Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

The Public and Private Life of Bunny Mellon

September 7, 2023 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise is like an exquisite string of pearls: the perfect balance of elegance, style, design, and beauty. This book is inspiring, spirited, and totally absorbing.” ―Diane von Furstenberg

The story of Bunny Mellon, the great landscape and interior designer, is a revelatory exploration of the aesthetic and aspirational impacts of one of the 20th century’s leading visionaries. Join us for an evening with the author—and Bunny Mellon confidante—Mac Griswold, as she lifts the veil on the famous tastemaker through personal anecdotes and riveting details pulled from the pages of her new book.

Tickets are $10 for members, $15 for the public.

To purchase, click here or call 843.792.9913 during Box Office Hours (11:00AM–4:00PM, Monday through Thursday).

About the Book

In I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise, Griswold―who knew Mellon personally―delves into her subject’s closely guarded personal archives to construct an unrivaled portrait of a woman as complex and multifaceted as the gardens and homes on which she left her mark. Mellon tested the anodyne 1950s model of woman-as-wife-as-mother by getting a divorce, admitting candidly to her first husband that she wanted a richer one. She imperiously traded old friends for new and ultimately used her reputation, her connections, and above all her money to help fund John Edwards’s short-lived presidential campaign. She led an American version of a royal court that, over the years, included Jackie Kennedy, Hubert de Givenchy, and I. M. Pei.

How Mellon’s character, style, and taste developed together to produce her greatest accomplishments―private and public―is the real subject of this biography.

A life marked by astonishing good fortune as well as tragedy and scandal, hers remains singular as a preeminent figure in the annals of American design. Not only did she have her finger on the pulse of American culture and possessed a rare, once-in-a-generation sense of style and grace, but her most celebrated work―the White House Rose Garden, created during the presidency of John F. Kennedy―demonstrated how formal restraint and the sparing use of color could be deployed to maximal effect. Later, her understated landscape design for the Kennedy grave site at Arlington National Cemetery changed the face of American public memorials.

Mellon was a famously private person, and many of her greatest achievements remained concealed from public view. Her rarely seen gardens and domestic interiors at eight different properties on three continents became legends and models. At Oak Spring Farm in Virginia, the bibliographic riches of her Garden Library were twinned with the expansive flowering gardens lying below the Edward Larrabee Barnes–designed building. At her home on Nantucket, she pruned back the landscape to reveal the elemental forms of nature. Mellon also ranked as one of the great art collectors of her era, encouraging her husband Paul to use his family’s vast wealth to acquire hundreds of nineteenth-century French paintings, many of which were donated to the National Gallery of Art. Her own tastes ranged from Mark Rothko to Richard Diebenkorn―in quantity.

About the Author

Mac Griswold is an acclaimed cultural landscape historian and writer. Rooted in a childhood spent exploring the castles and towers of lush north central New Jersey, Mac went on to study landscape design at the Radcliffe Seminars and horticulture at the New York Botanical Gardens. After living and writing in New York City for decades and on the East End of Long Island for twenty years, Mac decamped for Virginia in 2014 where she lived for seven years not far from Bunny Mellon’s library, archives, and gardens in Upperville before moving to rural Pennsylvania, her present home, where she continues to write and to garden. Her previous books have centered on lives and places of cultural and historic importance. This book, I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise, a Life of Bunny Mellon, her first full biography, is no exception.

Griswold currently serves as a member of the stewardship council of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF).


Charleston Library Society
164 King Street
Charleston, SC 29401 United States
+ Google Map
View Venue Website