Few Yalies walk through the courtyards of Branford College at Yale and think of Beatrix Farrand. But documentarian Karyl Evans hopes to change that.
Her new documentary, “The Life and Gardens of Beatrix Farrand,” which played at the New Haven Museum on Tuesday night, explores the work of the famed landscape architect who consulted on 75 percent of the University’s green areas.
The screening, attended by over 130 people, was the first screening of the film in New Haven, where Farrand lived for several years. It was timed in honor of Women’s History Month in order to honor Farrand’s work in a profession dominated by men. The documentary examines her landscaping achievements across the United States while also revealing details about her personal life as a member of an elite East Coast family. Evans, who produced, directed and wrote the script, described the filmmaking process to the audience before the screening and led a brief conversation after it ended.
“When I would get to go to a garden of Beatrix Farrand’s, I would get to talk to a head gardener, a curator, someone who had been there during the restoration process, and really find out everything that Beatrix Farrand did and what was still there,” Evans said. “I was so excited to go inside with the people who really knew her contributions and confirm what I had heard.”
Evans, whose parents had careers in horticulture and architecture, said she was passionate about gardening from an early age but later became passionate about film and produced documentaries such as “The Amistad Revolt” and “The History of African-Americans in Connecticut.” In 2005, she decided to make a documentary about Farrand after meeting landscape designer Diana Balmori, who authored a book about Farrand’s work, at the Garden Club of New Haven.
Balmori played an important role in the making of the documentary several years later. In the film, she describes Farrand as “a pioneer in the relationship between landscape, architecture and engineering,” as well as a pioneer for the recognition of landscape architecture as a field of study.
In addition to Farrand’s contributions to landscape architecture, Evans also emphasized her importance as the only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. She designed gardens for families including the Rockefellers, Kennedys and McCormicks and was the first woman hired by a university to do landscaping. She consulted institutions like Princeton University, Yale, Oberlin College and the California Institute of Technology.
Evans also hopes to give more voice to women who commissioned gardens featured in the documentary, since their husbands were often the only names mentioned on the documents.
“All these drawings say ‘Mr. Woodrow Wilson’ or ‘Mr. J.P. Morgan’ and in the gardening world women actually had a lot to do with the gardening, and she would have had a lot to do with the landscaping, and so I just wanted to give voice to women,” she said. “Every place I could, instead of just putting ‘Mr. Woodrow Wilson,’ I would say, ‘Who was this person? What was her name?’”
Audience reactions to the documentary were largely positive, and several viewers said they knew little about Farrand’s work before coming to the screening. Gordon Daniels, who attended the event, said that he had seen some of her gardens in Connecticut but enjoyed learning more about her work. Barbara Hagan said that she related to the way that Farrand designed her landscapes and appreciated being able to connect with what she believes is becoming a “lost art.”
Evans, who is currently a fellow at Yale, said she hopes the screening of the documentary will affect the way the University views Farrand’s legacy. Evans believes there is not enough recognition of the impact that she had on the campus landscape, where many of her designs remain.
“We could bring something back at Marsh [Botanical Gardens] that acknowledges the work that she did,” Evans said. “It would be nice somehow for this woman who was an architect to be commemorated in some way.”
The Beatrix Farrand archives are housed in the University of California, Berkeley.
Carolyn Sacco | email@example.com