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University Libraries - News, Events & Exhibits

"Robert Marvin: Father of Southern Landscape Architecture"

South Caroliniana Library (Lumpkin Foyer)


The perfect summer exhibit is now on display in South Caroliniana Library. “Robert Marvin: Father of Southern Landscape Architecture” creates a complete picture of the life and career of South Carolina native Robert Marvin (1919 - 2001), considered by many to be the South’s most influential landscape architect. Exhibit curator Beth Bilderback has filled the Lumpkin Foyer with items that tell the singular story of this award-winning design genius.

“Robert Marvin always put the land first,” said  Bilderback, Visual Materials Archivist. “He was a master landscape architect for more than 50 years, and in that time he had a large impact on South Carolina.”

Marvin’s work and that of his Walterboro-based firm included the creation of Monarch at Sea Pines in Hilton Head, Glencairn Gardens in Rock Hill, the Henry Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort, the Waterfront Park in Charleston, the South Carolina Governor's Mansion compound, the Congaree Vista and Finlay Park in Columbia. He set a standard for restoration in Charleston and was at the forefront of the preservation movement there.

His work outside South Carolina included the Southern Progress Corporation in Birmingham, Alabama; two major, award-winning projects at Callaway Gardens in Georgia; and the Jones Bridge Headquarters of Simmons Company in Atlanta.

“I met Mr. Marvin just as his papers were coming to USC,” Bilderback said. “He talked about his philosophy when designing a home: he would meet with the family to see how they lived, what their hobbies were. He studied the site and would suggest the best placement of the house to take advantage of cooling shade and views. It was a thoughtful process that took lifestyle and human needs into consideration, before anything was put on paper. It was not just clear-cutting a site, which was the trend at that time.


"When dealing with municipalities, things can get complicated, but he was adept at working with different groups. His papers include correspondence, contracts and other materials that show how he accomplished all that he did.”

           -- Beth Bilderback, Visual Materials Archivist

“He set up his landscape architecture firm in 1947, and the firm is still active today,” Bilderback said. “He came into the field when the modernist movement was moving ahead, at a time when the environment was beginning to be considered in design. Then the environmental movement came along in the 1970s and ‘80s, and he fit right in with that.”

An appreciation for the land was in Marvin’s genes: his grandfather was a rice planter, and his dad was a caretaker at the 18,000-acre Bonnie Doon Plantation in Walterboro, Colleton County. He went to Clemson University to study horticulture and to the University of Georgia to study architecture.

A large collection, the Marvin Papers consist of 100 cartons of office records and 100 sets of drawings.

“He had a packet of great marketing materials that he sent to prospective clients, and we have that," Bilderback said. "He worked with the cities of Myrtle Beach and Rock Hill, and also did some plans for the Columbia Vista and the Statehouse property. When dealing with municipalities, things can get complicated, but he was adept at working with different groups. His papers include correspondence, contracts and other materials that show how he accomplished all that he did.”

Marvin won numerous awards, several of which are part of the collection.

“Almost every First Lady from Betty Ford to Hillary Clinton awarded him the Judges Award from the American Association of Nurserymen, and we have photos of him receiving those awards,” Bilderback said. Marvin also received the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest honor, and he was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) awarded him the ASLA Medal, the highest honor a member of the Society can receive.

“Robert Marvin: Father of Southern Landscape Architecture” is on display through August 30. It is free and open to the public.

South Caroliniana Library is located on the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe. Hours are 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday. For more information, visit or call 803-777-3131.


Photos: (Top right) Robert Marvin is shown here in his family’s home in 1957. His wife, Anna Lou Carrington Marvin, believed so strongly in her husband's philosophy of design that she allowed her traditional Southern house and yard to be changed to reflect his ideas. The house was featured in architectural magazines because of its unique glass enclosure that overlooked a patio and a natural, tree-filled backyard. (Above left) First Lady Nancy Reagan presents Marvin with the National Landscape Award in 1984.