On Exhibit: The American Landscape

July 06, 2016

Chicago, the city beautiful. Courtesy of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library’s American Viewbooks Collection provides pictorial documentation of the growth of cities and towns across the United States from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. The collection's more than 4,000 titles were published in a variety of formats, including printed books, photographic albums and accordion-fold booklets.

“The viewbooks present a sweeping vision of the changing American landscape,” said Carole Ann Fabian, Avery’s director. “The images chart the growth of rural areas into towns and cities, the advance of the railroad across the country and the rising popularity of county fairs and national expositions—the documentation of architecture and urbanism in an expanding country.”

On view are images of buildings, streetscapes, monuments and parklands with accompanying text that describes the growth of agriculture and local industries, stunning natural scenery, the construction of major buildings, the development of transportation networks and the characteristics of regional architectural styles.

One 1915 viewbook contains pastoralperfect images of New Holstein, in the Lake Winnebago region of Eastern Wisconsin, a glowing advertisement for the town’s agricultural and manufacturing products, whether seed peas or cigars. In contrast, an early 20th-century viewbook of Cleveland focuses on the nitty-gritty of urban industry.

A selection of viewbooks are on display in the Avery Classics Reading Room from June 20 through October 31.