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The Landscape of the 19th Century Schoolhouse Became A Lesson in Gardening

What I especially like about the nineteenth century Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick’s catalogs has to be the amount of black and white engravings and colored chromolithographs he included.

Vick’s drawing of a schoolhouse before and after landscaping came to mind when I recently read a section of Judith Major’s book about Andrew Jackson Downing called To Live in the New World.

Downing defended the need to improve the outside look of the schoolhouse so that children would have an appreciation of both nature and rural art. Thus they might grow up with a sense of taste in landscape gardening.

Major writes “Architectural requirements for schoolhouses were equally important, and writers competed in sketching out the most idyllic setting. Downing, of course, joined in and described his ideal of ‘that primary nursery of the intellect and sensations’; every good and ennobling influence would be concentrated around those ‘little nests of verdure and beauty’. These ’embryo arcadias’ would act as ‘play-grounds for the memory’ long after everything else in childhood was forgotten and would beget an adult taste for lovely gardens.”

She includes an image of a schoolhouse from Vick’s seed catalog of 1882. Here is the image before any landscaping. [below]

Box of a School. Vick's Floral Guode 1882
Box of a School – Vick’s Floral Guide 1882

The schoolhouse after adding lawn, shrubs, vines, and flowers would provide a child with lessons of rural art that hopefully the child would carry throughout life. Here is Vick’s after illustration of that same schoolhouse. Notice the circle of carpet bedding outside the front door. [below]

Landscaped Schoolhosue Vick's Floral Guide 1882
Landscaped Schoolhouse – Vick’s Floral Guide 1882

Major uses this identical image [above] from Vick in her discussion of Downing’s call to improve the outside look of the school.

She too sees the visual power of Vick’s illustrations, in this case for an improved schoolhouse, or as Downing called it, a “little nest of verdure and beauty.”

The landscape of the nineteenth century schoolhouse became important for learning about rural art.


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