Barbara Fealy—A beloved landscape architect who was fondly known as the “matriarch of landscape architecture” in the Pacific Northwest. She was a favorite collaborator of the likes of John Storrs and Saul Zaik and many other famed architects and designers in the region. From an early age, she was passionate about plants. Born in 1903 in Salt Lake City, Utah, her father, Albert Justin, owned one of Utah’s largest wholesale nurseries, where Fealy often helped with plants. She decided to pursue her passion, and later enrolled in the University of Illinois to study landscape architecture, where she graduated with a B.S in 1925.
While at university, Fealy was inspired by Jens Jensen, a landscape architect, and native plant advocate. As a vising professor, Jensen led tours of sand dune habitats in Indiana, which encouraged Fealy’s fascination with native landscapes and plants. Furthermore, she was impressed by the work of Thomas Church, one of the pioneer landscape designers of Modernism in garden landscape design. Fealy liked Church’s idea that a house’s landscape should provide comfort and beauty with the use of outdoor “rooms”.
Fealy’s design style was simple and elegant with a timeless quality. She designed places that “foster stewardship of the environment through beauty and familiarity”, so whether it was a resort or a small garden – the space would feel as if it was part of nature. She created this with the use if Church’s concept of landscape “rooms”, which would consist of a hard surface (concrete, flagstone, or crushed gravel) that were framed by beautiful compositions of plants. Fealy’s iconic designs also included boulders, sculptures, and hand-designed fences, walls, and lamps.
After graduation, Fealy briefly worked at the landscape architecture firm McCrary, Culley, and Carhart in Denver, Colorado. In 1930, Fealy came back to Salt Lake City and opened her own practice. One of her earliest known residential works is the Howard and Marian Bennion House. Fealy designed the landscape after it was built by architect Georgius Y. Cannon in 1940-41. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 as it contributes to the historic character of its’ Salt Lake City neighborhood.
In 1947, Fealy moved to Portland, Oregon, and continued working at her own firm. Most of her projects were private residences and knowledge of her work mostly spread by word of mouth. However, after 1964, Fealy gained wider recognition. She was approached by John Gray, a prominent Portland developer. Gray commissioned Fealy to design the landscape for the Salishan Resort located in Gleneden Beach on the Oregon Coast. Gray envisioned that space would be in harmony with the surroundings, allowing humans and the environment to coexist. Fealy created the impression that the Salishan Resort grows organically out of the coastal forest, which perfectly fit Gray’s vision. After this project, Fealy’s services were sought out by many prominent clients.
Some of Fealy’s other famous commercial projects that are highly admired and celebrated include the Timberline Lodge located on Oregon’s Mount Hood, Catlin-Gabel School, and Leach Botanical Garden in Portland. Nonetheless, her most prolific work consisted of residential gardens of many of Portland’s most influential families. These gardens featured native plants as well as cedar trees that highlighted the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. A perfect example of this is her work for locals, Patricia Lue and William W. Wessinger. In 1979, she was commissioned to produce a landscape design for the couple after Walter Gordon, a mid-century architect, designed their house. Fealy designed paths that led into the woods, where native plants were planted. She also designed a small pool with a stone water basin where she carefully placed rocks and a pair of low stone sculptures. The garden “brought the natural world and their social life to the garden”.
In 1985, Fealy was the first woman from Oregon to be elected a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. She practiced landscape architecture until she was 92 years old. In 2000, Fealy passed away in Beaverton, Oregon.
To learn more about Barbara Fealy and her work, click here.