20 Monroe Ave, Pittsford, NY 14534
Williams College, Williamstown, MA
Harvard University, Cambridge
1 Acorn St, Boston, MA 02108
7 Water St, Boston, MA 02109
48 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108
Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York
Fletcher Steele (June 7, 1885 – July 16, 1971) was an American landscape architect credited with designing and creating over 700 gardens from 1915 to the time of his death. Mabel Choate met Fletcher Steele in 1926 at the annual meeting of the Lenox Garden Club. According to Mark Wilson, "He [Steele] began work for her soon after and was drawing up the first plans for Naumkeag by September 1926." The same year Steele also oversaw the moving and restoration of the Mission House. Wilson continues, "The relationship between Mabel and Fletcher was a deep friendship and respect for one another. Mabel was Fletcher's longest client. The gardens at Naumkeag are one of the few Steele gardens still intact. " Of Mabel, Steele wrote, "[Mis Mabel Choate] wants to try things. And she deeply enjoys and understands beauty in landscape " Mabel hosted an annual birthday party weekend for Steele and friends, and some imagined a romantic relationship between them, but Wilson says, "There was no sexual relationship between Mabel and Fletcher. He was probably homosexual, but it was never stated or talked about so no one knows for sure and this was a time when it was against the law to be [homosexual]." Steele was friends and sometime collaborated with Ralph Adams Cram.
Steele was born John Fletcher Steele in Rochester, New York, to John Mason Steele (1851–1936), a lawyer, and Mary Lampert (1853–1943), a pianist. He had one younger sister, Esther Steele. His mother's sister was portrait painter Emma Lampert Cooper. He graduated from Bradstreet School for Boys in 1903 and then went to Williams College, graduating in 1907, and promptly joined the young landscape architecture program at Harvard University where Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. was one of his professors. Another professor was Denman Ross, who would become a lifelong friend. In 1908 Steele left Harvard to accept an apprenticeship with Warren H. Manning.
In 1913 Steele embarked on a four-month tour of Europe to study European designs. Upon his return to America, he opened his own practice in Charles Street, Boston. His early garden plans are generally in the English Arts and crafts style of Gertrude Jekyll, Reginald Blomfield, and T. H. Mawson, but ornamented with Italianate detailing such as balustrades, hedges, urns, statuary, stone pineapples, and flights of water steps. During World War I, Steele served in the American Red Cross in Europe. After war's end he regularly returned in summers. His conversion to an Art Deco style began in 1925 when he visited the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (the 'Art Deco Exposition') and saw its examples of cubist gardens with mirrors, concrete and coloured gravel. George Campbell was Steele's general manager for most of the decade between 1925 to 1935. Campbell oversaw the operation of the office and acted as superintendent on important jobs, such as Ancrum House. Once he traveled to Europe with Steele, which raised subtle questions in the office about the nature of their relationship.
By 1930 Steele was writing with enthusiasm of André Vera, Tony Garnier, and Gabriel Guevrekian. Steele's designs and writings of this period were influential during the stylistic transition from Art Deco to Modernism. He helped shape Modernism through younger design students at Harvard, notably Dan Kiley, Garrett Eckbo, and James C. Rose, to who Steele showed the possibilities of modern art and the creativity inherent within the design process. Kiley later wrote that "Steele was the only good designer working during the twenties and thirties, also the only one who was really interested in new things." Eckbo noted that "Fletcher Steele was the transitional figure between the old guard and the moderns. He interests me because he was an experimenter." Steele's own designs, however, were sufficiently removed from the Modern style so that his works were generally out of fashion until the modern era had passed. Steele is interred in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. His papers are archived in the Library of Congress, the Rochester Historical Society and in the Franklin Moon Library, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York.Images from the Steele manuscript collection can be found in the SUNY D-Space digital repository.
Steele is noted for a number of major works including Naumkeag, Peters Reservation, Ancrum House, Whitney Allen House, Standish Backus House, Turner House, Lisborne Grange. His most famous work by far is Naumkeag. These projects were not all viewed with high regard at the time, and only relatively recently have historians begun to appreciate Steele's impact on garden design and landscape architecture.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE