Marin Art and Garden Center Highlights Cool California Landscape Designers

Founded in 1945 by leaders in the Marin County conservation movement , the 11-acre Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross engages with the public in a variety of exhibitions, lectures, workshops and family programs that celebrate local nature and creativity.

This summer, the center is putting a spotlight on its own heritage and doing its part to keep things “cool” with the season-long exhibition, “Cool Outside: California’s Mid-Century Landscape.”

The exhibit–running now through August 22–features several artifacts that speak to the region’s approach to the design of outdoor space and garden furnishings as they developed across California in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Photographs and drawings, as well as models of now iconic mid-century gardens and landscapes drawn from the collections of the University of California Berkeley College of Environmental Design Archives, are on display and emphasized by film, garden furniture, pottery, and art from the same period.

This week, the center also speaks on the landscape design movement with a panel discussion, “Mid-Century Landscape Design: Roots and Legacies.” The in-person event gathers on Wednesday, July 28, for an engaging conversation led by Bay Area design editor Zahid Sardar.

Sarder will moderate a panel that includes designers Roderick Wyllie and James Lord of San Francisco-based firm Surfacedesign and landscape architect Andrea Cochran. These featured speakers will examine the impact of mid-century design on the California landscape and how it manifests itself in their own contemporary works.

All of these sought-after landscape designers have created large and small spaces that are inspired in part by mid-century masters like Garrett Eckbo (regarded as the father of modern landscape architecture), Robert Royston (designer of Mitchell Park in Palo Alto), Thomas Church (creator of The Donnell Garden) and Gardner Dailey; all of whom worked on the Marin Art and Garden Center’s 1945 reincarnation as a public space.

The center’s collection of offerings in its “Cool Outside” exhibit are curated by landscape architect, writer, and educator JC Miller. He is a partner at Vallier Design Associates, a Bay Area landscape architecture and planning practice.

In an article on the center’s website, Miller compares the mid-century landscape design movement to the period’s revolutions in music and art spurred by post-Word War II boom.

“There are reciprocal influences within creative circles, and through these the ‘Cool’ moves beyond the realm of musicians, writers, and painters to be picked up and explored by other mid-century creatives, including graphic designers, architects, and landscape architects,” Miller writes. “In this transition, the ‘Cool,’ with its fundamental embrace of experimentalism, becomes linked to other ideas prevalent in design thinking at the time, including architectural modernism, innovation in materials, and cross-disciplinary collaboration. The ‘Cool’ was an emerging concept ideally suited to the changing, experimental, and rapidly expanding built environment in postwar California.”

The Marin Art and Garden Center is open to the public free of charge from dawn to dusk, seven days a week. The “Mid-Century Landscape Design: Roots and Legacies” event takes place on Wednesday, July 28, at the center’s studio, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. 5pm. $25.

Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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