March 29, 2016

The Making of Naumkeag's Gorgeous Gardens

  • By: Katharine Keane

In the Spring 2016 issue of Preservation magazine, you learn about the decades-long collaboration between American landscape artist Fletcher Steele and estate owner Mabel Choate. Together they succeeded in creating the iconic and whimsical gardens at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, that are currently undergoing a multi-year restoration.

While many of the features blend into the landscape as if they always belonged, Naumkeag is an exemplar of Steele's keen eye for detail, attention to his client's wishes, and purposeful engineering. Of the Blue Steps Steele once wrote, "I figure that comfort in going up a steep hill depends on variety of leg action the lack of which makes a long flight of steps intolerable ... So I put up four "divisions," each one having a couple of steps and turns, two ramps of different steepness and a graduated flight of half a dozen steps to a platform."

We have compiled a series of drawings and images of Naumkeag to show the extensive planning and detailed work that went into creating these historic gardens.

Naumkeag blue steps plans

photo by: Mable Choate Papers Regarding Naumkeag/The Trustees of Reservations, Archives & Research Center

Technical plans for the construction of the Blue Steps.

Drawing of plans for blue steps at Naumkeag

photo by: Mable Choate Papers Regarding Naumkeag/The Trustees of Reservations, Archives & Research Center

A sketch of the Blue Steps.

Mable and Fletcher painting the blue steps

photo by: The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Special Collections

Mabel Choate and Fletcher Steele paint the iconic Blue Steps.

Mable tending the garden

photo by: The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Special Collections

Mabel working in the Afternoon Garden.

Katharine Keane is a former editorial assistant at Preservation Magazine. She enjoys getting lost in new cities, reading the plaques at museums, and discovering the next great restaurant.

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