Isabelle Greene landscape architecture records, circa 1964-2007 0000354
Finding aid prepared by Jocelyn Gibbs and Julia Larson (additions)
Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture MuseumDecember 21, 2016
Arts Building Room 1434
University of California
Santa Barbara, California, 93106-7130
Title: Isabelle Greene landscape architecture records
Identifier/Call Number: 0000354
Contributing Institution: Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum
Language of Material: English
Physical Description: 116.0 Linear feet Circa 465 rolls and circa 15 flat file drawers of landscape drawings; circa 35 boxes of client files
Date (inclusive): circa 1964-circa 2007
Location note: Mosher: 3 shelves of rolls of drawings 15 Flat File Drawers/Mosher - Drawer numbers D171-185 35 boxes of cllient files
creator: Greene, Isabelle
Born Isabelle Clara McElwain in 1934, Greene grew up in Pasadena, California, surrounded by the dry landscape of southern California’s foothills. As a child she played in the Pasadena Arroyo and hiked in the San Gabriel Mountains. These landscapes, along with the coasts of California and the mountains and deserts of the west, would later shape her landscape designs.
Her maternal grandfather was Henry Mather Greene who, with his brother, Charles Sumner Greene, (Greene and Greene Architects), crafted some of the most significant Arts and Crafts homes of the early 1900’s. Although she and her grandfather never talked about his profession, he displayed a kindly interest in her early drawings: she knew him merely as “Grandpa.” The house he had designed for his family was the setting for these visits (although it was demolished when she was five) and in an organic way she absorbed its details and its qualities, becoming for her a beacon requiring the highest quality work. Isabelle keeps her grandfather’s portrait over her drafting table, his wooden drafting tools framed on a nearby wall, and pieces of his handcrafted furniture around her office.
At an early age Isabelle manifested immense interest in all of nature, collecting and identifying plants, minerals and pickled specimens, keeping odd pets and often drawing what she saw. This led later to professional training in biology and less formally art, both disciplines equally informing her landscape designs. She studied field botany with taxonomic emphasis at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and graduated with a B.A. in 1956. That same year she married J. Robert Haller, a botanist, plant geographer, and PhD candidate at UCLA.
In 1957 she and Haller moved to Santa Barbara where Haller took a teaching position at University of California, Santa Barbara. Isabelle soon became a botanical illustrator for Haller’s publications and shortly those of his many colleagues, including a textbook, Botany: A Functional Approach 1963. Mildred Mathias, who had been one of her UCLA teachers, introduced several of these botanical drawings into Carnegie Mellon’s First International Exhibition of Botanical Art and Illustration at the Hunt Botanical Library, Pittsburg (now the Hunt Institute) in 1964. After seeing her own drawings on display there, she decided to enroll in art classes at UC Santa Barbara, working toward a second B.A. in art, with emphasis in painting; also working with ceramics, print-making, and life drawing.
In 1964, Isabelle was offered the opportunity to design the landscape for a clinic in Santa Barbara. This first commission took a year for her to study and draw, and when implemented in 1965, was given a Santa Barbara Beautiful Award. Further requests followed, and almost without taking notice, she became a practitioner of landscape design. In 1972, after the divorce with her first husband, Greene adopted her grandfather’s name, as “Isabelle Greene, Landscape Designer”. Referrals were numerous, while the projects became more extensive and complex, causing her grave concerns. She sought apprenticeships with local practitioners – though there being only one-man offices, no one was hiring.
She then offered to hire a local landscape architect, Michael Wheelwright, to critique her plans and mentor her, which ultimately resulted in formal association. Michael encouraged her immediately to apply for the 4-day State Licensing Examination in Landscape Architecture which she undertook in 1974. She sat for the exam for seven consecutive years, passing section by section. Some professional training was available with summer studio classes in 1976 at the University of Oregon, and then from 1977 – 1981 at the University of California Los Angeles’s Extension Program evening classes, to which she could commute after work. These latter four years of technical classes enabled Greene to become secure in subjects she hadn’t been able to teach herself. She passed the last exam in 1982, becoming a registered Landscape Architect in California: at this point she was pleased to adjust the name of her firm to Isabelle Greene & Associates, Landscape Architects.
Greene built a practice and reputation working with the West’s rugged geography and the plant materials of the California climate, as well as with color and with the playful freedom that had opened up through her art. Although many of her nearly 600 projects have been residential designs, her most significant public gardens date from the 1980s. She designed the half-acre Demonstration Gardens in 1986 for the Garden Club of America, Pasadena Chapter’s La Casita del Arroyo, a public meeting house designed by Myron Hunt in 1933: its gardens were created to demonstrate the beauty and efficacy of Mediterranean and native plants as opposed to “thirsty” plants. In 1986 Greene restored and rather innovatively renovated the Theatre Garden at Ganna Walska's Lotusland estate in Santa Barbara. Known for her expertise in Mediterranean plants, Greene was invited the following year to create a permanent Display Garden of Silver Plants, utilizing the dry air needed by one of the adjoining conservatory complexes at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. The Silver Garden has remained on display and in perfect maintenance for 30 years and counting…
One of Greene’s most important and longest lasting projects is the Lovelace garden, located on 41/2 acres of oak woodlands in Montecito, California. In 1972 the Lovelaces, asked Greene to design a swimming pool for their young family, on the grounds of a 1923 George Washington Smith house. Unexpectedly, she located the pool in a clearing in the woods, outlining its shape by the intersecting drip-lines of the surrounding oaks, and framing the edges with massive boulders from the site. The Lovelaces and Greene have continued collaborating for nearly half a century, adding plantings, designing new features, a teahouse as pool facility (with architect, Andy Neumann), a grandchildren’s play area, and a carport that appears to be a trellis (with architect, Deming Isaacson) among other amenities.
A very different landscape is reflected in the rigorously modern design that Greene created for Carol Valentine. The commission began in 1982, a period of drought in southern California. The Santa Barbara architect, Paul Gray, of Warner & Gray had designed the house of crisp forms with slight Spanish inflections for Valentine on a steep two-acre, south-facing site. Greene’s design arose from the site’s challenges including a minimal water allotment, as well as her impulse to depart from the strict geometry of the house. The most innovative and famous portion of this landscape is seen from the terrace above, as an overview in miniature of land the way one views the ground from an airplane. Completed in 1984, the garden was at one time the most widely published image in the world.
Greene was inducted into the Fellows of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1999, and received many other awards such as the Award of Distinction from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers in 2009. The University Art Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara organized a Retrospective exhibit of Greene’s landscape and art work in 2005. Isabelle Greene: Shaping Place in the Landscape which was accompanied by a catalogue as well as an “installation” by Greene inside the Museum’s galleries. Two boulders from that exhibition still remain at the Museum’s entrance.
-- From the Cultural Landscape Foundation website entry for Isabelle Greene
Isabelle Greene still life drawings in the L. J. Cella Collection, Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, Calif.
First transfer, December 21, 2016, circa 460 rolls of drawings.
Partially processed collection. Open for use by qualified researchers.
Copyright owned by Isabelle Greene.
Acquired from Isabelle Greene, 2016-2017, 2018.
Isabelle Greene landscape architecture records. Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara
The Isabelle Greene landscape architecture records contain drawings for landscapes designed by Isabelle Greene and Isabelle Greene & Associates from 1964 through 2007. Drawings in circa 465 rolls include sketches, original vellums, and reproductions. 15 flat file drawers of drawings were added in 2017. Approximately 35 file boxes of client files were added to the archive in 2018.
The archive is arranged alphabetically by client or project name.
Subjects and Indexing Terms