This study highlights a selection of garden ornaments from Dumbarton Oaks, the Washington, D.C., estate of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss. Drawings from Beatrix Farrand’s office and excerpts from her Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks, combined with original period photographs, endeavor to show the stylistic sources, evolution of design, and iconography. Other works were selected that reflect an evolution of thought about the gardens and illustrate the conscious choices that were made in shaping the landscape. As Lanning Roper states in Dumbarton Oaks: A Great American Garden, “The garden ornament deserves special comment. Mrs. Bliss had made a particular study of this subject and wished to show the variety of media that can be used and often effectively combined… All ornaments are carefully placed and one is impressed both by the quality, inconspicuousness and the originality of the conception.” Garden ornaments were logical extensions of the Blisses’ collections of art objects.
Inscriptions play a significant role in the decoration of the grounds and have been included as well. The majority of them relate to the personal lives of Robert and Mildred Bliss and reflect the strong humanist tradition represented by Dumbarton Oaks.