PHILADELPHIA –- Celebrating the beauty of its accomplishments, the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania has chronicled its past with the publication of a book of photographs by longtime Arboretum director Paul W. Meyer.
The 96-page book is an assemblage of the best of the thousands of photos Meyer has taken during the past 10 years at the Arboretum, nestled in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.
Meyer, a self-taught photographer, culled his collection of more than 30,000 images to 500, which he submitted to a volunteer committee headed up by Susan Crane, Arboretum marketing director. Crane, along with marketing coordinator Christine Pape and the committee, selected some 100 for inclusion in the book.
“This visual narrative is Meyer’s personal guided tour of the Arboretum that illustrates its transformation from a private estate into a public garden,” Crane said.
The Arboretum began in 1887 as the summer home of brother and sister John and Lydia Morris, whose family wealth came from an iron-manufacturing firm founded by their father. It became part of Penn in 1932 and is now recognized as the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The book has been edited to move readers through the Arboretum section by section, rather than seasonally or chronologically, Meyer said.
“So many of the places photographed wouldn’t have existed as they are 20 years ago,” he said. “Our current $60 million capital campaign has provided the financial muscle, and, by working off a master plan that gave us a good sense of our priorities one by one, we bit off the projects that have made the Arboretum more enjoyable and accessible.”
The book is about celebrating that accomplishment, Meyer said, adding that the Morris Arboretum can now hold its own on the stage of internationally famous botanical gardens.
“Last summer, we hosted the American Public Garden Association, whose members were very impressed with how far we’ve come in the past 10-15 years,” he said.
Visitor numbers also confirm its success. As recently as 1996, Meyer said, annual attendance was in the low 30,000s. Last year, it exceeded 125,000.
“One of the things we’re excited about is that many of our visitors are young families,” he said.
What he is most proud of is not the photos per se but the staff who have created the gardens that made the photos possible.
“If the gardens themselves weren’t beautiful, we couldn’t get beautiful photographs.
“A photograph by its very nature captures a selective and subjective visual slice in time,” he said. “By arranging these images in one place, we’ve created an important historical record of the Morris Arboretum that I hope will be an inspiration and guide to future stewards of this historic landscape.”
Meyer credits Ann Reed, Arboretum board chair, with bringing the book from concept to reality.
“It really was a vision of Ann Reed for a number of years,” he said. “As we wrap up our capital campaign, she thought it was important and appropriate to use the book to celebrate all that’s been accomplished over the length of the campaign.”
The book is available at the Arboretum’s gift shop and at the Penn Bookstore. Addition information is available at www.business-services.upenn.edu/arboretum/index.shtml.