Philadelphia Gardens in Fall: Bartram’s Garden and Shofuso House

Oct 23, 2020

Just in time to see the dahlias in full bloom and the leaves turn orange and yellow during a beautiful day outdoors, the Decorative Arts Trust hosted a Philadelphia Gardens in Fall program on October 17, 2020.

Our day began at Bartram’s Garden, one of the country’s oldest and most influential early gardens. Guests were greeted by curator Joel Fry, who shared a remarkable depth of knowledge around the life of John Bartram (1699–1777) and an incredible amount of botanical information.

Bartram’s Garden is a 45-acre National Historic Landmark that has been the home of John Bartram’s botanical collection since 1728. Bartram was a third-generation Pennsylvania Quaker who used his curiosity and reverence for nature, as well as a passion for scientific inquiry, to build the most varied collection of North American plants in the world. As a botanist, Bartram amassed a considerable amount of money discovering, cultivating, and exporting plants to clients all over Europe. A true renaissance man, it is also likely that Barthram trained as a mason and constructed his impressive home, completed in 1770.

Participants enjoyed sunshine and lunch from farm-to-table restaurant Helm in the courtyard. Conversations and further garden exploration wrapped up, and the group headed to an entirely different, yet no-less-iconic Philadelphia green space, Shofuso House and Garden in Fairmount Park.

Upon arrival at Shofuso we were greeted by curators William Whitaker and Yuka Yokoyama. Yuka shared the history of Shofuso House with the group while standing beneath the shade of a weeping cherry tree. This 17th-century-style Japanese house was built in Japan in the mid-20th century as a gift to American citizens, symbolizing post-war peace and friendship between the two countries. The Museum of Modern Art exhibited the house in 1953 before it was gifted to Philadelphia in 1958. The Garden was initially designed by Tansai Sano and was updated in the 1970s by Ken Nakajima. 

The group was also led through a tour of the exhibition, Shofuso and Modernism: Mid-Century Collaboration between Japan and Philadelphia from curator William Whitaker, Curator and Collections Manager of the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School. William shared the unique opportunity of using the house as an exhibition space and how he selected objects, like Nakashima chairs, that embody the relationship between Japanese and Modernist design principles.

It was a memorable day that left us looking forward to when we could come together again.

We look forward to inviting participants to a full schedule of virtual and in-person programs in the coming months. Check our calendar of events, sign up for our e-newsletter, and follow us on social media for updates.

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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