The Artisans’ Gate at Central Park is located at 60th Street, at the southern perimeter about the mid way point of the park east to west. It is one of original 18 named gates of Central Park, rather unambiguous openings in the low stone walls that encircle the perimeter of the park. As the park neared its completion in the early 1860’s, the design and work of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux park which was incidentally the last and 33rd design entry submitted for the parks design was being touted as a masterpiece of landscape architecture. The vision of Olmsted and Vaux’s park was to be a pastoral escape from the hustle and bustle of the growing New York metropolis; this is the key to understanding the design with the low sandstone walled gates, the simplicity of the wilderness inside which was meant to be a representation of democracy and the American republic.
However, the location of the park which today is hard to visualize because of how built up the entire island of Manhattan is, was in fact in the 1860’s very much an unsettled area, where the rich and wealthy, the members of high society had built expansive homes about the park perimeter. A movement began spearheaded by an eminent American architect named Richard M. Hunt of Paris education (the designer of the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty) who wished to have rich, grand ornate gates like the urban parks of Paris and London. Hunt actually proposed a huge gate with 50 foot columns, curving stairways, to match the extravagance of European parks created by the European Monarchies.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were outraged at the proposals of Hunt viewing them as an attack of what their design was meant to accomplish; an accessible city refuge that would be open to all. A battle ensued between Richard M. Hunt, his well to do backers which included his brother-in-law who was a wealthy member of the commission that ran the park and the two idealistic architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Olmstead was quoted saying "an iron railing always means thieves outside or bedlam inside." In the end there is an open question as to whether Olmstead and Vaux’s victory over Hunt was an ethical victory or a financial one influenced by the Park Comptroller Andrew H. Green and his tight-fisted decision-making. The names were subsequently chosen in 1862 by the commissioners of the park. The sandstone walls would stand on each side of the park’s eighteen original entrances and be given a name descriptive of the city of New York and its citizens.
A misconception of folk that visit the park today is that all the finely chiseled names were done in the nineteenth century. Wrong. Early twentieth century? Wrong again. Most of the names were chiseled in the 1990’s adhering to the original naming conventions set by the commissioners in 1862 as part of the restoration of Central Park which reversed years of dilapidation of the park that occurred during the tumultuous and rebellious 1960’s, the bankrupt 1970’s and early chaotic crime ridden 1980’s. Three gates were added to original eighteen, bringing the total to 21 and the truth is the nineteenth century titles may not make all that much sense today, but it is an important link back to the time when the park was opened. As photographers, maybe we’re all modern artisans of a sort; our cameras are our tools.
Taken with Olympus E-5 using a Olympus Zuiko 12-60MM F2.8-4 lens processed in Photomatix and cleaned up in Adobe Lightroom.
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