Presented by Library of Virginia / Petersburg Public Library

A new Library of Virginia exhibition at Petersburg Public Library celebrates the work of the renowned landscape architect, Charles F. Gillette. The exhibit runs from April 27 through June 30, 2022. The Petersburg Public Library is open every day except Sunday.

“From the 1920s through the 1960s, Charles F. Gillette’s name was synonymous with the best landscape design in the upper South,” said Dale Neighbors, the Library of Virginia’s Visual Studies Collection coordinator. “Seeing his original plans and drawings offers a rare opportunity to appreciate the influence of regionalism on landscape design, and to acknowledge the legacy of Charles Gillette on contemporary Virginia gardens.” Although he is most remembered for his private estate work, Gillette’s Petersburg designs serve as a microcosm of his broader career, encompassing residential, corporate, and large-scale educational projects. Projects such as Virginia State University (1930s–1950s), Blandford Cemetery (1928), and the private gardens of Petersburg residents George Cameron, C. L. Morris, and W. R. Seward incorporate many of what would later become recognized as Gillette’s signature details, including highly crafted masonry construction, carefully selected garden statuary, and an overall concern for proportion and scale.

Drawn extensively from the Charles F. Gillette Papers at the Library of Virginia, the exhibition includes garden designs, photographs, and client correspondence that have never been publicly displayed before, as well as a recently restored Gillette bench. Charles F. Gillette (1886–1969) is nationally recognized as one of the premier landscape architects associated with the restoration and re-creation of historic gardens in the upper South and especially Virginia. Gillette established a regional style—known as the “Virginia Garden”—characterized by its understated classicism and attention to detail. He linked architecture and landscape in a manner seldom found today, not only emphasizing the traditional features of landscape design but also carefully shaping each of his creative outdoor environments to complement the most distinctive elements of his clients’ homes and broader surroundings.

During the 1950s, Gillette redesigned the gardens of Virginia’s Executive Mansion at the request of Governor Thomas B. Stanley, as well as designing the grounds for the Richmond headquarters of the Reynolds Metals Company and the Ethyl Corporation. His commissions also included hundreds of residential projects throughout Virginia and North Carolina. The exhibition was partly inspired by Petersburg resident Bill Nicholson’s acquisition of a garden bench attributed to Gillette—an item that will be included in the exhibition. After doing some research, he learned that it was originally one of a pair of benches created along with gardens designed by Gillette for Edward Victor Williams’s residence called Kenwyn (now known as Wynandra), built in 1929 on Richmond’s Ampthill Road.

“This is exciting and we are honored to have the opportunity to host this exhibit at the library,” said Wayne M. Crocker, Petersburg Public Library’s director of Library Services.