On Exhibit: Sylvan Cemetery – Architecture, Art and Landscape at Woodlawn

September 04, 2014

The list of the rich and famous who are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx reads like a veritable Who’s Who of late 19th and early 20th century New York high society: Alva Belmont, formerly Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, F.W. Woolworth, and Isidor and Ida Straus, who perished in the sinking of the Titanic. Other notables interred there include Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Fiorello LaGuardia, Augustus Juilliard, Duke Ellington, Celia Cruz and Robert Moses.

Not surprisingly, these luminaries enlisted the most renowned architects, artists and landscape designers of the day to design and embellish their final resting places at Woodlawn, including John Russell Pope, McKim, Mead and White, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frederick Law Olmsted, Daniel Chester French, John LaFarge, and Rafael Guastavino and his son Rafael Jr.

Over time, Woodlawn’s fame spread as its 400-acre grounds became the exemplar of the landscape-lawn style of cemetery, with lush parklands and richly decorated monuments and mausoleums. In 2011, the cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark for the significance of its art and architecture.

In 2006, Woodlawn donated its expansive archive of historical records to Columbia’s Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. Comprising about 900 linear feet—the most complete set of 19th and 20th century cemetery records held in the public trust—the archive includes architectural designs, maps, photographs, correspondence, construction and maintenance records, and other documents.

On Sept. 3, Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture, Art and Landscape at Woodlawn will open at Columbia’s Wallach Gallery. The exhibition, timed to coincide with the cemetery’s 150th anniversary celebration, marks the first time selections from the Woodlawn archive will be displayed.

Carole Ann Fabian, director of Avery Library, called the Woodlawn Cemetery records an unparalleled resource for students, researchers, architects, planners, historians and preservationists. “These records now reveal a hidden-in-plainsight part of New York’s history, due in part to Avery’s work on the preservation and access to this collection since our 2006 acquisition,” she said.

Deborah Cullen, director and chief curator of the Wallach Gallery, added, “We are especially proud to focus on these public works, just to our north, in celebration of Woodlawn’s anniversary.” The cemetery is 10 miles north of the University.

The exhibition will be on view until Nov. 1. For more information, visit www.columbia.edu/cu/wallach.