Thursday, July 30, 2009

Great Camps to Skyscrapers: Architecture of Robert H. Robertson

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) is presenting a free lecture Monday, August 17, 2009 at 7 p.m. at the Essex Community Church, in Essex. “From Great Camps to Skyscrapers: Rediscovering the Remarkable Architecture of Robert H. Robertson,” will be presented by Daniel Snydacker, Ph.D., executive director, Pequot Library, Southport, CT, and architectural historian.

Robert H. Robertson, the architect of Camp Santanoni, and Shelburne Farms in Vermont, was born in Philadelphia in 1849 and did his training with other, well-known American architects. He did not go to Europe to study at schools such as Les Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris as did his contemporaries Richard Morris Hunt and others. This non-academic training is clearly evident in much of his work which is profoundly American in so many ways. Robertson led the way in the development of several important categories of American architecture. He competed successfully with the greatest architects of the late 19th century and, in some of his work, anticipated the greatest architects of the 20th century.

Ironically, Robertson has dropped out of sight among those who study American architectural history. Unfortunately, his papers and drawings apparently have been lost and this may account for the lack of interest among scholars. Many of his buildings survive, however, and they bear eloquent testimony to the skill and creativity of their designer.

Robertson worked in a broad swath down the East Coast from the Adirondacks, to Tuxedo Park, through the Berkshires, into both Southport and Newport, and then, with a flourish, he designed a string of handsome, groundbreaking tall office buildings and churches right down the middle of Manhattan. His commissions reached as far West as Ohio and included several lovely homes in New Jersey and on Long Island.

Robertson’s architecture is human in scale. His had an unerring, firm control of massing. His roof lines are breathtakingly strong and powerful. He demonstrates a mastery of detail which he exercises with an often playful eclecticism that reflects the influence of William Morris, John Ruskin, and others in the arts and craft movement. The more one sees of his work, the more one recognizes his genius. The lecture will help put his local buildings into a broader context by circling out past the rest of his work and coming back again to understand the true importance of Santanoni and Shelburne Farms.

Admission is free; donations are suggested.

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