Frederick Law Olmsted is pretty much revered in New York City and particularly amongst ‘park’ people. Olmsted (1822-1903) had a vision for his parks and this was put into play notably at Central Park and Prospect Park, two, among others, he designed with Calvert Vaux. But other than that, I don’t know that much about him. Luckily, there is a great opportunity for people like me to explore his work and inspirations right now in Brooklyn.
The Open Source Gallery in South Park Slope has turned its space into a public park with an interactive exhibition — everything is free — featuring performances, picnics, music, a bike workshop and more. It’s courtesy of curator Elizabeth Spavento who took the title of the multi-faceted exhibition — “We Know Not Exactly Where or How” — from a quote of Olmsted’s.
From the Courier-Life (Brooklyn):
The poetic title comes from Olmsted himself, who, after visiting England’s Isle of Wight in 1850, remarked, “Gradually and silently the charm comes over us; we know not exactly where or how.”
Curator Elizabeth Spavento was inspired to create a space that explores that charm, and other ineffable qualities of parks, in an exhibition that relies on community participation.
“I think Olmsted saw parks as being a really integral part of the self — not just individual but civic identity,” said Spavento. “I’m really trying to make the community the center of the experience.”
And tonight, Tuesday, August 27th, there are two final showings of the play Olmsted in Autumn (which debuted August 24th) at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Brooklyn resident Randi Lass saw the play’s debut Saturday night and wrote this:
I encourage everyone to see this new play, support a local playwright and visit the Open Source Gallery (which I had no clue was even there). I went last night and really thought that it was interesting and brilliant. For anyone who appreciates Olmstead (partner to Vaux), the American journalist, social critic, public administrator, and landscape designer (of spaces such as our own Prospect Park), it is a must see. For anyone that has been touched by mental illness or suicide, it is a must see. And it’s free.
Well-acted with talented cast of three. I met the lovely playwright (and her husband and dog, too). The space/set was really awesome… simple, decorated like the park with true grass which you could sit on to watch the short one-act play. (I advise to wear comfortable clothing if you’d like to sit.) It was “open air” theatre as the doors were kept open which maintains a sense of open space (I’m not sure if that was their reason or lack of air-conditioning, appreciation of a beautiful evening or spatial considerations). Any which way, it worked.They did have a kind of informal bar set up outside the gallery with $2 contribution red, white or beer. Can’t beat that.
[Olmsted in Autumn] was commissioned by Open Source Gallery as part of “We Know Not Where or How,” Elizabeth Spavento’s installation of a Frederick Law Olmsted-inspired park in the gallery. The director is Tamara Fisch, with costume design by Sidney Shannon.
Olmsted in Autumn looks at Olmsted near the end of his life. Because of his advancing senility, he has ceased working and his family has committed him to the McLean Hospital.
He is visited by three ghosts with whom he has unfinished business: first, his stepdaughter/
niece Charlotte, who’s incarcerated in a different Massachusetts mental hospital; next, his longtime partner Calvert Vaux, who drowned himself in Gravesend Bay two years earlier; and finally, his mother Charlotte, who died from an overdose of laudanum when Olmsted was a child.
I love that Olmsted quote that inspired the exhibition’s title: “Gradually and silently the charm comes over us; we know not exactly where or how.” I have certainly had that experience in places and sometimes even at Washington Square Park. Have you?
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“We Know Not Exactly Where or How” now at Open Source Gallery, 306 17th St. near Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn through October 5th, free. You can catch Olmsted in Autumn tonight, August 27th, at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Many additional events (picnics in partnership with the local CSA, music, films, other performances and more) are part of the exhibition. The full schedule of events through October 5th can be found at the gallery’s site.
City’s Parks Department: Olmsted-Designed New York City Parks
Photos: Randi Lass