Pebbles In The Pond: News & Musings by Landscape Architect Dick Bell

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Book Signing Event This Month September 14, 2011

I will be signing copies of my new book, The Bridge Builders, during Triangle Modernist Houses’ “Thirst 4 Architecture” happy hour event on September 22, 6-8 p.m., in the offices of Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee in the Capital Bank building, Suite 1000, on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. The event is free and open to the public. For more details on the event, click HERE.

For more details on the book, click HERE.


NC Landscape Architect Publishes First Book January 4, 2011

Following is our first press release on the publication of The Bridge Builders…

January 3, 2011 (ATLANTIC BEACH, NC) – From growing up on North Carolina’s Outer Banks during the Great Depression and World War II, to watching as his immigrant father designed and built the first “Lost Colony” amphitheater, to a series of adventures that began when he won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1951, landscape architect Richard C. “Dick” Bell explores his evolution as a designer in his first book, The Bridge Builders.


Dick Bell is the Southern landscape architect who created such seminal landmarks as the North Carolina State University “Brickyard,” the City of Raleigh’s beloved Pullen Park, and the Meredith College Amphitheater in Raleigh, among 2000 other projects he has completed in his long career – projects that left a profound imprint on his profession and his state. Through The Bridge Builders, he explores the people, places, and educational experiences that made him the man and the designer he came to be.


Published by Vantage Press, The Bridge Builders begins with his paternal grandparents’ immigration from England to Canada in the early years of the 20th century, before his father hastened their relocation to North Carolina. As a young boy in the sea and sand of Manteo, NC, and as a son and grandson of avid gardeners, Bell developed an intense love of nature and conservation that would define his illustrious career. As the youngest recipient of the Prix de Rome, his travel abroad would forever influence how he designed outdoor spaces for human enjoyment.


The book concludes just as Bell is starting what would become one of his master works and a living laboratory for landscape architecture, the former Water Garden in Raleigh – the “Taliesin” of North Carolina.


Midwest Book Review says: “The Bridge Builders is a memoir from Richard Bell as he reflects on being an American who came to love art and architecture in Europe and did well in helping establish important work that earned him a place as town hero in Raleigh. The Bridge Builders is intriguing and thoughtful for those looking for a read that bridges art and architecture.”


The book includes a collection of photos from Bell’s life along with original sketches and watercolors he made during his years at the American Academy in Rome.
Bell is planning to publish another book or white paper in the future that will include case studies of his major projects.


To learn more about The Bridge Builders, visit


The order a copy of the book from Vantage Press ($16.95), call by phone 24-hours a day: 877-736-5403, option 5; or fax an order to 212-736-2273.




First Review of “The Bridge Builders” November 24, 2010

Just received the first review of my new book The Bridge Builders by Willis Buhle of The Midwest Book Review!

“There’s more to art and architecture than the blueprint doodles. The Bridge  Builders is a memoir from Richard Bell as he reflects on being an American who came to love art and architecture in Europe and did well in helping establish important work that earned him a place as town hero in his birthplace of Raleigh, North Carolina. The Bridge Builders is intriguing and thoughtful for those looking for a read that bridges art and architecture.” –Willis M. Buhle, Review


Excerpt from “The Bridge Builders” January 27, 2010

Filed under: About my upcoming books — Blueplate PR @ 6:09 pm

I thought I’d share an excerpt from my first book, The Bridge Builders, edited by Kim Weiss and published by Vantage Press. It’s due out this spring…

In England in the early 1900s, only the very wealthy owned automobiles. British cars were still hand-built, handcrafted, prohibitively expensive, and were invariably the provenance of rich men with large houses or country estates. They garaged their new automobiles in motor houses once used to stable horses and carriages, and employed chauffeurs – drivers who doubled as mechanics — to motor them about. My grandfather, Albert Ernest Bell, was one of those early chauffeurs, employed by a duke in Brough, Yorkshire, England.

L-R: my father and my grandfather, 1921

Granddad stood no more than five feet, two inches tall in his stocking feet, yet he was a robust man who served his vocational apprenticeship in the study of steam engines. When he gained employment with the duke, he switched to studying and maintaining automobiles. It was his responsibility to see that the duke’s new cars ran well and that the noble family was transported safely as they traveled to their various properties.

It was in service to the duke that Granddad met and married my grandmother, Elizabeth Messider, a slender woman of French descent who stood four inches taller than Granddad and worked as the family’s governess. Entrusted with the duke’s children, she trained them in various courses as preparation for higher education. And she was, in every sense, a true British Nanny who embodied what her king – George V — reportedly considered his nation’s greatest strengths: “diligence, dignity and duty.” Always dressed like a duchess ready for afternoon tea, Elizabeth Messider prided herself on her gentility – despite the fact that she was not an actual member of the British upper class. Yet it was her most profound mission to raise her own sons – Ernest, her first born, and Albert, her second and my father — to be as intelligent, cultured, and gentile as any nobleman’s sons. And she pursued this mission with zeal.

My grandparents lived in a stone cottage beneath a thatched roof on a corner of the duke’s estate in Northern England, amidst picturesque expanses of rolling hills, meandering roads, and a short walk to water’s edge. Lovely gardens surrounded their modest home, thanks to Granddad’s avocation: gardening. He loved working with and maintaining plants, and became quite adept at raising perennials as well as annuals. For cutting gardens he was particularly fond of gladiolas, asters, daffodils, tulips, chrysanthemums, and pansies. (My own love for these flowers was galvanized by age five after countless hours spent at Granddad’s knee, listening to him describe his lush English gardens.)

To my grandmother –  who was known as “Nanny” to both the duke’s children and her future grandchildren – theirs was an admirable station for a working-class family in post-Industrial Revolution England. She expected her sons to be proud of and content within that world. But my father was not. By 15 years of age, he was in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. A scholar and a dreamer, he longed to leave that world behind and pursue a life unfettered by class or geography.



I come from a family of bridge builders… August 15, 2009

Filed under: About my upcoming books — Blueplate PR @ 6:49 pm
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I thought I would share with any readers of my blog the Prologue to my upcoming book, The Bridge Builders, book one of a trilogy of books…

Sunrise on Roanoke Island

Sunrise on Roanoke Island


The Bridge Builder

An Old man, going a long highway,

Came, at the evening, cold and gray,

To a chasm, vat, and deep, and wide,

Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;

The sullen stream had no fears for him;

But he turned, when safe on the other side,

And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,

“You are wasting strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day;

You never again must pass this way;

You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide

Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followeth after me today

A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”

I come from a family of bridge builders who spent their lives trying to create a better world in which to live, work, and play — not only for themselves, but also for those around them. Men and women, black and white, lawyers, ministers, professors, artists, farmers, politicians, and school teachers – scores of folks from all walks of lives were touched by these stalwart bridge-builders, who saw education as a life-long pursuit and shared their knowledge with those around them. Their classrooms were not only books of all sorts on all variety of subjects, but their own homes and gardens – from the rolling, stonewalled estate of a English duke to the simple cottages and flat, sandy soils of coastal North Carolina. Indeed, much of what they learned had some basis in the land – in planting and growing things from the soil.



The Game’s Afoot! July 23, 2009

As I was growing up in Manteo and Elizabeth City, North Carolina, during the Great Depression of the ‘30s, I fell I love with the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I loved to lose myself in their world as they white-washed fences, ran errands for their parents, slipped away to raft and fish the Mississippi River,

My buddy Billy Hackett (left) and me at play on Roanoke Island.

My buddy Billy Hackett (left) and me at play on Roanoke Island.

studied the currents and dangers of the shoals, and came to know intimately the land forms they traversed. Every day was a learning experience for them. But despite the fun and adventures they had, the ultimate goal was survival.

Actually, life outside of that fascinating literary world was much the same for me at the time. Survival was the ultimate goal – with a little fun and adventure mixed in to keep it interesting! But every single day my parents had to struggle to provide the basic necessities of food, shelter and clothing for our little family. Those things most of us take for granted today were hard-won goals back then.

Mom and Dad in Manteo

Mom and Dad in Manteo

In his own right, my father was a pioneer. A self-taught man, he designed and built the first replica of Fort Raleigh in Manteo and, soon thereafter, “The Lost Colony” amphitheater. (Many other outdoor drama amphitheaters would follow.) A British immigrant, he first had to learn the nature of the new place he called home and how he could care for it and manipulate it to make a life for himself and his family. Meanwhile, my mother was blazing her own trail as she raised her children and created the first plant nursery on Roanoke Island. Creativity and determination propelled my parents as the dreamed, scheme and struggled against difficult circumstances and odds.