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Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America with Laurence Cotton

April 7, 2022 @ 2:00 pm 3:00 pm EDT

Thursday, April 7 at 2 pm, Eastern Time
Online via Zoom 

April 26, 2022, marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted, the master designer of public parks and a founder of the field of landscape architecture. Join historian and filmmaker Laurence Cotton (originator of and consulting producer to the PBS special “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America”) as he does a deep dive into the remarkable life and career of Renaissance-man Olmsted–writer, philosopher, social reformer, advocate for the preservation of natural scenery, and creator of some of the most beautiful public and private parks and gardens in all of North America. In his presentation, Laurence will talk about the design traditions, aesthetics, and philosophies that influenced Olmsted’s thought—including English garden design, the Hudson River School, and Transcendentalism. He will emphasize Olmsted’s remarkable career as a writer and the worldwide influence of his publications on the antebellum South and the institution of slavery. Finally, Laurence will also give a visual tour of representative masterful landscapes designed by Olmsted, Senior, as well as his two sons and the Olmsted Bros. landscape architecture firm across North America, with something of a focus on the extraordinarily rich Olmsted landscape legacy in New England.

The summer of 2014 saw the nationwide PBS broadcast of a long-awaited film project, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America. Writer, historian and filmmaker, Laurence originated the Olmsted film, and served as principal researcher and as Consulting Producer. Directed by his colleague, Lawrence Hott of Florentine Films/Hott Productions, the film premiered before public audiences in the key Olmsted cities of Boston, Buffalo and New York City. A prior film project, C.E.S. Wood, which Laurence Cotton co-produced with John De Graaf for the Oregon Experience series on Oregon Public Broadcasting, has received numerous broadcasts and remains a popular program, detailing the story of the friendship between the colorful personality C.E.S. Wood—who began his career as a U.S. Army officer engaged in the Indian Wars. After participating in the Nez Perce War, Wood became the leading advocate for the cause of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce and an outspoken critic of violence. Subsequently, Wood became a leading progressive voice in early 20th Cent. Portland, Oregon.

Raised in the eastern suburbs of Boston, Mr. Cotton began his career in the arenas of conflict resolution, international affairs and international humanitarian assistance, serving on the staff of Oxfam America, headquartered in Boston, and with several Harvard University-affiliated foreign policy research institutes.  He made a foray into state government, serving as chief of staff for a prominent state senator in the Massachusetts legislature. Laurence also worked in the arena of public radio, as an independent producer, and as executive producer and host of the nationally syndicated show Cambridge Forum. Laurence relocated to Oregon in 1994 to serve as Executive Director of the World Affairs Council of Oregon. Mr. Cotton served on committees that planned legacy projects for the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, played a role launching the restoration efforts for Vista House and served as a consultant to the Confluence Project, a series of environmentally and culturally sensitive landscape installations along the Columbia and Snake Rivers designed by Maya Lin. As a volunteer, Laurence has helped formulate plans and fundraise for new parks and trails in the Portland metro area and throughout the state of Oregon. He has also played a leadership role in the creation of two water trail systems along the Snake and Columbia Rivers. His passion for historic preservation has also helped save two historic theaters, one in Boston and one in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Cotton has also worked closely with the tribes of the Columbia River Basin, on natural and cultural resource protection issues.

Laurence Cotton currently serves as historian on board small ship cruise vessels that ply the rivers and coastlines of N. America. His specialty is serving as lead historian on the American Empress, the largest sternwheeler west of the Mississippi, offering a week-long lecture series focused on the geology, natural history and cultural history of the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on the heritage of the Columbia and Snake Rivers. He also occasionally serves as historical lecturer in Puget Sound, in the Great Lakes, along the St. Lawrence Seaway, the coast of New England and in the Mississippi River system.

As a landscape historian, Laurence is active with the NAOP–the National Association for Olmsted Parks. As biographer of Frederick Law Olmsted, Mr. Cotton has taken it upon himself to regularly travel across N. America, presenting his PBS film and delivering a popular PowerPoint talk about the Olmsted legacy–father, two sons and Olmsted Bros. landscape architecture firm–across North America.

Mr. Cotton has served on multiple nonprofit boards of directors, including several years as Board President of Columbia Riverkeeper and he served as Trustee of the Oregon State Parks Foundation. Laurence Cotton studied cultural anthropology, visual arts–focusing on film and still photography–and environmental science at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Early in his academic career, Mr. Cotton also served as Teaching Fellow in the Department of Government at Harvard University. He also served as an associate of three different foreign policy think tanks associated with Harvard.

Cost: $10; members free