The Beckoning Path: Woodland Garden Photographs of Theodore Nierenberg at the Bruce Museum

Photographs highlighting the seasons of a magnificent Westchester County garden are the focus of a new exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

For more than 50 years, Theodore Nierenberg meticulously sculpted the splendid gardens of his New York estate. A rambling series of paths lead to intimate places and vantage points exposing vistas across an adjacent lake. A series of 56 photographs of these paths as well as intimate close-ups and scenic views taken over several decades and during all seasons will be on display in the new exhibition The Beckoning Path: The Woodland Garden Photographs of Theodore Nierenberg on view from August 28 through November 7, 2010.

Theodore Nierenberg (1923-2009), Summer Garden Path, Color photograph. Courtesy of the Artist’s Estate

Theodore Nierenberg (1923-2009) was a prominent industrial designer and photographer. He began creating his garden masterpiece while designing and building a modern house overlooking Cobamong Lake on his 15-acre property in Armonk, New York. Cobamong, an Algonquin word translated as “beautiful, hidden valley,” is the word Nierenberg used as the namesake of his estate. The horticultural project would become a life-long endeavor, and as the garden began to mature, Nierenberg documented it through photography.

Nierenberg earned a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering management from Carnegie Mellon University in 1944, when it was called the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Along with his wife Martha, Nierenberg founded Dansk International Designs, a business best known for table and house wares of a distinctive Scandinavian Modern style. The company was started in 1954 after a trip to Europe during which the couple became interested in the work of foreign industrial designers. Although the company began its operations in the couple’s garage in Great Neck, NY, Dansk operated for many years afterward from its headquarters in Mount Kisco, NY. After directing the company for more than thirty years, the couple sold the company in 1985.

Nierenberg’s retirement allowed him to concentrate on his many hobbies, which included gardening, cooking, traveling, photography, and philanthropy. A World War II pilot, former president of the American Craft Council, and an Emeritus Life Trustee of Carnegie Mellon, Nierenberg, over his lifetime, endowed several programs at Carnegie Mellon including the Nierenberg Chair of Design, an annual visiting professorship.

Nierenberg became an accomplished photographer and studied with many notable photographers including Magnum photojournalist Ernst Haas. In the early 1980s, Nierenberg brought one of his initial portfolios to John Szarkowski, then the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, who encouraged him to further pursue his artistic passion. Nierenberg continued to shoot, amassing a portfolio of more than 300,000 images. Eventually these photographs were trimmed down to a stunning collection of about 100 photos of Cobamong that caught the eye of Aperture, a well-respected publisher of art and photography books. These images were published in 1993 in the book, The Beckoning Path: Lessons of a Lifelong Garden, featuring the photographs Nierenberg took of his renowned Hudson Valley woodland garden.

Later in life, Nierenberg was recognized as a master landscape designer. He first learned to garden as a young boy on his uncle’s farm, where he practiced rooting cuttings and grafting trees. He established a nursery at his first home on Long Island, New York, and brought a number of these shrubs to his property in Armonk. He also traveled to hundreds of gardens and studied landscape design at the New School in New York. He was particularly interested in Japanese gardens and became an expert on Japanese maples, which play a major role in the Cobamong garden and were often the focus of his photographs. Several photographs of one particular Japanese maple, planted near the lake and captured by his camera in all of its seasonal glory, will be on view in the exhibition.

Through the exhibition, visitors will be drawn into Nierenberg’s extraordinary personal habitat, viewing groups of photographs representing summer, autumn, winter, early spring, and spring. The exhibition is supported by the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund.

The Bruce Museum is located at 1 Museum Drive in Greenwich, Connecticut, USA. General admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and free for children under five and Bruce Museum members. Free admission to all on Tuesdays. The Museum is located near Interstate-95, Exit 3, and a short walk from the Greenwich, CT, train station. Museum hours are: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Mondays and major holidays. Groups of eight or more require advance reservations. Museum exhibition tours are held Fridays at 12:30 p.m. Free, on-site parking is available. The Bruce Museum is accessible to individuals with disabilities. For information, call the Bruce Museum at (203) 869-0376

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