e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

Collection Fletcher Steele and the Fletcher Steele Collection at ESF

We welcome your visit to the Moon Library and anticipate you will discover within the Manuscript Collection a feast of visual architectural evidence appropriate to your needs.

The Landscape Architect’s Professional Activities

Steele’s 157 client-order books document his professional work at designed sites. Arranged by client number the majority of these books detail client name and place, nursery vendors and addresses, plant stock used, and itemized services. The collection extends beyond personal papers to include Steele’s personal 300 library books. Design in the Little Garden (1928) and Gardens and People (1964) were his two published books.

Sketches, renderings, and site plans for 85 client jobs are recorded in a collection of 159 folders of Photostat prints. A series of architecture photographer’s exhibition prints, including some by Paul J. Weber, of Boston, document 24 completed Steele landscapes. The Graham Foundation for Art and Architecture and the Hubbard Foundation provided resources to develop a Study Print Collection that includes 88 client sites. Contact Moon Library for loan arrangements at 315-470-6715.

The Manuscript includes 15,000 film negatives Steele made and used as tools to trace development of client jobs from 1913-1968. Filed by image type and arranged chronologically, most images depict work-in progress and others serve as a journal to document his travels. Negatives of 12,000 35mm Leica exposures have been scanned and digitized for electronic access.

Photographic prints and pictures printed from his film and other published sources are within the 52 cubic ft. manuscript: large format architectural drawings and blueprints, collections of albums, scrapbooks, picture postcards, and lantern slide talk-shows, daily journals & address books (1940-1970). Steele’s own client and film numbering system identifies pathways through the Manuscript subsets, and many items are annotated.

Mr. Steele had no surviving family and upon his death his legacy was left to the Society of American Landscape Architects (ASLA). Under the direction of his lawyers the executors requested a home for his body of work. In 1974 it was agreed the Landscape Architecture program at ESF in Syracuse would benefit from the talent and energy of the famous practitioner. The visual components resulting from Steele’s practice, along with his personal reference library, moved from Pittsford, NY, to the Moon Library.

Comments on the Collection

“Steele was the only good designer working during the twenties and thirties, also the only one who was really interested in new things. The others were caught up in the hierarchy; they were organization men. The idea that a garden didn’t have to be symmetrical, or static, was a revelation”.

Dan Kiley, Charlotte VT
Introduction to Fletcher Steele, 1989

Steele’s opinions were eagerly sought by landscape architects, as well as the gardening public. He is known both for championing the Modern Movement in landscape design and for the improvement of the surroundings of the average American homeowner.

JoAnne Beck and Christine Doell
Preservation League NYS (Newsletter, 1987)

The collection at ESF is an outstanding resource for our faculty and students. Interest in the development and practice of Landscape Architecture during the early 20th century is very intense, and Mr. Steele was a most significant contributor during this period.

George W. Curry
Distinguished Teaching Professor
Department of Landscape Architecture

The photographs, slides, scrapbooks, and Photostats in ESF’s collection have proven crucial to my understanding of Fletcher Steele’s development. The chronological order of photographs of projects-in-process offers an especially enlightening perspective as they reveal his working methods in the development of specific properties.

Robin Karson, Author
Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect, An account of the Gardenmaker’s Life

Contents of the Collection

The Fletcher Steele Manuscript Collection was donated to the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 1974 by the Upstate NY Chapter of the ASLA. Now housed in the Franklin Moon Library, the original contribution included:

  • 749 Drawings, blue prints and photos
  • 12,000 negatives made by Steele from 1913-1970 (including pictures from his works in progress and his travels)
  • Client order books, which contain client name, suppliers and vendors (with addresses), plant lists, and itemized services.
  • 8 X 10" Photostat prints of sketches, renderings, and site plans for 85 of his clients.
  • Photographic 35mm film - 12,000 exposures
  • Lantern slides pertaining to Steele's lectures (1919 - 1950)
  • Scrapbooks
  • Postcards

The entire manuscript collection has been arranged by Steele's own job numbers. For the time, Steele was remarkably organized.

The original donation occupied some 25 linear feet of space in the Moon Library archives. Since that time, as more things have been found and donated by family members and other organizations, the collection has grown to 50+ feet, and it is expected that they will continue to grow.

To help preserve this information, documents in danger of falling apart and disintegrating are undergoing a preservation and archival process. These documents are then being transferred to slides.

This is all being done in an effort to preserve Steele's work for study and research. To date, many individuals have used the manuscript collection for academic and professional work, and Robin Karson used the manuscript collection extensively in the writing of her book Fletcher Steele - Landscape Architect.

The manuscript collection is available by appointment to any student, practitioner or researcher. If you would like to know more about the collection or would like to set up an appointment to use them, contact library staff at ask@esf.libanswers.com or call the library at (315) 470-6711.