Land­scape Maven: Ruth Shell­horn

Atomic Ranch - - Atomic Kitchens - By Tori Young­bauer Photos pro­vided by The Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia Press

Au­thor Kelly Com­ras takes read­ers be­hind the scenes of this in­flu­en­tial move­ment of land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture in her book Ruth Shell­horn, and shows us a woman who, in her 60 years of work­ing as a land­scape ar­chi­tect, helped shape some of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s mid­cen­tury land­marks.

A glimpse into the life of one of Cal­i­for­nia’s most in­flu­en­tial land­scape ar­chi­tects.

The aes­thetic of 20th-cen­tury South­ern Cal­i­for­nia is not only iconic,

but it also set a prece­dent for mod­ernist land­scape de­sign around the coun­try.

Be­tween 1933 and 1990, Ruth Shell­horn cre­ated close to 400 land­scape de­signs, in­clud­ing award-winning land­scape de­signs for Bul­lock’s depart­ment stores and Fash­ion Square shop­ping cen­ters, col­lab­o­ra­tion on the orig­i­nal plan for Dis­ney­land, a mul­ti­year land­scape master plan for the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at River­side, a ma­jor Los Angeles County coastal plan­ning project, city and re­gional park de­signs, and more than two hun­dred res­i­den­tial es­tates and gar­dens. In not­ing her in­flu­ence within the field, her work truly speaks for it­self.

The book delves into Ruth’s be­gin­nings within the in­dus­try and moves through years where she honed her de­sign aes­thetic. She had many re­al­iza­tions that helped fo­cus her de­signs, such as the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of in­clud­ing fea­tures that en­hanced out­door liv­ing, spa­cious­ness within out­door re­tail spa­ces, ac­ces­si­bil­ity for pedes­tri­ans and au­to­mo­biles, and “a lit­tle more hu­mil­ity and a rev­er­ence for nat­u­ral beauty.”

Though she did not fully dis­miss mod­ernist ideals, Ruth firmly be­lieved that the pri­mary pur­pose of land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture was to in­still a sense of well-be­ing.“Her work was, in part, a re­sponse to both the rapid ur­ban­iza­tion of the era and the ego­ism char­ac­ter­iz­ing much of mod­ern de­sign,” Kelly writes. Ruth pushed against de­signs that were “too full of ideas,” and in­stead fo­cused on balanc­ing mod­ern con­ve­niences with nat­u­ral beauty, with both client and na­ture in mind.

Kelly shares projects that Ruth led in her ca­reer, but also com­ments on her di­rect in­flu­ence on each task she un­der­took. We learn through her ex­ten­sive body of work that Ruth had dis­tinct vi­sions for what she in­tended to build. She con­ducted much of her own sur­vey­ing, de­signed and drafted her own plans, and su­per­vised all con­struc­tion de­tails in a pre­dom­i­nately male work en­vi­ron­ment.

“I have never thought of my­self as a woman in com­pe­ti­tion with men,” Ruth once stated, “but rather as a land­scape ar­chi­tect try­ing to do the best job I can.”

Ruth Shell­horn is re­garded as one of the lead­ers in de­vel­op­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s re­gional land­scape de­sign aes­thetic. “Although she went on to ex­per­i­ment with many el­e­ments of mod­ernist land­scape de­sign, she never iden­ti­fied with any par­tic­u­lar stylis­tic camp, a re­flec­tion, per­haps, on her in­ner author­ity,” writes Kelly. The au­thor en­cour­ages read­ers to re­mem­ber Ruth for her achieve­ments in de­sign, as well as her per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ded­i­ca­tion to en­hanc­ing and pro­tect­ing the land­scape.

PEN­CIL SKETCH OF THE FINE ARTS BUILDING AT THE SOUTH PASADENA HIGH SCHOOL, 1936. THE PLANT­ING SCHEME RUTH SET­TLED ON WAS THE BE­GIN­NING OF HER EX­PER­I­MEN­TA­TION WITH EV­ER­GREENS AND SUG­GESTS THE RE­GIONAL AES­THETIC SHE WOULD DE­VELOP LATER IN HER CA­REER.

SOUTH EN­TRANCE OF FASH­ION SQUARE SANTA ANA, 1969. FASH­ION SQUARE SANTA ANA WAS THE EAR­LI­EST IN­TE­GRATED,

SPE­CIALTY-SHOP­PING COM­PLEX IN THE COUN­TRY TO EM­PLOY A PEDES­TRIAN MALL AS A UNI­FY­ING FEA­TURE.

“In the cou rse of a c areer last­ing nearly 60 years, Ruth Shell­horn helped shape SOUTH­ERN CAL­I­FOR­NIA’S ICONIC 20TH-CEN­TURY DE­SIGN AES­THETIC.”

RUTH SU­PER­VISES THE IN­STAL­LA­TION OF AN OAK TREE IN THE GROUT GAR­DEN, 1939. SHE WAS KNOWN FOR HER “HAND­SON” AP­PROACH TO LAND­SCAPE DE­SIGN, AND SU­PER­VISED AND SUR­VEYED MOST JOBS ON HER OWN.

BY KELLY COM­RAS, PUB­LISHED BY THE UNIVER­SITY OF GE­OR­GIA PRESS, © 2016; WWW.UGAPRESS.ORG.

RUTH SHELL­HORN

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