This past Halloween weekend the exhibition Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture, Art and Landscape at Woodlawn Cemetery closed at the Wallach Gallery at Columbia University (Sept 3 – Nov 1, 2014). Woodlawn Cemetery, one of the country’s most significant 19th-century garden cemeteries is currently observing its 150th anniversary and was made a National Historic Landmark in 2011.
In 2006 Woodlawn donated its archive to Columbia University’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. This rich cache of documents, drawings, and other records inspired the exhibition Sylvan Cemetery. Though closed, you can explore the online exhibit. The cemetery itself is open every day from 8.30am to 5pm, and you can take a full moon tour on November 6th at 7pm.
The show, co-curated by Janet Parks of the Avery Library, Susan Olsen of Woodlawn, and the architect and architectural historian Charles D. Warren, highlighted the famous artists, architects and landscape designers who worked at Woodlawn—including McKim, Mead & White, Carrère and Hastings, Louis Comfort Tiffany, metal worker Samuel Yellin, Beatrix Farrand, the Olmsted Brothers, and the Guastavinos, among others. It included a number of impressive examples of work from the cemetery, including a door from the Straus Mausoleum and a Tiffany window from the Harbeck Mausoleum, as well as numerous architectural drawings, maps, and photographs.
Woodlawn Cemetery created an app for use at the cemetery. It is fairly rudimentary, but helps you take a variety of self-guided tours, focused either on some the famous residents (Civil War, Civic Leaders, Black History, Entertainers, for example), or on the artists and architects who designed the monuments. The indications to individual tombs—such as Joseph Pulitzer, F.W. Woolworth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or those like Miles Davis or Duke Ellington in the famed “Jazz Corner”—display little more than the name and location. I’m sure that there are great stories or basic biographical information that could be added here. Information on the art and architecture of the cemetery, on the other hand, reflects the work that clearly went into this exhibition and offers a wonderful means of making this material accessible.