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Fletcher Steele & the Fletcher Steele Collection

Passageway into GardenCreating over 700 gardens from 1915 to 1971, Fletcher Steele is widely regarded as the key figure in the transition from Beaux Arts formalism to modern landscape design. His gardens were "often brilliant, always original," and were created out of continual experimentation with the traditional vocabularies of landscape design. Steele's design philosophy stemmed from two main beliefs: that landscape architecture was an art form on par with painting or music, and that gardens were for pleasure.

Steele worked exhaustively to produce gardens that met his creative demands as well as provided his clients with their own spaces in which to dream. Many of his original designs show the traditional influences of a Beaux Arts designer, but as his intellect and artistic abilities increased, his gardens became increasingly expressive, lyrical, and unique.

Unfortunately, Steele's gardens were only viewed with casual acceptance during his lifetime. His emphasis on expression and detail countered the popular views of his peers, who were stressing spatial creation and functionality. In spite of this, Steele's designs and writings added much to the theoretical and artistic base of the profession of landscape architecture.

Due to the move away from modernism, Steele's efforts are now experiencing a renaissance as designers realize the value his contributions. Many of his records have been preserved, and are available to students, practitioners, and other researchers.

Staircase in Forest

The Fletcher Steele Archives at the Franklin L. Moon Library of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in collaboration with Landscape Architecture, are pleased to be able to provide access to the archives of this important designer. Donated to the college in 1974, these archives contain a large portion of Steele's professional records, including original drawings, blueprints, client order books, as well as his personal lantern slides, negatives, books and other papers.

A traveling exhibition of Steele's works has also been created, and is available for loan. This exhibition is composed of photos, prints, essays and didactic panels that highlight Steele's professional development and most important works.

To find out more about the archives, contact library staff at ask@esf.libanswers.com or call the library at (315) 470-6711.

To find out more about the traveling exhibition, contact Caroline Bailey, SUNY-ESF, Landscape Architecture, Syracuse, NY, 13210, email her at cbbailey@esf.edu, or call her at 315.470.6543.