This week's guest blogger, Patrick McGettigan, is a man with a lively and curious mind. A graduate of the University of Virginia who originally hails from New Hampshire, Patrick and I first met in 2010 through his job at CITYterm in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Now working in NYC, he writes this week about his abiding love for Central Park, a place he knows well. I learned a lot. I think you will, too.
As a former resident of the Hudson River Valley, I’ve spent long afternoons taking in the all-encompassing beauty of the region. There were certain spots where I could turn 360 degrees and see nothing but rolling hills and babbling streams, and I felt that I had been transported into a Thomas Cole painting. So when I moved to New York City this April, I assumed that I would have to trade in my Hudson River School views for the vibrancy and creativity of urban life. Little did I know that I’d be able to access all that the City has to offer without giving up gorgeous views reminiscent of upstate New York, all without leaving Central Park.
The casual visitor to Central Park might not realize the connection between the Park and the Hudson River School. Yet, the artistic desire to idealize nature and promote the benefits of life in America’s great outdoors was one of the driving forces behind Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s design of Central Park. To them, Central Park was not simply a place to relax in the midst of the City. It was a living piece of artwork that gave residents the chance to peel back the frame from the canvas and step into a magical world that had previously existed only in paintings. And thanks to the exemplary work that the Central Park Conservancy has completed over the years, New Yorkers today have the same chance to step inside and experience the classic rustic landscapes for themselves.
water, earth and foliage to create a natural tapestry that provides an out of body (or at least out of borough) experience for the viewer.
The sequence within this installation that I most enjoy is the walk through the Ravine, from the Harlem Meer to the Pool. (Located within the North Woods, Mid Park, 106th-110th Streets) At the Meer, you’ll find waterfowl strutting among the reeds and see children catch-and-release fishing along the shores. Walking inwards toward the heart of the Park’s North End, you’ll notice the honking traffic of Harlem fade away as the trees grow thicker and the path winds to and fro. If you can ignore the Lasker Rink, an interruption of the sequence built at the end of the Robert Moses era, you are swept up in a series of cascading waterfalls, rustic stone arches and a variety of native plantings.
The first Arch to greet you is Huddlestone, an appropriate name for a bridge that used no mortar in its construction. The large stones huddle together, carefully balanced upon one another, held in place only by the pressure and compression of the neighboring rocks. Like the Park itself, the Arch exists in a delicate balance, always stronger en masse than the sum of its parts.
Through the Arch, it is impossible not to gasp upon seeing the gorgeous waterfall coming from the Loch. Boulders artistically disguise a concrete wall, and New York City drinking water flows softly over the edge. It is an Adirondack view that I could stare at for hours, and a perfect example of the art that Olmsted and Vaux created in this place.
Next up, you’ll find the Loch, the Glen Span Arch and the Pool, a beautiful and intimate body of water. This portion of the Park’s sequence is a gorgeous example of Olmsted and Vaux’s visionary design, with the added benefit of being “off the beaten path” of the Park’s main attractions. While nowhere in Central Park is rarely visited anymore (the Park now welcomes 40 million annual visitors!), fewer patrons and tourists extend their Park experience to include the North Woods.
Across the Park, the landscapes and views that the artists deliberately placed in their living painting are not only highly planned, but highly dialogic. The elements are in dialogue; they are speaking to one another and to the visitor. Great art talks to you, asks you questions, and invites you to talk back.
So when you visit New York this summer, take a step off the beaten path of the art tour and get into Central Park. Explore the North Woods, or the Ramble. Imagine how each tree was placed deliberately and wonder what it might be saying to the elements surrounding it. Even if you think you know Central Park, there is always something new to discover in New York City’s greatest work of art, Central Park.
To plan your visit to Central Park, or to learn more about the history, art and design of the Park, please visit www.centralparknyc.org.
Want to know more:
Miller, Sara Cedar. Central Park: An American Masterpiece. New York: Harry N. Abrams in Association with the Central Park Conservancy, 2003. Print.
Miller, Sara Cedar. Seeing Central Park: The Official Guide to the World's Greatest Urban Park. New York: Abrams in Association with the Central Park Conservancy, 2009. Print.
Photos courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy