Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Our Public History of Lord and Schryver Remains One-Dimensional

Salem Reporter had a nice notice about an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award and retrieving the history of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, "Salem woman honored for her role preserving legacy of trailblazing women landscape architects."

Society announcement a few months after
they first moved in together
April 7th, 1929

Lord and Schryver are always understood as "the first women-owned landscape architecture firm in the Pacific Northwest." But never anything else. The primary lens is always a kind of elite, white feminism, their entry to a professional class and attainment, and the aesthetics of their garden productions.

That's a big deal! 

But other dimensions are left untouched, and there is much more to say about them in Salem history. A book has been rumored for some time, but it seems to have been delayed or disappeared. It was to have been published by now, as I recall. Maybe it is still in progress and will discuss some of these things.

Queer History and the Closet

At top is a large clip from the society page not long after Lord returned with Schryver and moved back into the family home, which she must have inherited after her mother died in 1924.  (That house is not still around and Gaiety Hollow dates from 1932. More on Juliette Montague Lord in obituaries here and here.)

The paper nearly frames the move as entirely two separate instances. There's even a physical gap between them in the page layout.

January 20th, January 31st, April 28th all in 1929

And yet they are constantly in the society pages appearing together, sometimes as what sure looks like a unit!

These notices show a frequent tension between intimacy and distance, almost like many are party to a charade, and those who know can easily read between the lines. A year after they moved in, Elizabeth held a big birthday party that was an event, and it also got a large notice in the society pages.

March 23rd, 1930

But so far, our historical treatments look determinedly past any affective and inner life, and past any romantic dimension. One or more have taken pains to obscure all this. As a reader pointed out, in the papers archived at University of Oregon,

There is little in the way of biographical material; items of a personal nature were removed at the request of the donor.

There is a story there. We would like to know more about how they understood themselves and how contemporary Salemites understood them individually, as a household, and as a social unit out in public. They have been dead for over a generation, and since they were significant figures in the worlds of politics, culture, and art here in Salem, it is reasonable to ask about it even if they or their immediate relatives wanted to cover the traces.

Power and Wealth in Salem

In those society notices from 1929 other names are of interest. One of the luncheons involved a Withycombe, another a Livesley. These are the families of Governors, Mayors, and big business. Sally Bush was also a close friend and key patron. Lord herself was the daughter of a Governor. They are Salem elite.

Another dimension that is not sufficiently highlighted is the way Lord and Schryver benefited from Elizabeth Lord's existing network of friends among the most wealthy and powerful in Salem.

The plan for the Jarman House, circa 1929

Discussions and modern presentation sometimes try to finesse Lord and Schryver as more populist than they really are - the Conservancy's slogan is "let the garden embrace you" - but their first major commission was for a colonial Spanish villa, and the formal garden has some roots in the geometry of early modern fortifications. The formal garden is more than a little stand-offish. The Depression probably demanded that they work in more popular modes, but the heart of the practice we celebrate today was for our wealthy elite and sought to invoke distinction.

Nativism, Eugenics, and Native Plants

In the partnership Elizabeth Lord is noted for her interest in native plants. The native plant movement, especially in the context here of the 1920s and 30s, looks increasingly interesting, and there may be more to say about a coincidence with cultural currents of nativism and eugenics. It would be strange for them to have been wholly immune and isolated from these popular ideas, and there is a debate, it seems, in the history of landscape architecture about their currency. A very interesting paper turned up, and things are worth a closer look here.

"Native plants" and "nativism"
Landscape Journal, Spring 1999

Lord does not need to be any full-on white supremacist for nativism to be part of the context for an interest in native plants. But there may be more than superficial resemblances, and in fact some deeper connections to make.

Here in a note from 1920 the idea of native plants are contrasted with "exotics" and disorderly "jumble."

June 25th, 1920

Garden Club and early Exclusionary Zoning

The interest in proper selection and order - proper distinction - worked at multiple scales, in plant, garden, and city. The Garden Clubs and Floral Societies, in which Lord and her mother were key figures, have a role in the beautification efforts that led directly to our first zoning scheme.

May 10th, 1927

April 14th, 1929

Much of the "ugliness" or "dirt" or "jumble" to be cleaned up, resisted, or separated was associated with immigrant entrepreneurship: Laundrys and junk stores run by Italians, Jews, Chinese, or Japanese. There is more to say about connections in planning between aesthetics, social distinctions, power and wealth.

Too much on Artistry and White Feminism, not enough other Social History

We don't have to find personal statements of values we would today consider repugnant to find Lord and Schryver participating generally in the cultural norms and systems of elite white culture and power.

You might say this is obvious and not worth comment, "of course they had some of these attitudes," but at the moment our histories of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver are a little one-sided and don't sufficiently attend to the full complexity and ambiguity of their achievements. Again, hopefully any forthcoming book will address some of this.

In the meantime, as the newspaper presented an early column by Elizabeth, "April is month most interesting for lovers of gardens" and that's an apt thought for our spring.

April 21st, 1929

No comments: