Day of Learning/Symposium | The Olmsted Legacy

Kyle Andrew Phillips, "Walnut Hill Park," 2008, Oil on wood, 10 x 26 1/2 in., Gift of the artist, 2008.61
Kyle Andrew Phillips, "Walnut Hill Park," 2008, Oil on wood, 10 x 26 1/2 in., Gift of the artist, 2008.61


Day of Learning/Symposium | The Olmsted Legacy

Annotated Resource List About Frederick Law Olmsted and the Olmsted Legacy

April 26, 2022, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, the master designer of public parks and a founder of the field of landscape architecture.

Join historian and filmmaker Laurence Cotton (originator of and consulting producer to the PBS special “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America”) as he does a deep dive into the remarkable life and career of the Renaissance-man Olmsted—writer, philosopher, social reformer, advocate for the preservation of natural scenery, and creator of some of the most beautiful public and private parks and gardens in all of North America.

In his presentation, Laurence Cotton will talk about the influences of design traditions, aesthetics, and philosophies that influenced Olmsted’s thought—including English garden design, the Hudson River School, and Transcendentalism. Laurence will also give a visual tour of representative masterful landscapes designed by Olmsted, Senior, as well as his two sons and the Olmsted Bros. landscape architecture firm, as the footprint of their works literally stretch across the entire continent of North America, with something of a focus on southern New England and nearby New York State.

Frederick Law Olmsted now appears so entirely prescient. He emphasized the public health, mental health, and even spiritual health benefits of the park experience for everyone in a democracy. Arguably, he was one of our first urban planners for our great urban parks and parkways. He was also an early proponent of “forest bathing”—along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau—long before that term became so current in the 21st Century.

During the COVID pandemic and times of social distancing, parks—in particular public parks—have been a lifesaver for so many of us seeking fresh air, exercise, and physical and psychological health. Parks have allowed us to do so safely, as individuals, couples, and in groups.

  • 10-11 a.m. — Morning session: Olmsted's Life and Influences
  • 11 a.m. - noon — Docent-led tours of grounds and Walnut Hill Park
  • Noon - 1 p.m. — Break
  • 1-2 p.m. — Afternoon session: The Olmsted Legacy and Great American Park Design

Note: This event will be both virtual and onsite. The virtual format will include two Zoom links, one for the morning session and one for the afternoon session. 

Register for the Onsite Symposium here.

Register for the Virtual Symposium here. 

About Laurence F. Cotton:

Laurence Cotton, currently based in Portland, Oregon—a city that benefits from an Olmsted-master planned park system—originally hails from Boston, which is renowned for its Olmsted landscapes and the home base for generations of landscape design practitioners working for the Olmsted Bros. firm. A practicing public historian and writer/producer of historical films for PBS, Mr. Cotton was trained as a cultural anthropologist and brings that lens to bear on much of his work. He has worked with the tribal populations throughout the Columbia River watershed, and he has also worked on open space acquisition and the designs of parks and trails in Pacific Northwest. He also brings training as an interpretive naturalist, a birder, and a photographer. His visit to New Britain is one of many such stops on his 2022 tour of the U.S. to present programs about the Olmsted legacy during the Olmsted200 year. As he tells it, his deep dive into the Olmsted legacy began around 2005, in the early research phase for the PBS film “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America.” Since then, his explorations on the “Olmsted trail” have been nearly nonstop, visiting new sites and revisiting favorite Olmsted landscapes, meeting with scholars, landscape architects, and parks professionals, and continuing to dig into the scholarly literature.


Related Event: 

Film | Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America
Friday, April 22, 1 p.m. | Learn More