Rice art historian earns book prize

Joseph Manca, the Nina J. Cullinan Professor of Art and Art History, has been selected to receive the Foundation for Landscape Studies’ 2014 John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize for his book “George Washington’s Eye: Landscape, Architecture and Design at Mount Vernon.”

The prize is awarded to recently published books that have made significant contributions to the study and understanding of garden history and landscape studies, according to the New York City-based foundation.

Published in 2012, Manca’s book examines Mount Vernon’s stylistic, moral and historical dimensions and offers a comprehensive picture of this national treasure and the man behind its enduring design. According to the foundation, Manca’s “richly illustrated book introduces a side of the Founding Father unfamiliar to many readers – the avid art collector, amateur architect and, along with Thomas Jefferson, the leading landscape designer of his time.”

Manca said the bulk of his research was carried out at Mount Vernon itself: in the house and grounds and in the research library there, where he consulted unpublished primary documents, published material, archeological reports on the gardens and grounds, historic structure reports on the mansion house and outbuildings and curatorial files on the works of art that Washington owned.

“I also traveled a good deal, looking at 18th-century architecture and restored landscape gardens,” Manca said. “My travels took me to England and across most of the states on the East Coast of the U.S. And it should be noted that Fondren Library has an excellent collection of books and journals on early American history, culture, art and architecture.”


Most of Manca’s research in the last 15 years has been in the area of American art and culture. “I am currently working on issues of aesthetics and visuality in the lives of the Shakers,” Manca said. “Working on George Washington’s aesthetics, with a focus on Mount Vernon, allowed me to combine my interests in early American art, architecture, landscape studies and art collecting, as well as the broader cultural and moral issues involved in the creation of Mount Vernon as a public presentation of Washington’s self.”

The book was also chosen by Association of American Publishers as one of the top three books in the field of architecture and urban planning published in the United States in 2012.

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About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.