Thursday, June 2, 2011


During our recent Hudson River valley vacation, we visited Manitoga, a site in Garrison, New York, with which I was vaguely familiar because some of my colleagues had developed a master plan for the property.
Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces palmatus)

Probably Ling Shih, or Varnished Polypore (Ganoderma lucidum)
 Natural woodland garden with Bristly Parchment (Lopharia cinerascens)
Manitoga's mission is to preserve the legacy of pioneer designer Russel Wright — his home, landscape, products, archives and philosophy — and share them with professionals and the public.  The stated mission of the Russel Wright Design Center is to preserve and protect Russel Wright's home, studio and woodland garden at Manitoga "as a learning laboratory about the importance of living in harmony with nature and the value of good design in everything and for everyone."
Sensuous mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) embrace)

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Wright was one of the best known designers in the United States.   At the apex of his career, Wright left New York City and moved his base of operations fifty miles north to Garrison, New York. It was here that he created a home, studio and designed landscape. He named it Manitoga, meaning Place of the Great Spirit in Algonquin. Wright shared the Native Americans' respect for the earth.

When Wright first found the property in 1942, it had been damaged by a century of quarrying and lumbering. Over the next three decades, until his death in 1976, he carefully redesigned and re-sculpted Manitoga's 75 acres using native plants, his training as a theater designer and sculptor, and his innovative design ideas. Though the landscape appears "natural," it is apparently a careful composition of woodland trees, rocks, ferns, mosses, and wildflowers.  Wright created over four miles of paths that wind over creeks, into woods, among boulders, and through ferns and mountain laurel to focus visitors' attention on the importance of living in harmony with nature.  In 2006, Manitoga was named a National Historic Landmark.
Wright's house and studio perched on the edge of a quarry.  Wright rerouted the stream on the lower right to fill the quarry.

Tours of Wright's house and studio are offered infrequently and by reservation only, so we weren't able to visit the house and environs, which are completely off limits to casual visitors.  But we did walk much of the grounds.  Despite the organization's hype about a designed landscape, our visit was really just a walk in the woods.  The woodlands at Manitoga are pleasant, but they're not that much different from any other woodland walk you might take in the lower Hudson Valley. 

No comments: