25th Anniversary of the Archives of American Gardens

December 7, 2012 at 10:30 am 1 comment

Thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund and just in time for its 25th anniversary, the Archives of American Gardens (AAG) recently completed a project to digitize nearly 3,500 historic glass lantern slides dating from the 1920s and 1930s in the Garden Club of America Collection.  These images are some of the most popular ones in the archives and document a wide range of gardens throughout the U.S., many of which no longer exist. 

Pullman Garden

Pullman Garden in Lake Forest, Illinois, c. 1930s. Because they were hand-tinted, glass lantern slides like this one were not always historically accurate. Note the autumn foliage together with colorful spring blooms! This is just one of nearly 3,500 lantern slides recently digitized thanks to a Smithsonian preservation grant.

 Glass lantern slides were projected on a screen with a ‘magic lantern’ to illustrate lectures.  (You might think of them together as the precursor to the now-rare slide carousel.)  No two slides were alike as each was hand-tinted, sometimes with colors that weren’t historically (or botanically) accurate.  Given the garden owner’s wishes or the colorist’s artistic license, a batch of flowers may have been transformed from their actual yellow tint to a livelier red with the stroke of a paintbrush.  In spite of their fragile nature (and any capricious colors), the glass slides are sometimes the only evidence left of a once opulent and fastidiously maintained garden.  Without these handsome artifacts, important components of America’s garden heritage would go missing.           

High resolution scans of all of AAG’s glass lantern slides—as well as thousands of other historic and contemporary garden images–are readily available on the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center at www.siris.si.edu .  The images provide an invaluable resource for landscape designers, historians, preservationists, scholars, students and garden enthusiasts engaged in the study and appreciation of gardens and garden design.  By capturing the changing uses, trends, fads and popular traditions embodied in gardens, AAG holdings foster a better understanding of gardening’s far-reaching contributions to America’s social and cultural history.

By the time Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2062, who knows what current image format will be considered as fragile—and as valuable in terms of the lost information it holds—as the glass lantern slide?  

-Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist

Entry filed under: Archives of American Gardens, Collections. Tags: , .

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