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The Making of a Landscape Artist

Janet Lee at the
Anaheim Public Library

By the Editor, 2012-01-30
Janet Lee was the remarkable organizing force behind the GardenWalk murals, erected some three years ago. Shortly afterwards she left for the East Coast, but we met her again at the opening of the new murals at the Anaheim Public Library. We asked her to tell us what she had been doing in the meantime.

Janet writes: After working on GardenWalk, I wanted to take the big plunge into the world of public art and landscape architecture. I was lucky enough to get into the University of Pennsylvania, currently ranked one of the best programs in the world for turning out landscape architects. Little did I know what this would mean!

For starters, it meant coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. It means mastering a new computer program every two weeks. It means all-nighters every week, and more and more drawings than ever dreamed of. It meant that every week, rain or shine, we would march out into the great outdoors often into the mountains in Pennsylvania.

We would clamber over boulders and slog through destroyed moonscapes. We kayaked for eight hours through a swamp, sketching madly away and trying not to fall in. Half of us fell in anyway, and the half that didnít got plenty wet as we came in contact with that lovely substance called ďmuck.Ē

There is nothing like standing on top of the gold-dappled Hawk Mountain, watching hundreds and hundreds of raptors sweep through the clouds. And who could forget the time we had to lug buckets of plaster and water on a steep 2-mile hike, to make plaster casts of plants? Our professors were mysteriously absent on that one, but our sore muscles sure werenít!

They pushed us hard, even in the snow!

And speaking of which, having famous professors is probably like having very famous parents. They give you a heck of a standard to live up to! All of my professors pushed us hard, and our classmates push each other hard too. Iíve never experienced this kind of space before, where every individual is striving hard to push their boundaries in every line, in every drawing, in every model. Where everyone is completely committed personal excellence and where people will tell you the truth about what you produce. There is a lot of energy and excitement floating in the air, even in the hush around 7 am.
Thatís the quietest time, you know.

All the folks who pulled all-nighters head home for a quick shower, and the folks who went home havenít arrived yet. You can see the sky turn pink and the leaves sparkle from the dew. Itís the best time for writing and dreaming a little before the bustle of the day sweeps you off your feet again and deposits you on the dark side of 2 am.

What do landscape architects do? They work with ecological recovery of mountains after coal mining, and campus design, zoos and master plans for cities. Pretty much anything that is not a building or public infrastructure (i.e. highways) lies in our domain. They often get involved with revitalization efforts, public art, and sustainability issues as well.

Because of the pressing need to develop more ecologically sustainable cities, landscape architects are becoming more and more involved with buildings, brownfield (heavily polluted land) recovery and city design, especially in places like China and Africa.

Work to make the world more beautiful includes architecture, landscape architecture, public art, art, historic preservation, and urban planning.

Where art and nature combine: students sketch the majestic scenery.

Janet concludes: I have developed tremendous respect for these people that I have met, who continue to make the world a better, more beautiful place. If you are ever tired or doubtful of how the future will be, go to a design school. Go look at all of us, working hard to bring about a brighter future -- and try not to smile!



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