Columbia University Libraries/Information Services’ Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery and Woodlawn Cemetery have announced plans to present Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture, Art and Landscape at Woodlawn. The exhibition, timed to coincide with Woodlawn’s 150th anniversary celebration, is an outgrowth of the cemetery’s 2006 gift of its archive—the most complete set of 19th- and 20th-century cemetery records held in the public trust—to Avery Library. The exhibition, opening on September 3 and running through November 1, 2014 at the Wallach Gallery, marks the first time selections from this archive will be displayed.
The exhibition will highlight the renowned architects, artists, artisans and landscape designers whose work has come to define Woodlawn Cemetery, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011 for the significance of its art and architecture. Through the display of preparatory and design drawings and sketches, maps, building elevations, early photographs, maintenance records and letters, the exhibition will examine Woodlawn’s creation in 1863, its response and adaptation to changing ideas about memorial monuments and commemorative landscapes since then and its role in defining the art, architecture and landscape of American cemeteries.
Key objects that will be on view include a door from the Straus Mausoleum—the final resting place of Isidor and Ida Straus, who perished during the sinking of the Titanic—created by metalworker Samuel Yellin, a maquette of the Vernon Castle Memorial by sculptor Sally Farnham and a stained glass window by Tiffany Studios, from the Harbeck Mausoleum.
Also featured will be images of the cemetery today, taken by photographer Gavin Ashworth, to create a vicarious sense of the size and scale of Woodlawn’s monuments. Other photographs will be interspersed throughout the gallery to reveal the interplay between art and architecture on the 400-acre grounds.
Avery’s Woodlawn archive comprises about 800 linear feet of records and includes documentation on mausoleums and memorials designed by John Russell Pope, McKim, Mead & White, Tiffany Studios and others. It also contains documents related to memorials for many prominent figures in music, theatre, literature, business and politics, such as Duke Ellington, W.C. Handy, George M. Cohan, Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, Fiorello LaGuardia, William Whitney, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, F. W. Woolworth, Alva Belmont and Augustus Juilliard. The comprehensive collection was donated to Avery Library to enable researchers and students to access information about burial plots, owners, maintenance schedules, maps and ledger books.
Woodlawn exemplifies the landscape-lawn style of cemetery that became popular after the Civil War. The park-like setting encouraged the creation of freestanding monuments and mausoleums, which wealthy New Yorkers commissioned the leading architects to design and the era’s best-known artists and craftsmen to embellish. In the process, fine art sculpture, metalwork and stained glass became central to Woodlawn’s landscape and influenced memorials at other American cemeteries. Featured in Sylvan Cemetery will be the work of landscape designers Beatrix Farrand, the Olmstead Brothers and Ellen Biddle Shipman; architects McKim, Mead, & White, Carrère & Hastings and John Russell Pope; as well as craftsmen and artists Rafael Guastavino and son Rafael, Jr., Louis Comfort Tiffany, John LaFarge, Samuel Yellin and Alexander Archipenko.
“Avery Library’s Woodlawn Cemetery Archive is an unparalleled resource for students and researchers, as well as architects, planners, historians and preservationists,” said Carole Ann Fabian, director of Avery Library. “These records now reveal a hidden-in-plain-sight part of New York’s history, due in part to Avery’s work on the preservation and access to this collection since our 2006 acquisition. We are happy to cultivate an even broader interest in the collection through this exhibition.”
Deborah Cullen, director and chief curator of the Wallach Gallery added, “This exhibition on Woodlawn’s history allows us to demonstrate what we do best—highlighting the rich holdings of Columbia’s libraries while also presenting new scholarship that introduces students and visitors to a broad range of art and architecture. We are especially proud to focus on these public works, just to our north, in celebration of Woodlawn’s anniversary.”
“The creation of Woodlawn is a classic New York story of money, real estate, art and familial relationships,” said exhibition co-curator and Woodlawn Cemetery’s historian Susan Olsen. “It is also a national story, which started in the industrial age and goes through today, as prominent Americans continue to choose Woodlawn as their final resting place. This story is written into our landscape and is on view for anyone who visits our monuments and gravesites. We are excited to collaborate with the Wallach Gallery and Avery Library to draw attention to our fascinating history and to introduce ourselves to the greater cultural community as an untapped resource for the study of American architecture and decorative arts.”
Sylvan Cemetery is co-curated by Janet Parks, Charles D. Warren and Susan Olsen. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, co-published by Avery Library and the Woodlawn Cemetery, which includes an introduction by Susan Olsen and essays by Andrew S. Dolkart, director of Historic Preservation, Columbia; Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, curator of American Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art; the late Cynthia Mills, Smithsonian Historian Emeritus, and Charles D. Warren, architect and architectural historian. The catalogue also features previously unpublished images of memorials and mausoleums.
The Woodlawn Cemetery has developed a smartphone app for use at the exhibition and the cemetery. At the Wallach, the app will provide further information about objects on display; at the cemetery, visitors can use the app to take a self-guided tour of the grounds. The app is available for download in the Google Play and Apple stores.
About the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library is one of the most comprehensive collections relating to architecture and the fine arts in the world. Avery collects a full range of primary and secondary sources for the advanced study of architecture, historic preservation, art history, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archaeology. The Library contains more than 600,000 volumes, including 40,000 rare books, and approximately 2,300 serials. Avery’s Drawings and Archives collection includes more than two million architectural drawings and records. For more information, please visit the Avery Library website.
Columbia University Libraries is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 13 million volumes, over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff and hosts over 4.7 million visitors each year. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.