Calvert Vaux, who married the daughter of early Kingston artist Jervis McEntee and is buried in the city’s Montrepose Cemetery, may be as important a catalyst for the way we look at landscape in America as any of the Hudson River School artists with whom he spent his life associating. He also quietly insinuated the idea that it was our government’s responsibility to support our culture, in addition to being the man who hired the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to help bring his vision of a synthesized living landscape to life.
Vaux, a rising English watercolorist, was spotted in a London art show by the influential landscape writer and architect Andrew Jackson Downing, who then brought him to America and his hometown of Newburgh to start bringing Downing’s own ideal of perfect cottage homes for all Americans to life. Eventually Vaux, working with Downing, Olmsted and other partners, was responsible for the grounds of the White House, Smithsonian Institution, the creation of New York’s Central and Prospect Parks and the base buildings of the city’s grand Metropolitan Museum of Art and American Museum of Natural History, and some of our first planned suburbs.
While Vaux’s architectural style – involving rounded patterns in brick, the basic designs for what would become known as Victorian Gothic, and those classic bridges and underpasses that lend Central Park its continuing elegance – would eventually be dismissed or actually dismantled, his influence has continued in the various ways in which he incorporated a painter’s ideal landscape into the views of Nature that we frame (for lifetimes) in urban settings. Think of wildness lent heroic effect through composition and texturing.
No wonder the Calvert Vaux Preservation Alliance (CVPA), which holds its Autumn Fundraiser the afternoon of Sunday, November 6 at the historic Rokeby estate in Barrytown, has become such a key regional organization, geared toward saving, and bringing back to life such local Vaux treasures as the Hoyt House near Norrie Point Park and the Mills Mansion in Staatsburgh, or the old Hudson Valley Psychiatric Hospital in Poughkeepsie.
The Hoyt House preservation effort was recently granted $320,000 in funds from the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program that now need matching. The CVPA fundraiser, for which reservations are necessary, is being hosted from 2 until 5 p.m. at the historic Armstrong/Astor/Aldrich country seat in Barrytown, just outside of Rhinebeck, by the Aldrich family itself. Music will be provided by the neoLIT contemporary chamber ensemble, and noted architectural historian Francis Kowsky will speak on his new book, Frederick Law Olmsted, Calvert Vaux and the Buffalo Park and Parkway System: all about the city landscape that many are now calling the highlight of both men’s careers. Send RSVPs and payment to firstname.lastname@example.org.