connecticut
Photography by John M. Hall
Text by Jane Garmey
The Monacelli Press, 2010 $65.00 (Amazon)
ISBN 978-1-58093-241-7

From the Hudson Valley we head to the state of Connecticut to explore the private gardens of prominent members of the fashion, design, arts and business communities. Even though some of the gardens featured in the Private Gardens of Connecticut are not as historic as those featured in the Gardens of the Hudson Valley, they are excellent examples of gardens that incorporate the beauty of the Connecticut landscape.

Among the gardens  featured in this book are those of fashion designer Oscar de La Renta as well as Agne Gund, the former president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  Many of these gardens  reflect their owner’s passions such as Agne Gund love for contemporary sculpture.  Both of these books are excellent sources of inspiration for those looking to create a sanctuary of their own this coming Spring.

Guest Contributor – Light Dancing on Water: The Charles River Esplanade

It was a visit to the Charles River Esplanade over fifteen years ago that convinced me to stay in Boston. Back then and even now, I write friends and family of that moment, describing how the sunlight danced on the surface of the silky blue waters. Over time, strolling the park’s various walkways and paths, I was motivated to pick up a camera so that I could show people the beauty before me and not just tell them about it.

I walk the Esplanade’s course at different times of the same day, as well as at different times of the year. Each instance always provides unexpected visual pleasures for me, from leaves on the ground to fish in the water. Only recently have I learned of the park’s origins: how the three mile stretch was created from landfill, and how the different pieces of the park, from the walkways and bridges to the playgrounds and boathouses, have evolved over the decades. It continues to evolve as caretakers balance environmental stewardship and cultural preservation with meeting the recreational needs of Boston’s residents.

I did not grow up in a big city. With its concrete and asphalt, albeit beautifully designed and executed concrete and asphalt, Boston can sometimes become overwhelming. In those moments, when I do feel the need for a respite, I make my way to the river and to the Esplanade. I have not left the city behind but I certainly feel closer to nature. And, I think that is the unique beauty of the Esplanade, enabling people to be both connected to their city life and to nature in a meaningful way.





Cynthia Staples is a writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in several online and print publications including African Voices, Creativity Portal, Flashquake, F-Stop, the Seattle Times and more. Follow her musings at and view more of her photography at

Back to the Past: The Hamilton House

During my New Hampshire vacation, my friend (who hosted me for the week) and I took a drive to South Berwick, ME to visit yet another historic house!

This time, we traveled back to the 18th century to visit the Hamilton House, a National Historic Landmark built around 1785 by shipping merchant Jonathan Hamilton. One of the most striking features of this stunning Georgian house is the breathtaking views of the Salmon Falls River as well as its colorful period garden. 

To learn more about the Hamilton House which is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public for viewing click here.

Reflections on Water

I can’t swim to save my life. As a matter of fact, I can’t even doggy paddle. I thought I’d tell you now before you read any further. I must also tell you that I’ve never experienced any life altering incidents involving water (in case you wanted to know). In fact, some of the fondest memories I have as a child have dealt with water has playing a prominent role. I’m just not a water type of person I guess.

The sight of water alone re-energizes my senses and brings back memories of places and people I’ve encountered along my path in life. Up until recently, I lived about a 10 minute walk from the ocean. Whenever I needed to clear my mind or fill my lungs with the cool sea breeze, I would engage in a conversation with the waves crashing upon the shore. I no longer have that “luxury.” Ever since my move to another neighborhood in Boston, it requires more planning than I thought it originally would using public transportation.

Lucky for me, Boston is home to Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace – a series of picturesque parks linked as the name suggests, like a necklace by parkways and waterways.  In a spur of the moment decision, I ventured out to Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain earlier this week to connect with the pond and its beautiful surroundings.

Bounded by the town of Brookline and located within walking distance from the home and studio of both Frederick Law Olmsted and the architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Jamaica Pond is a popular destination for city dwellers looking to go sailing, fishing, jogging or walking. Both Olmsted and Richardson were friends and collaborated on many outstanding projects in Massachusetts which integrated the architecture with its surrounding landscapes.  

The architecture at Jamaica Pond consists of a boat house and bandstand designed by the firm of Stickney and Austin and the now demolished Pinebank Mansion; the Queen Anne style house designed by John Hubbard Sturgis, of Sturgis and Brigham; designers of the Museum of Fine Arts that once stood on Copley Square.

I hadn’t been to Jamaica Pond since I was about 11 years old. As I approached the pond from Pond Street, memories of family picnics and bike rides started to flow. I briskly walked along the pond’s edges, calmly awaiting the sunset.  As the sun began to set and colors emerged from behind the clouds, the architecture of Stickney and Austin became so much more intense contrasting with the soft glow of the sun. This moment reminded me of how much we all intrinsically benefit from the natural and designed landscapes that surround us.  And although I cannot swim, I try to engage and interact as often as I can with landscapes and architecture where water plays a prominent role like Jamaica Pond.

To learn more about the Emerald Necklace and the work being done to preserve and restore this magnificent cultural resource, click here.

Learn more about the Olmstead Historic Site in Brookline and the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.

To read about Stickney and Austin, see posts here and here.

Memories of Modernism

Christian Science Monitor Plaza and Fountain, photo taken by John Michael Garcia.

Looking back to my years growing up in the Dominican Republic, I can vividly recall the memories of the sights, sounds and smells that shaped me as a child.  As young as I was when I left my country to join my parents in the United States, the power of the places I experienced have molded me into a passionate advocate for the preservation of history and architecture.

My first few years living in this country were extremely difficult. Everything felt strange, from the language and culture to the weather and food.  However, with time, I managed not only to adapt to this new land, but also keep my childhood memories alive. Growing up in Boston allowed me to witness firsthand many changes that were taking place in the city, all leaving a powerful impression on me.

One of my first experiences interacting with architecture in the city occurred on a field trip as a student at the Hurley Elementary School in the South End.  On our way back to school from the Mapparium located inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library; founder of Christian Science, my classmates and I strolled around the iconic modernist space and jumped into the fountain to cool off from the scorching summer sun.

That was my introduction to Modernism. I have never been able to forget how emotionally intense and powerful this experience was.  One, it happened just a few months after leaving the little rural town I was born in and two, I had never seen an enormous pool nor a fountain where kids ran around and played in. The moment was magical, so magical and powerful I often see myself reflected in the lives of the kids who play in this space today.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, “[memory] is the key to the power of historic places to help citizens define their public pasts: places trigger memories for insiders who have shared a common past, and at the same time places often can represent shared pasts to outsiders who might be interested in knowing about them in the present” (46). Places have the ability to evoke visual and social memory and the Christian Science Center Complex along with its reflection pool and fountain has not only formulated my understanding and appreciation for Modern architecture today, but was my first introduction to the power of modernism and the role it plays in our lives (of course, this statement I only realized a few years ago while studying art and architectural history in college).

Photo taken by John Michael Garcia

The Plaza is truly one of Boston’s grandest spaces and the emotional attachment I feel is also felt by many friends and colleagues. When hearing of the possible fate of the Plaza, a friend of mine also traveled down memory lane to the days when he was a child playing in the fountain.  I sensed the beginning of an emotional void as he perhaps contemplated on the future of this site, a future which everyday seems more uncertain to me and hundreds of people. Designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark will assure that memories are kept alive for many generations of Bostonians whose lives have been touched by this Complex.

Memories last a lifetime.  Not designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark is an opportunity to shatter the dreams and memories of those who have experience the magic of the reflection pool, the fountain and its buildings.

If you’re reading this and you have also been touched by the Christian Science Complex, I urge you to send a letter to the Boston Landmarks Commission advocating for the designation of the Complex as a Boston Landmark.

To learn more, you can view the study report here.

You can send your letter of support or comments by August 16th, 2010 to this address:

The Boston Landmarks Commission voted to designate the Christian Science Monitor Plaza as a Boston Landmark! Thank you!!!!

The Lantern Festival

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Forest Hills Cemetery was founded in 1848 as a rural picturesque cemetery. Every summer in July, the cemetery organizes a lantern festival inspired by eastern Asian Buddhist rituals. This year the weather was perfect for a night of honoring, remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have left this world. I love events like these because they bring people from all walks of life together in a beautiful setting.

For more information on Forest Hills Cemetery, click here.

For more information on the Forest Hills Educational Trust, click here.


Roxbury: A Streetcar Suburb in Full Bloom

The Cochituate Standpipe, built in 1869

The more I explore Roxbury, the more I fall in love with it. Its colorful history is reflected in its rich architectural heritage, from the Georgian Shirley-Eustis House to the Heroic Modernism of Madison Park High School to the recently constructed Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the landscape of Roxbury could be read as a survey in New England architecture and planning. Roxbury, like Jamaica Plain and surrounding neighborhoods was once a streetcar suburb of Boston.

Cooper Community Garden with Tour Attendees

Sam Bass Warner, Jr. in Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 traces the development patterns of the two-mile radius city that was once Boston, to the suburban metropolis that we experience today. The development patterns, the arrangements of streets and buildings throughout Boston’s streetcar suburbs are a reflection of the nineteenth arrival of the street railway and people’s aspirations of home and land ownership (Sam Bass Warner, Jr. Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press and the M.I.T Press), 1962) 15).

In the nineteenth century, the idea of living surrounded by nature and open space drove the middle class to escape the crowded city and purchase land in places like Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and in other surrounding cities and towns like Brookline and Cambridge (14). On Saturday June 25th, I attended a tour co-sponsored by Discover Roxbury and Common Boston of the gardens of Highland Park, Roxbury. This opportunity allowed me to experience the urban gardens created by neighborhood residents and also pay close attention to development patterns within Highland Park (a theme I had explored in depth in a Boston Architecture course at Boston University).

Cooper Community Garden with Attendees

Highland Park is an incredibly culturally diverse neighborhood in Roxbury and its gardens embody the resilience, passion and collaborative nature of its residents. As one resident of Highland Park noted in her welcoming statement to the group, the gardens act as a forum in which real contact can be made and dialogues rich in multicultural, ethnic and racial points of view are nurtured and fostered.

Fostering and nurturing enriching dialogues is at the core of preserving the character and history of Highland Park. The gardens were all stunningly beautiful and the gardeners were highly enthusiastic and welcoming. Their passion and determination is not only reflected in their gardens, but in the fabric of the neighborhood as well. These gardens not only act as a forum in which dialogues rich in multiculturalism are exchanged, but are also avenues for educating community members and residents of Boston on pursuing a sustainable way of life.

If you would like to explore more of the gardens of Roxbury, Discover Roxbury will be leading a trolley tour of the Historic Moreland Street District and Mission Hill on July 10th from 10:00am-12:30pm. For ticket information click here.

Garden in Highland Park


The Urban Canvas – Exploring Boston’s Graffiti

Walking the streets of Boston and its environs, I often come across spaces, buildings or public art that continually renew my love for the city. The city for me resembles a Tubist, Futurist or Suprematist painting in that the more I stare at its composition, the more interesting things I see.

I love wandering around the dilapidated areas of a city, near abandoned buildings or underserved neighborhoods in search of beauty in unexpected places. These unexpected places are the canvas for artists like Banksy, Pixnit and even Shepard Fairey who use the ugly and empty walls of buildings (often abandoned or not in used) to bring messages of anti-war, political and societal corruption to the people.

Wandering the narrow and congested streets of Chinatown during my lunch break, I came upon a mural on the side of a building on Essex Street. The mural, executed on a white wall depicts a man dressed in black holding two rollers underneath his left arm, carrying a pail on one hand and a brush on the other. The feeling of hopelessness and resignation expressed in the figure’s face further heightens the message behind the graffiti. As a spectator, we are told to follow our dreams, yet we are also told that these dreams have been cancelled. Executed by Banksy, a pseudonym for an internationally known British Graffiti artist, this work in Chinatown led me on a trek across the alleys and streets of Boston and Cambridge in search of street art.

That same day in Chinatown, I came across two works done by Shepard Fairey whose recent retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston was a huge success in part due to the popularity of the ‘Obama Hope Portrait.’

After walking around Chinatown, I went back to the office and recalled that alley in Central Square, Cambridge which is a sanctuary for graffiti artists. The thought of writing an entry on street art in Metro Boston was born in this alley.

The following weekend I hopped on the outbound train to Cambridge armed with my camera in one hand and a water bottle in the other in search of more art. Approximately two blocks away from Graffiti Alley (or Pee Alley or Creep Alley as it is locally known), I ran into a mural of a little girl writing on an imaginary surface. My first instinct was to attribute this piece to Banksy, but I wasn’t convinced that it was because it looked to be unfinished. After visiting Banksy’s website, I was able to confirm that it is indeed a Banksy piece.

Walking through Graffiti Alley in Central Square is like walking inside a candy store (to me at least). The walls are covered in every color imaginable, from neon orange to black to pink and white. There are many recognizable artists represented in the alley including a major piece by Shepard Fairey.

After spending some time in Central Square, I headed to Harvard Square in search of a work executed by Shepard Fairey I had recalled seeing a while ago. After leisurely strolling around Harvard Square, I found it on Dunster Street and immediately photographed it. People wondered why I was photographing a women wearing a head garment shown with a rifle shooting a rose from its tip. This is one of the reasons I love Shepard Fairey.

Graffiti is one of the best ways to learn about ourselves for they are a sign of the times, often denouncing political corruption and social problems while posing questions of identity and culture to the public. Throughout my trek in search of graffiti in the City of Boston, I learned that the dreams of so many inhabitants of this country have been shut down or “cancelled” as it has been done in Arizona.  I also learned that our wish of living in world of peace and harmony remains alive and vibrant as expressed in the works of Shepard Fairey.

Preserving Mount Auburn Cemetery

Preserving a place, building or object is no easy task. There are many parties taking part and all working towards the same goal: to leave the next generation a place or a building in which they can see their own history reflected upon its surfaces.

Last weekend I volunteered at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge assisting in deciphering monument inscriptions. For the last couple of years, the preservation team at Mount Auburn along with a dedicated group of volunteers has been surveying monuments and recording their inscriptions using various methods and techniques, which allow for a more accurate interpretation of these invaluable resources.

Techniques such as holding a mirror at an angle to reflect light on the inscriptions can help to better decipher the eroded and at times illegible names and phrases. I found the work extremely interesting and look forward to assisting in the preservation of Mount Auburn Cemetery for future generations to enjoy.

Change, Change, Change

Change is all over. The weather is changing. The cherry trees are blooming and people are out of hibernation. I love change especially if it involves shedding one’s skin and channeling positive inner thoughts. Everyone needs change and moments of self-reflection and this is exactly what I have done for the past two months. It has been a while since I last looked at this blog, but it will not be long before I start posting again. Exciting things are happening all over Boston and I am ready to immerse myself in the city.

The Portland Building by Michael Graves!

Exciting, best describes the things that have been blossoming in my life for the past two months. For Spring Break, I went on a weeklong trip to Portland, Oregon to visit great friends I had met while studying abroad five years ago in Valparaiso, Chile.  We reminisced of happy and crazy times traveling through the beautiful and inspiring country of Chile, meeting its people and learning of its culture. We ate delicious, organic food (very typical of Portland); drank some Chilean wine (Concha y Toro and Gato Negro) and made Jote, a Chilean concoction made with Coca Cola and wine. I was introduced to the Portland microbreweries and savored some delicious lavender ice cream and sinful chocolate desserts at Pix. Oh wait, before I forget, I had the best Venezuelan breakfast EVER, courtesy of my friend’s dad who is an excellent cook! Portland rocked my world!

Me inside one of Portland's amazing fountains. This one is the Ira Keller Fountain.

I went to my first ever Zumba class with an amazing instructor and let me tell you, I rocked it out! Well, not really, more like shaking my hips like Shakira! My friend says that Zumba teaches you to dance with your soul and it surely taught me to dance with mine! If anything, what I learned from this Zumba class is how tightly knit Portland as a community is!  I also attended my first hot yoga class. What an amazing experience. I loved it so much I signed up for a hot yoga class in Cambridge last week! I think I am addicted to hot yoga!

I was mesmerized with Portland the moment I stepped out of the airport and inhaled its fresh cool air!

One of Portland's many fountains, this one by Lawrence Halprin

I fell in love with the city just as Romeo fell in love with Juliet. Portland’s street style, attitude and way of life re-energized my senses and brought new perspectives into my life! I saw some excellent architecture, urban parks designed by internationally renowned landscape architects and also great contemporary art at the Portland Museum of Art. I also indulged in some great vintage shopping (I was in heaven) and brought home two pairs of sneakers (one can never have enough kicks), two awesome t-shirts at Ray’s Ragtime, a black and white knitted tie from the 1960’s at Magpie and an awesome leather jacket at the House of Vintage! I’m telling you, it was AWESOME!

Coming back to Boston felt strange, some things fell apart and others emerged in their place. I am in the process of moving to a beautiful neighborhood in Dorchester! It’s a perfect location, the perfect apartment and the perfect size closet! I know, what you are thinking, every boy NEEDS the perfect size closet!  

Finally, I will start a new blog which will focus on the people of Boston! Yes, I will keep this one, but the other blog will be a photo-documentary style blog. Want to know more? Well, you will have to stay tuned!

Auf Wiedersehe!

Oh yeah, I’m all caught up with Project Runway Season 7! Go Seth Aaron!!!!!

umm, Yeah!