Exhibitions/ Central Park

Central Park: A Sesquicentennial Celebration

May 15–September 28, 2003
Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

Exhibition Overview

In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the legislation (July 21, 1853) that designated as "a public place" the lands that were to become New York's Central Park, this exhibition features the original presentation plans and drawings by Calvert Vaux (1824–1895) and Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) for their "Greensward" plan, which won the 1858 competition to design the park. A selection of working drawings and contemporary photographs illustrates the actual construction of the park according to Vaux and Olmsted's design. In addition to works in the Museum's collection, there are numerous loans, most notably from the Municipal Archives and the Department of Parks of the City of New York.

The exhibition—which includes maps, drawings, watercolors, historical photographs, and books—is arranged thematically. The introductory section features a number of early topographical maps that show the area in which the park would one day be built. A highlight is the 1836 Topographical Map of the City and County of New York and the Adjacent Country, published by J. H. Colton, which shows Manhattan barely developed and sparsely settled north of 59th Street.

From historical records, it is known that thirty-three designs for what was to become Central Park were submitted to the competition of 1858. Barely a handful of the entries are extant today, and most of the known examples were gathered for this showing, among them a submission by Samuel J. Gustin (Central Park Conservancy) and the recently discovered, beautifully executed design by John Rink (Private Collection, on deposit at Municipal Archives). A monumental 1858 pen-and-ink drawing of Vaux and Olmsted's winning design—the "Greensward Plan" (New York City Department of Parks, the Arsenal)—is shown along with ten presentation boards (New York City Municipal Archives). Each board juxtaposes "before" and "after" views of various sites, presenting an image of the actual topography side by side with a delicately rendered vision of its future. Central Park took shape quickly and—at the peak of activity—some four thousand people were employed in the project. The rapid progression from design to reality is shown in a series of plans and sections from selected issues of the Annual Reports of the Commissioners of Central Park (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Presentation and working drawings by Calvert Vaux and by the brilliant ornamentalist Jacob Wrey Mould (1825–1886) for some of Central Park's bridges and transverse roads are also shown, with special emphasis on drawings for the ornaments, paving pattern, and niche and tile designs for Bethesda Fountain and Terrace (New York City Municipal Archives). The exhibition also includes several books, such as Fred Perkins's 1864 The Central Park and a volume from 1866, titled Designs for the Gateways of the Southern Entrances to the Central Park, that shows proposals by Richard Morris Hunt (1827–1895) for formal entrances that were never built (New-York Historical Society). A photograph album features the work of the pioneering French photographer Victor Prevost (1820–1881) who was active in the United States in the 1840s and 50s, the earliest era of photography. A number of rare stereo views—some of which are mounted in stereo viewers—allow visitors to see Central Park through nineteenth-century eyes (Private Collection).

The exhibition is made possible by Alamo Rent A Car, Inc.

The exhibition has been organized in conjunction with the Central Park Conservancy.