In Love Every Leaf, Kathy Stinson explores the life and career of landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a woman who has both literally and figuratively broken ground in her field. In a career spanning six decades, Oberlander has challenged both gender biases and design traditions to become an internationally celebrated expert.
Stinson traces the origin of Oberlander’s fighting spirit to her Jewish family’s escape from 1930s Germany to the United States. There Cornelia attended university and met her future husband, Peter, a city planner. The couple moved to Vancouver in 1953, and Oberlander has designed several major projects in the city in addition to her work across Canada and around the world. Now in her eighties, she remains in demand as a designer and speaker, advocating for sustainable practices. (Though inconsistent verb tenses in the book had me questioning whether she’s still alive, the final chapter clarifies that she is.)
Stinson delivers her usual polished product, crafting a thoroughly researched, well-written text. Tundra hasn’t scrimped on the production values, either, so the book is pleasingly laid out and full of photos. This makes for a relatively expensive volume, though, given the book’s brevity.
While I learned a great deal from Love Every Leaf, I have difficulty imagining who its audience will be. Because it touches on a range of topics – history and ecology, for example, in addition to Oberlander’s life – it has a potentially broad readership, and it will have local interest for Vancouver audiences, given Oberlander’s extensive work in the city. However, the specialized subject and Stinson’s in-depth treatment of it will make for heavy digging for young readers.