The CED Visual Resources Center has a long history of collecting visual images intended to be used by faculty. In many cases, faculty members have been the source of the images the VRC holds. For much of the last 70 years, 35mm slides have been the medium through which visual images, in the form of photographs, have been stored in the VRC. When film was the dominant photographic medium (as opposed to digital images, a relatively recent technology) the faculty of CED were usually enthusiastic photographers. Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners created thousands of photographs in the course of their work - as research, as documentation, and as artistic expression. The CED VRC and its previous incarnations have always welcomed contributions by CED faculty as an important way to grow the image collections. There may be no more direct way to reflect the teaching, research, interests, and expression of the college’s faculty than through the images they created themselves.
When I first started working at the then-named Architecture Visual Resources Library in the early 2000s, I was struck by the number of slides that the library held that were donated by faculty. Many of these slides were distinctively bound - for library use, 35mm slides were removed from the laboratory-provided paper mounts and sandwiched in a thin paper mask between glass squares and bound with tape. Each faculty member seemed to have different styles of binding their slides - some were crisp and neat, others were hurried and sloppy. In time one could tell from the particular binding a slide had - the color of the tape, the type of film mask, or the style of information label - who had donated a particular slide. In the course of daily work at the AVRL, as it was known, we regularly digitized and cataloged these faculty-donated slides as our patrons requested them, or when they returned from being used in someone’s lecture or research. In doing so I always was happy to be faced with a slide bearing the distinctive silver-foil binding and neatly typewritten designation of “Arbegast Slide”. Every slide had a “source” attribution, and these sources were listed on index cards in a file that one could consult to determine more information about the annotation (they were often cryptic abbreviations).
The card for the annotation “Arbegast Slide” tells us that the source of that slide was, as you could guess, Mai Arbegast. Mai Arbegast taught at Berkeley in the Department of Landscape Architecture from 1953 to 1967. From 1967 to 2003 she ran a full-time professional practice involving the design of large-scale residential gardens/estates, wineries, in addition to commercial, educational and public projects. In addition to her professional practice, she played a key role in the gift of the Blake Garden to the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and the transfer of Filoli Gardens to the National Trust. She was largely responsible for the donation of the Beatrix Farrand Collection and Gertrude Jekyll Collection as well as the Farrand scholarship and fellowship funds to the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture.
Today the Environmental Design Archives holds Arbegast’s professional papers collection, which includes many 35mm slides of her professional work. The CED VRC, however, holds the slides which are commonly thought of as “travel slides” or non-professional work images - teaching images, research images, visual note-taking images, or often - inspiration images. These are the slides that I began noticing as I digitized and cataloged slides at the (then) AVRL and (now) CED VRC. In the spring of 2020, I was delighted to receive a grant from the CED’s Diversity Platforms Committee for a project entitled Digitizing the hidden photographs of Mai Kitazawa Arbegast. This grant allowed me to begin the process of systematically retrieving and digitizing the 35mm slides of Mai Arbegast that the CED VRC holds and arrange them together in a manner to view them as a body of work. My intention is to be able to view the images she produced as an ongoing stream of “visual interests'' that enables us to better understand her professional and teaching work when viewed in context with the textual and hand (and computer) drawn records that make up the Environmental Design Archives’ collection of her work.
While these images are not directly representative of Arbegast’s professional work, they do reflect her interests and influences, in so much as we can view in retrospect. This small selection of images to me reflects a deep interest in Arbegast’s part in large-scale human interventions upon landscapes, both physical and cultural.
As a landscape architect, she worked intimately with the “bigger picture” of arranging landscape elements among the natural and human-made world, but this of course included being sensitive to the smaller, personal level of the environment. While it is difficult to read extensive meanings into a very small, essentially random, set of images, it should be fairly clear how these images, made by Mai Arbegast while teaching at Berkeley and running her own firm, reflect her interests and pursuits.