March 2016 library profile:
“Altogether we see in this park plan a more beautiful city; a city whose buildings are interspersed with growing things… To make the modern city liveable is the task of our times. If this plan as presented here can help to make life better and more beautiful, it serves its purpose well.”
~Jens Jensen from A Greater West Park System, West Park Commission Report, 1920 in Jens Jensen: Writings Inspired by Nature ed. by William H. Tishler, 2012.
Jens Jensen was one of the most well known landscape designers and conservationists of the Midwest. Born in 1860 in Denmark, Jensen attended an agricultural college and served in the military before moving to the United States with his future wife in 1884. In 1886, he moved to Chicago and started as a gardener in Chicago's West Park Commission, rising through the ranks to become superintendent of Humboldt Park. From 1900 to 1906, he designed landscapes for influential private citizens before returning to the West Park Commission as general superintendent and landscape architect until 1920. After retiring, he continued his private practice designing parks and estates, including the estate of Henry Ford and the Lincoln Memorial Gardens in Springfield, IL. He focused on the use of native flora in landscape design to mimic naturally beautiful landscapes and create community fellowship with nature. He believed strongly that the natural world was an important presence in our lives. Only through a close relationship with nature and the opportunity to grow in nature could lead to positive human development and a freedom of mind that could lead to greatness. This led him to design public parks and places where nature could be brought in as an integral part of city life. “As he himself writes, he wanted ‘to give the people of Chicago a bit of native Illinois, something most of them have little chance to see or feel. So the prairie river which follows an ancient beach was planned with the prairie landscape beyond, reflecting the evening light as it is seen from the bluffs of our prairie rivers (Siftings, afterward by Darrel G. Morrison p.113).’” Jensen designed not only parks, but also many private estates, gardens, and schools and you can find a good number of his landscape plans here in the Sterling Morton Library.
“A few of the homes I have had the pleasure of planning give me pleasure to this day, although I would consider none the final word... Out of the many looms one place that has become dear to me during the years. It was a bit of oak and maple woodland, hundreds of years old… In the heart of this woodland I cut a sun opening, or clearing, as I call it, and on the edge of this clearing I placed the home. Cutting into woodlands usually leaves some hard lines in the way of bare tree trunks. To overcome this, several hawthorns were brought in and placed at prominent points on the edge of the woodland. These trees through their natural spreading characteristics gave the clearing a feeling of breadth; they softened the cold cut I had made and gave the little sun opening a poetic feeling most essential to make it more than a hole in the woods… There is a soothing sensation about this clearing. It is large enough to be in scale with the ancient oaks and maples surrounding it and small enough to give the whole an intimate note. What a delight to see the starry heavens through an opening of the leafy heads of the oaks, or the moon throwing its soft rays across one corner of the clearing, leaving the rest in deep mystery. At such times it becomes a sermon which awakens the best in the human soul.”
from Siftings by Jens Jensen,
Books by Jensen in the library
Resources about Jensen and his work in the library
Jens Jensen : maker of natural parks and gardens by Robert E. Grese, 1992
A Force of Nature: The Life and Work of Jens Jensen by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, 2002
The Jens Jensen I Knew by Sid Tefler, Sr., 1982
The Story of the Clearing by Mertha Fulkerson and Ada Corson, 1972
Jens Jensen: A Natural History, a film by William H. Tishler and William P. Tishler, 1998
Landscape Artist in America: the Life and Work of Jens Jensen by Leonard K. Eaton, 1964
The Prairie Spirit of Landscape Gardening by Wilhelm Miller, 1915
From the Special Collections - make an appointment to see these unique items!
- Landscape plans: our collections include over 150 planting, design, and landscape plans by Jens Jensen for schools, estates, and public parks.
- Archives: our collections include manuscripts of Jensen’s writings, photographs, publications, and correspondence.