Cover image for Frederick Law Olmsted : the passion of a public artist
Frederick Law Olmsted : the passion of a public artist
Kalfus, Melvin, 1931-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
xiii, 415 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Derived from the author's dissertation (New York University).
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SB470.O5 K35 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Frederick Law Olmsted's career as a landscape architect was long and varied. The best-known fruits of that career were surely the great urban parks: Central Park in Manhattan, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Franklin Park in Boston. But most of this took place after the Civil War. Prior to 1865, Olmsted had built a public reputation as an author and journalist (producing three historically important books on slavery and the antebellum South) and as General Secretary of the Sanitary Commission of the Union Forces, the committee in charge of organizing medical treatment for the military during the war. He had also previously been an apprentice merchant, a seaman, a farmer, and manager of a mining plantation in California. His life had been marked by innumerable illnesses and accidents. His personality was notable for its contentiousness and obsessiveness.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Frederick Law Olmsted fought many battles during his life--for Union and against secession, for his conception of the urban park and against politicians and administrators who did not share his vision, for a civilized community and against the forces of barbarism he so feared. In this book Kalfus asserts that Olmsted's greatest struggle was an internal one, to overcome childhood neglect and to assert through accomplishments his sense of self-worth. Olmsted's life was indeed full of contradictions--for example, between his search for (and design of communities that would promote) domestic bliss and his prolonged absences from home, between the tranquility of the landscapes he shaped and the frantic pace of activity that consumed him. According to Kalfus, Olmsted resolved these countervailing impulses through his pastoral landscape designs, which mitigated between the masculine and feminine aspects of his personality, which evoked images of the mother who died when he was three, and which met his psychological needs perhaps more immediately than the recreational demands of 19th-century park users. Although at times the argument is repetitious, overly speculative, or diminshed by the use of 20th-century meanings to interpret 19th-century language, this is a challenging analysis of personality, not simply Olmsted's but many of his contemporaries. -D. Schuyler, Franklin and Marshall College