Open through March 31, 2020.
Many of Georgia’s significant designed landscapes grew from a strong interest in gardening and garden design that was abloom in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Seeking Eden: A Collection of Georgia’s Historic Gardens explores the evolution of 12 of these influential properties.
Through photographs, postcards, landscape plans, and manuscripts, Seeking Eden highlights the importance of historic gardens in Georgia’s past as well as their value and meaning within the state’s 21st-century communities.
On view in McElreath Hall's archives gallery through September 1, 2019, the exhibition is presented in combination with publication of a University of Georgia Press book, also titled Seeking Eden: A Collection of Georgia’s Historic Gardens. The book was co-authored by Cherokee Garden Library Director Staci L. Catron and historic preservationist Mary Ann Eaddy.
The content of the exhibition and book are inspired by Garden History of Georgia, 1733-1933, published by Peachtree Garden Club in 1933. Seeking Eden grew out of a more-than-decade-and-a-half collaboration launched in 2002 to conduct a statewide inventory of Georgia’s historic gardens. The initiative was formed between the Garden Club of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources-Historic Preservation Division, the Cherokee Garden Library (a Special Library of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center), and the National Park Service-Southeast Regional Office.
Named the Georgia Historic Landscape Initiative, the project's focus was to determine what had happened to the designed landscapes identified in the 1933 book. The inventory sought to identify those gardens that had been lost and document changes that had occurred to those still in existence. The current book and exhibition highlight the importance of these landscapes in Georgia’s history.
The co-authors of Seeking Eden met when Catron studied in an historic preservation class at Georgia State University taught by Eaddy in 2000. They began working together at the launch of the Georgia Historic Landscape Initiative. As work on the project’s first phase neared completion, they discussed sharing its results more widely with the public. Out of their conversation, Seeking Eden was born. A third collaborator is photographer Jim Lockhart, who retired from the Georgia preservation office (where Eaddy also worked) after three decades of photographing historic properties across the state. In short order, the trio embarked on what they describe as an “epic journey.”
The 488-page book contains updates on and expanded stories of nearly 30 designed landscapes identified in Garden History of Georgia. Significantly, the new book provides a record of each garden’s evolution and history. It also includes each garden’s current appearance through more than 365 color photographs by Lockhart. These publicly and privately owned gardens include 19th-century parterres, Colonial Revival gardens, Country Place Era landscapes, rock gardens, historic town squares, college campuses, and an urban conservation garden.
Seeking Eden explores the significant impact of the women who envisioned and nurtured many of these special places; the role of professional designers, including J. Neel Reid, Philip Trammell Shutze, William C. Pauley, Robert B. Cridland, Olmsted Brothers, Hubert Bond Owens, and Clermont Lee; and the influence of the Garden Club Movement in Georgia in the early 20th century.
Gardens whose stories are explored in the exhibition include Swan House, the iconic house and gardens that have graced Atlanta since 1928; Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange, home to the historic Ferrell Gardens, one of the best-preserved 19th-century designed landscapes in the U.S.; and Dunaway Gardens, a rock and floral garden developed in the 1920s near Newnan by actress Hetty Jane Dunaway Sewell.