Barrie Barstow Greenbie was a key member of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at UMass Amherst from 1970-1989. In a long and remarkably diverse career, Greenbie worked as an artist with the Works Progress Administration, as a soldier and journalist, as a professor of theater, an architect, inventor, author, and landscape planner. After earning a BA in drama from the University of Miami (1953),he worked for several years in the theatre program at Skidmore College. While there, he added architecture to his array of talents, designing the East 74th Street Theater in New York in 1959, and founded a company to produce a "self-erecting" building designed to substitute for summer tent theaters. Two years after joining the faculty at UMass in 1970, he completed a doctorate in urban affairs and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin and continued with a characteristically broad array of creative pursuits, designing the William Smith Clark Memorial, among other things, and conducting an extensive aerial survey of the landscapes of the Connecticut River Valley. In monographs such as Design for Diversity and Spaces: Dimensions of the Human Landscape, Greenbie examined the interactions between humans and nature. He died at his home on South Amherst in 1998.
The Greenbie Papers document a long career as academic, writer, artist, architect, and theatrical designer. Of particular note is the extensive and engrossing correspondence, which extends from Greenbie's years as a student at the Taft School in the late 1930s through his World War II service with the Sixth Army in the South Pacific and Japan, to his tenure at UMass Amherst (1970-1989). The collection also includes a small, but interesting correspondence between Greenbie's parents (1918-1919).
The collection is open for research.
Background on Barrie B. Greenbie
A member of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1970 to 1989, Barrie Barstow Greenbie (1920-1998) enjoyed a remarkably diverse career, contributing to fields ranging from art to theatre, architecture to landscape planning. Born in New York on March 29, 1920, Greenbie's early life was in many ways as diverse as his adulthood. Raised to believe that his father, Sydney, was of Swedish descent, he discovered in his forties that he actually descended from a Jewish family who had fled Russia during the pogroms of Alexander II. His mother Marjorie, scion of an old New England family, was among the first women granted a PhD from Yale and taught English at Mount Holyoke College.
Prepped at the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut, during the height of the Great Depression, Greenbie faced a still-sluggish economy upon graduation. After studying at the Corcoran School of Art and the Art Students League, both in New York City, he earned his first job in 1940, when he earned the distinction of becoming the youngest artist ever commissioned by the Works Progress Administration, painting a mural for the post office in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine.
After service with the Field Artillery in the Pacific during the Second World War and as a correspondent with the 6th Army in occupied Japan, Greenbie returned home to continue his education at the University of Miami, studying drama with a concentration in playwriting and stage design. Following receipt of his BA in 1953, he joined the Theatre Department at Skidmore College in Saratoga, N.Y., all the while maintaining an active creative life. It was there that he first branched out into architecture, designing buildings for the college and in 1959, the widely acclaimed East 74th Street Theater in New York (later renamed the Phoenix). He later returned to school, earning a doctorate in urban affairs and regional planning from the University of Wisconsin (1972) two years after accepting a position at UMass Amherst.
The wide-ranging intellect and keen artistic talent displayed at Skidmore characterized Greenbie's professional life at every stage. Author of a raft of essays, plays, and poetry, he designed theatres for dance for the Ford Foundation, invented a new conveyor belt system, and acquired five patents for inventions such as the Portapavillion, a portable open-framed tent, and the G-Frame house, a prefabricated house design that is easy and fast to build. Among his scholarly contributions were three monographs Design for Diversity: Planning for Natural Man in the Neo-Technic Environment (1976), focused particularly on the interactions between humans and nature, Spaces: Dimensions of the Human Landscape (1981), and Space and Spirit in Modern Japan (1988). His autobiography, A Hole in the Heartland appeared in 1996. At UMass, Greenbie pursued campus projects as diverse as designing the William Smith Clark Memorial (a joint effort between UMass and Hokkaido University to honor the third President of Massachusetts Agricultural College) and conducting an extensive aerial survey of the landscapes of the Connecticut River Valley.
Greenbie died at his home in South Amherst in 1998. He was survived by his wife of thirty-four years, Vlasta J. (Koran) Greenbie, three daughters, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Documenting the creative and professional life of Barrie Greenbie, this collection offers a rich resource for study of Greenbie's education, overseas service during World War II, his professional lives in the theatre and landscape architecture, and his relationships with family members, including his first wife Meg and his parents Marjorie and Sydney. The collection is organized into four series: Personal and Biographical, Professional, the Theatre, and the Connecticut River.
An engaging writer from early in life, Greenbie maintained a robust correspondence with his parents and wife from his time at the Taft School through the end of the Second World War, with slightly sparser correspondence for later years. Also included is a fascinating volume of typed copies of letters exchanged between Marjorie and Sydney Greenbie during their courtship in 1918-1919.
Among the great constants of Greenbie's varied life was a passion for the theatre, which emerges throughout the collection. In addition to some architectural designs for theatres and a model of the East 74th Street Theatre, the collection includes correspondence, an array of playbills and photographs of plays directed by Greenbie (primarily during the early 1950s), and several scripts, ending with The Apple Orchard, which was performed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the early 1990s. Also worthy of note are materials relating to Greenbie's patents on the Portapavilion, a collapsible outdoor pavilion, and on the G-Frame, a frame used in prefabricated houses.
Finally, the collection brings together material that highlights Greenbie's interest in the Connecticut River Valley. The collection includes research, analysis, and correspondence relating to his study of the Valley and a compact disk containing numerous aerial images of the riverscape.
The Greenbie were donated by Barrie Greenbie in 1998, with subsequent additions from his widow, Vlasta, in 2000.
Processed by Sarah Goldstein and Rebecca Tran, May 2010.
Cite as: Barrie Greenbie Papers (FS 142). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.