Evergreen makes new space for architect Fowler's papers

Work in Progress

April 06, 2008|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Architecture Critic

Laurence Hall Fowler was one of Maryland's most admired and influential residential architects during the first half of the 20th century. This spring, a landmark on which Fowler worked for more than 20 years, the building now known as Evergreen Museum & Library at 4545 N. Charles St., is being modified to pay homage to Fowler and his architectural legacy even more than it does today.

James Archer Abbott, curator of the Evergreen Museum & Library, is leading an effort to turn a space there that was formerly occupied by a gift shop into the Laurence Hall Fowler Study Room. When it opens later this spring, it will be a dedicated research area where architects, scholars and preservationists can study the drawings and papers that Fowler produced over the course of his career, from 1905 to the 1940s.

Evergreen is owned and operated by the Johns Hopkins University. Although many of Fowler's papers have been there for decades, they have not been in a location that was particularly hospitable to visitors or accessible. As a result, few people know they are there.

Before becoming curator at Evergreen last November, Abbott, 44, was curator of the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington and curator of decorative arts at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He lives in Tuscany-Canterbury, a neighborhood that contains numerous Fowler residences.

IN HIS WORDS --The Laurence Hall Fowler Study Room is going to be a secure space where scholars, architects and preservationists are finally going to have an opportunity to go through the treasures of the (Fowler) collection. We have furniture at Evergreen that was owned by Fowler, both in his house and in the office, and these pieces will also be incorporated in the space.

FOWLER AS PRESERVATIONIST --Fowler was perhaps the most prolific residential architect in the early part of the 20th century for this region. He was also a very important preservationist because he went around Baltimore and photographed buildings that were about to be demolished. Through his personal interest in 18th-century and early 19th-century architecture, he documented buildings that were about to be lost. There were no other records for such structures. He created albums that are still valued to this day.

WHY AT EVERGREEN? --The house itself represents Fowler both as a preservationist and an architect. He worked with (former owner) John W. Garrett, who was most famously America's ambassador to Italy in the late 1920s, early 1930s, and his wife, Alice Warder Garrett, who continued to work with Laurence Hall Fowler after her husband's 1942 death. He spent more than 20 years here.

Over that time, Fowler redefined Evergreen. The Garretts acquired the house in 1920 and sought out Laurence Hall Fowler early on (to modify it.) As a result, Fowler has a connection to the majority of rooms.

RARE COLLECTION --Usually, if you're researching an architect, you have to go to three or four collections to really see how the young architect becomes the mature architect becomes the retiring architect. Through this collection, you have a representation of the evolution of the architect, and that's rare.

MORE ACCESSIBLE --The room where the papers are now, it's a safe area, but it's not accessible to scholars and visitors and it doesn't appear to be user-friendly. That's the goal of our director, (Sheridan Dean of University Libraries, Vice Provost for the Arts and Director of JHU Museums) Winston Tabb. It's his goal to have the collections as accessible and as recognized as possible, while still protecting them.

TIMETABLE --We are hoping to have the papers relocated and the room set up within a month. It's a nice symbol of spring and rebirth. It's a reappreciation of one of our most important collections.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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