Millbrook, NY 12545
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In the late 1920s, Walter Beck and his wife, avid gardener and heiress Marion Burt Beck, began work on Innisfree, their country residence in Millbrook, New York. Walter Beck’s fascination with Asian art influenced his painting, the collecting he and his wife pursued, and their ideas on garden design. In the 1930s, Beck discovered the work of 8th-century Chinese poet, painter and garden maker Wang Wei. Studying scroll paintings of his famed garden, the Wangchuan Villa, Beck observed that Wang created carefully defined, inwardly focused gardens and garden vignettes within a larger, naturalistic landscape. Wang’s place-making technique = christened “cup gardens,” by Beck - influenced centuries of Chinese and Japanese garden design. It is also the principal design motif in the Innisfree landscape. Like his Chinese predecessor, Beck created three-dimensional pictures in the garden, incorporating both rocks from the site and horticultural advice from his wife. Unlike Wang Wei, or perhaps more familiar figures like Lawrence Johnston, who used his cup-like rooms at Hidcote in England to draw one through a sequence of events and create an overall sense of place, Beck focused more on individual compositions. Relating these to each other and to the landscape as a whole was the genius of Lester Collins.
Western gardens are usually designed to embrace a view of the whole. Little is hidden. The garden, like a stage set, is there in its entirety, its overall design revealed in a glance. The traditional Chinese garden is usually designed so that a view of the whole is impossible. [It] requires a stroll over serpentine, seemingly aimless arteries. The observer walks into a series of episodes, like Alice through the looking glass.
Lester Collins, Innisfree: An American Garden (1994)
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