Saturday, April 23, 2011

Still Closeted? Lord and Schryver's Uncertain Legacy

A study published this month in the medical journal Pediatrics concluded that intolerant and unsupportive communities increased the risk for suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

Salem's still pretty closed down, and in an era when it remains an urgent matter to let kids know that "it gets better," are we doing them a disservice by continuing the silence on the professional and personal partnership of Elizabeth Lord (1887-1976) and Edith Schryver (1901-1984)?

Perhaps there's some uncertainty in the matter, but Virginia Green's Salem online history note seems fairly clear, if yet reticent: On an oceanic crossing Edith Schryver
met Elizabeth Lord who would become her lifetime companion and partner in one of the pioneer landscaping firms of the Northwest, Lord and Schryver....The friends traveled and studied together for several months in England and on the continent. At the end of their trip Lord brought Schryver to Salem, her hometown.
Though understated, this is the language of romance and domesticity, not of merely a professional partnership.

So it was strange to visit Bush Barn and the "Parks for People" show, and see their relationship passed over without comment. (The websites of Deepwood Estate and the Lord & Schryver Conservancy are similarly silent.) If you were predisposed to see them as romantically involved, it was possible to read between the lines, of course, but is such an encoded expression of the closet what they really deserve?

We thought, perhaps not exactly appropriately, of Wallace Stevens' line:
A more severe,
More harassing master would extemporize
Subtler, more urgent proof that the theory
Of poetry is the theory of life,

As it is, in the intricate evasions of as,
In things seen and unseen, created from nothingness,
The heavens, the hells, the worlds, the longed-for lands.
It seemed to us that any study of Lord & Schryver would wish to attend to the "intricate evasions" in their lives, some of their own, some of others. The ways, including an apparent discreet silence, that the Salem establishment, which we think of as essentially conservative, accommodated this couple - even, perhaps, "power couple." And what compromises did they themselves make, and at what cost, in order to live here quietly and successfully? How did they negotiate all this? (The sly joke on Salem constituted by their gardening in Salem parks?)

If there is scholarly uncertainty in the matter, shouldn't that also be an object of study? Because if they were a pioneering lesbian couple, wouldn't we want to celebrate that as part of their legacy?

And if they weren't, it still seems like they worked creatively around gendered norms, and all aspects of this non-conformity (not just that they had "their own practice without male partners or supervisors") would merit further examination and celebration. Even the ambiguity is noteworthy, and a likely source of creativity and some pain, beyond the more tangible artifacts of their gardens and landscapes.

There's a lot more here than just the gardens, a lot of interesting social history, and we hope that future shows and essays will examine it.


  1. We just went to Deepwood the other day for the first time. I thought the same thing as I read one of the placards near the garden.

    Me: "Huh. They were probably lesbians."

    Mom: "Well of course they were."

  2. The UO finding aid, "Guide to the Lord & Schryver Architectural Records, 1929-1970" hints at a pretty significant, and by now entirely expected, lacuna:

    "There is little in the way of biographical material; items of a personal nature were removed at the request of the donor."

  3. From the WU press clips (italics added):

    "On Aug. 17 at 5:30 p.m., art historian and teacher Carmen Lord will provide an intimate portrait of her great aunt, Elizabeth Lord, and Lord’s business partner, Schryver. As a child and young adult, Carmen spent many summers visiting her great aunt in Salem and has wonderful memories to share."

    1. Carmen nor her father Melvin were blood relatives to the Lords. Melvin was not born a Lord.

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