Conserving a Classic Book on Sunspots

Depiction of sunspots in Rosa Ursina sive Sol, an illustrated astronomical text published by Christoph Scheiner in 1626. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Depiction of sunspots in Rosa Ursina sive Sol, an illustrated astronomical text published by Christoph Scheiner in 1626. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

On my last day as the Dibner Conservator for the History of Science collection at The Huntington, I want to share one of the more interesting and complex conservation treatments I’ve completed here—rebinding George Ellery Hale’s copy of Rosa Ursina sive Sol. Christoph Scheiner, a German Jesuit renowned for his studies of sunspots, published this beautifully illustrated astronomical text in 1626. It remained the standard text on sunspots for a century after its publication.

George Ellery Hale (1868-1938), the founder of the Mount Wilson Observatory, was a solar physicist who made the discovery that sunspots have magnetic fields. He donated his copy of Rosa Ursina to the Mount Wilson Observatory library before it came to reside at The Huntington, along with the rest of the Mount Wilson collection.

Rosa Ursina, completely disbound. Many beautiful engravings appear throughout the book, often incorporating imagery of bears, a reference to the book’s patron, Paolo Jordano Orsini, Duke of Bracciano. Orsini is an Italianized form of the Latin word for “bear.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Rosa Ursina, completely disbound. Many beautiful engravings appear throughout the book, often incorporating imagery of bears, a reference to the book’s patron, Paolo Jordano Orsini, Duke of Bracciano. Orsini is an Italianized form of the Latin word for “bear.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Hale’s copy of Rosa Ursina was originally bound in brown calf over wooden boards, with ornate blind stamping on the boards’ faces. When the book first came to the conservation lab, it was completely disbound, making it impossible to handle safely. Many Huntington scholars had requested Rosa Ursina over the years, but they were unable to access it in its disbound condition.

The first step I took was to reinforce each gathering—a set of conjoint leaves—by adhering a thin strip of Japanese tissue along the fold. This gave the fold increased strength and ensured that the gatherings would be able to support the tension of the thread when I resewed the volume. The text block is more than four inches thick, and sewing it took a long time. I also mended tears on the first and last pages of the text block and filled gaps around the perimeter of the frontispiece.

I adhered a thin strip of Japanese tissue to the spine fold of each gathering. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I adhered a thin strip of Japanese tissue to the spine fold of each gathering. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Then I turned to the supports that held the text block together. The lower wooden board had somehow managed to retain most of the original sewing supports—thick pairs of linen cords around which the sewing threads were wrapped to provide the mechanical consolidation of the text block. As I worked to sew the gatherings back to the binding, I needed to incorporate this original material and also find a way to give the book an additional means of support.

I ended up threading thin, soft linen bands behind each of the original sewing supports so that, as the binding flexes, the new threads bear most of the tension. However, several cords were missing entirely. A colleague at The Huntington taught me how to cable new cords using linen thread and a cordless drill. You extend four strands of two-ply thread across the length of a very large room, with one person on one side of the room holding the strands taut, and another person on the other side of the room holding an electric drill and a hook attachment. You attach the thread to the hook, and as the drill rotates, the cord twists into a tight cable. Then you hold the cord to maintain the tautness as the cord folds over onto itself and finally rotate the drill in the opposite direction.

When done correctly, the thread locks into place and resists unraveling due to the opposing twist of the original thread. I was gratified to see that the cords were almost identical in diameter and density to the original ones. I frayed out the ends of these new cords and adhered them to the board behind the stubs of the originals.

The resewn text block incorporates both the original sewing supports and the newly cabled cord. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The resewn text block incorporates both the original sewing supports and the newly cabled cord. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Then I needed to sew the text block directly onto the boards. (Traditionally, a text block is sewn independently of the boards, which are then laced on at a later stage. But in this case, the first and last gatherings were still attached to the boards, and the sewing supports were still attached to the lower board.) So I set up the lower board on a sewing frame, tensioned the new cords and support threads, and began sewing. In rare book conservation, it’s unusual to have the opportunity to completely resew a text block, and this became my favorite part of the treatment. It took several days of methodical sewing and careful tensioning to complete this step.

After I closely examined the upper board, I realized that there was a small split in the wood. I mended the split by using a small brush to insert leaf gelatin—a natural, collagen-based adhesive—and clamped it overnight. Once I stabilized the board, I also sewed it on, and removed the book from the sewing frame. I then lined the spine panels with Japanese tissue and aeroplane linen—a very fine and tightly woven material originally used to cover the wings of airplanes. These linings extended onto the board edges to provide an additional method of board attachment. I also sewed new silk endbands over linen cords and adhered them to the head and tail of the textblock.

I used a new piece of toned calf leather to reback the text block, inserting the new leather directly beneath the existing leather. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I used a new piece of toned calf leather to reback the text block, inserting the new leather directly beneath the existing leather. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The final step of the treatment was rebacking the book with new leather. Rebacking entails covering the spine of a book with new material—often leather or toned Japanese tissue—when the original spine material is either missing or badly abraded. I pared undyed calf leather to a suitable thickness and toned it to approximate the mottled dark brown leather on the boards. The book had already been rebacked at some point in its history—likely in the 18th century. I wanted to maintain the evidence of this earlier restoration, so I inserted the new leather beneath both layers of existing leather.

The book now opens smoothly and can be handled safely by researchers. I feel very fortunate to have worked on such an important, complex, and engaging conservation treatment.

Huntington researchers can now safely consult the rebound book. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Huntington researchers can now safely consult the rebound book. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Today is Jennifer Evers’ last day as the Dibner Conservator for the History of Science collection at The Huntington. She will be joining the conservation staff at the Library of Congress.

Taking the Long View

During an initial scouting trip, photographer John C. Lewis looked for locations that would most accurately recreate the original composition of panoramic photos made a century before.

During an initial scouting trip, photographer John C. Lewis looked for locations that would most accurately recreate the original composition of panoramic photos made a century before.

What happens when you try to recreate panoramic photos taken on The Huntington’s property a hundred years ago? Earlier this year, award-winning Los Angeles photographer John C. Lewis spent a few days on the grounds to find out. His mission: capture images that approximate two 1915 panoramas from our archives—one of the Huntington mansion (now the Huntington Art Gallery) and the other of the Desert Garden.

The results are on view in the Mapel Orientation Gallery, and the new perspectives are both instantly recognizable and markedly different from the originals. For instance, see the narrow tree on the left that seems to rise out of the Rose Garden trellis in the original photo? It’s a Queensland kauri pine (Agathis robusta) that was already 40 feet tall at the time. In the photograph taken by Lewis, that same tree can be seen towering more than a hundred feet into the air.

Top: Huntington Mansion, West Coast Art Co., ca. 1915. Bottom: Desert Garden, photographer unknown, ca. 1915.

Top: Huntington Mansion, West Coast Art Co., ca. 1915. Bottom: Desert Garden, photographer unknown, ca. 1915.

We caught up with Lewis to ask him about his experience.

Q: What sort of camera did you use?

A: It’s a Kodak Panoram, circa 1907, from the same era as the one used a century ago for The Huntington’s photos. It’s a family heirloom from my father. Early in my career, he suggested I try it out, but at the time, I was too enamored of modern cameras. Only later did I start experimenting, and I became enthralled by the camera’s simplicity and the quality of its negatives. Using it feels like a link to the past, and I love the special mood its photographs convey. I now have a body of work devoted to panoramas, and this is the camera I use.

Q: Is making a panoramic photo any different from making other photos?

A: Making a panoramic photo is simply creating a picture with a wide sense of vision. Even though the field of view is greater than the human eye, composing a scene still draws on the same instinct I use for a square or rectangular photograph. It’s just another manner of expression. Technically, there are some differences. Instead of using a viewfinder, I have to turn my head to compose a scene. The camera stays still and the lens swings, pivoting from one side to the other.

Top: Huntington Art Gallery, John C. Lewis, 2015. Bottom: Desert Garden, John C. Lewis, 2015.

Top: Huntington Art Gallery, John C. Lewis, 2015. Bottom: Desert Garden, John C. Lewis, 2015.

Q: What was it like preparing for these shots?

A: It was exciting but challenging—especially to figure out where to set up the camera. I had to estimate distances, angles, and the time of day from copies of the originals. There aren’t any records from the original photographer, so we don’t know if he climbed a tree or used scaffolding. I used a multistory scaffold. That got me pretty close to the original view of the mansion, but in the Desert Garden, the paths had changed and some trees obscured the view.

Q: What kind of film did you use?

A: Back when this vintage camera was made, only low-speed film was available, limiting its use to group photos, site surveys, and such. Fortunately, modern-day 120 mm film—the kind you’d use with a medium-format camera like a Hasselblad—is close to perfect. Today’s variety of film speeds means I can use the camera in many more situations.

Lewis carefully loads his Kodak Panoram camera, circa 1907, with modern-day 120 mm film.

Lewis carefully loads his Kodak Panoram camera, circa 1907, with modern-day 120 mm film.

Q: Why did you feel it was important to use a vintage camera?

A: Modern cameras would have made this project a lot easier, but the underlying spirit would have been lost. Using a vintage camera was a very deliberate decision. I didn’t want the clarity, sharpness, and precision of a modern digital camera. I wanted to recreate the scenes through a lens from the past.

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Coveted Research Fellowships

Researchers at work in the Huntington Library's Rothenberg Reading Room. Photograph by Martha Benedict.

Researchers at work in the Huntington Library’s Rothenberg Reading Room. Photograph by Martha Benedict.

Members and visitors may typically think of The Huntington as a glorious place to visit in the spring with the puya in bloom in the Desert Garden, the wisteria gracing the Japanese Garden, and the roses rioting a few acres away in the Rose Garden. But for humanities scholars, spring at The Huntington signals something else entirely: it’s the time when grants are awarded by The Huntington Research Fellowship Program. That arduous process was completed by a group of external evaluators who discussed and evaluated more than 650 applications and awarded nearly 200 grants. (You can see the complete list of 2015-16 awarded fellowships on The Huntington’s website.)

The Huntington is one of the nation’s major granting institutions in the humanities, awarding roughly $1.7 million in fellowships each year. For scholars, a fellowship award is something of a holy grail, as it provides them with an opportunity to immerse themselves for a period of time in the collections here, away from administrative and faculty responsibilities, and focus on their own research projects.

Amanda E. Herbert, assistant professor of history at Christopher Newport University, is the inaugural holder of the Molina Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences at The Huntington. Photograph by David Woodworth.

Amanda E. Herbert, assistant professor of history at Christopher Newport University, is the inaugural holder of the Molina Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences at The Huntington. Photograph by David Woodworth.

The awardees are selected by peer reviewers that hail from various disciplines (British and American history; British and American literature; the history of art, science, and medicine), but the review process also involves the active participation and advice of research staff and several Huntington curators. The final result is that a new cadre of grantees will be in residence here during the academic year 2015-16, and another 11, with the Huntington’s financial support, will be traveling to the United Kingdom to undertake research in British archives and libraries or to hold one of our exchange fellowships with colleges in Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

The process is competitive. Just over a third of those who applied were awarded grants, and it is striking that a very substantial proportion (38%) of these awards were made to graduate students, reaffirming the Huntington’s commitment to support humanities scholarship at the doctoral as well as the postdoctoral level. One other noteworthy feature of this year’s list is its international flavor: well over a third of the group is coming from outside the United States.

The highly coveted long-term fellowships are awarded for periods of residence of between nine and 12 months, and competition for these was extremely stiff. Of the 149 applications, only 12 were successful. Three of next year’s long-term fellows will be coming from Europe, and those from the United States work in institutions as geographically diverse as Tulane, Northwestern, UC Irvine, and New York University. The diversity of their research projects reflects the strength and breadth of the Huntington’s collections, with interesting clusters in Renaissance literature, early modern astronomy and astrology, and 18th-century economic history. (You can listen to lectures by some of the 2014-15 long-term fellows on iTunes U.)

Asif Siddiqi, professor of history at Fordham University, will be the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science and Technology. Photograph by Bill Denison.

Asif Siddiqi, professor of history at Fordham University, will be the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science and Technology. Photograph by Bill Denison.

We have expanded the long-term fellowship program into a new field, the history of medicine, an area of strength in our collections that has been made even stronger through recent acquisitions. The first recipient of the Molina Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is Amanda Herbert, assistant professor of history at Christopher Newport University, who focuses on public health and science in the spa towns of the British Atlantic.

Another growth area in our collections is the history of technology and especially of aerospace, which is why The Huntington is so attractive to Asif Siddiqi, professor of history at Fordham University, who will be the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science and Technology. The post will allow him to undertake research at The Huntington and also teach undergraduate courses at Caltech.

All these scholars will arrive in September, effectively becoming the Huntington’s “faculty” for the year, keeping the research environment here bubbling with excitement as they discover new material in the collections and discuss their findings with their new colleagues.

Steve Hindle is the W.M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington.

New Home for a Hidden Treasure

David Wilkie, Supper at Emmaus, 1841, oil on board, gift of Anne and Tooey Durning in memory of their grandmothers, Mabel B. Roberts and Lola F. Durning. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

David Wilkie, Supper at Emmaus, 1841, oil on board, gift of Anne and Tooey Durning in memory of their grandmothers, Mabel B. Roberts and Lola F. Durning. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

It’s not every day that a long-lost work of art appears out of nowhere. But that’s what happened in the summer of 2013 when Tooey Durning placed a call to The Huntington.

Tooey and her sister, Anne Durning, had inherited a painting from their grandmother. The sisters were exploring selling it. Ultimately, Tooey found her way to me, because I was the person at The Huntington who knew the artist well; David Wilkie had been the topic of my doctoral dissertation. But imagine my surprise when I saw an emailed image of the painting: it was Wilkie’s Supper at Emmaus, one of the 19th-century Scottish artist’s last works, untraced for decades.

Wilkie began the painting in Jerusalem while on an extended trip to the Near East in 1840-41. His travels were part of a campaign that he hoped would lead to a revolution in religious painting, one in which first-hand observation of the landscapes, architecture, and people of the Holy Land would be used to create historically accurate biblical scenes. (The Huntington already had one of Wilkie’s on-the-spot drawings, Interior in Jerusalem.) The painting, and indeed the artist’s whole project, was never completed. He died onboard ship as he traveled back to London.

David Wilkie, Interior in Jerusalem, 1841, black and white chalk on gray paper [rendered here in a black-and-white photograph], Gilbert Davis Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

David Wilkie, Interior in Jerusalem, 1841, black and white chalk on gray paper [rendered here in a black-and-white photograph], Gilbert Davis Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

After his death, Wilkie’s belongings were transferred to his sister. His final estate sale took place in 1860, and the painting made its way through several British collections. In 1947, the London-based dealers Spink & Son featured Supper at Emmaus in an advertisement. Over the ensuing years, the advertisement’s black-and-white photograph of the painting was published in at least one art history book and several journal articles on Wilkie’s career without any indication of where the painting was located. It seemed to have vanished.

So where was Supper at Emmaus hiding for more than five decades? The answer is Shelbyville, Ill., where Tooey’s grandmother, Mabel Roberts, regularly perused art catalogs from around the world. Mrs. Roberts was a shrewd woman with a good eye, a passion for art, and a no-nonsense approach to collecting. When she thought Spink’s price for the Wilkie painting was too high, she simply sent payment in a lower amount. A clearly surprised gallery director replied: “We would have considered your offer most carefully in any case, but reinforced as it is by your money order, we feel it would be not only unchivalrous but discourteous not to accept.” Supper at Emmaus remained in the Roberts’ home for many years and was eventually passed down to her two granddaughters.

David Wilkie, Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth, 1835, oil on canvas, purchased with funds from the Browning Memorial Art Fund. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

David Wilkie, Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth, 1835, oil on canvas, purchased with funds from the Browning Memorial Art Fund. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington was not prepared to purchase Supper at Emmaus, despite its unquestionable historic significance. The art collections had recently acquired Wilkie’s Sancho Panza in the Days of His Youth (1835), and given the limited acquisitions budget, it did not make sense at the time to buy a second painting by the same artist.

Fast forward several months, when another call brought another surprise: the sisters wanted to donate Supper at Emmaus to The Huntington in memory of both of their grandmothers. When asked why the change of mind, Tooey Durning had this to say: “Anne and I were introduced to The Huntington as children by our grandmother, Lola Durning. We shared fond memories of visits with her and our parents.” Those early experiences of the institution, combined with their grandmother Roberts’ love of art and the way Supper at Emmaus fit so well with the collections, made the decision simple. “Anne and I knew in our hearts that The Huntington was the perfect place for this painting.”

After several months in conservation, a cleaned and reframed Supper at Emmaus is now on view on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, where it tells an intriguing story of one painter’s thwarted ambition to transform the art of his time.

Tooey Durning (right) views the newly installed Supper at Emmaus at the Huntington Art Gallery with Melinda McCurdy (center), associate curator of British art, and Christina O’Connell (left), senior paintings conservator. Photograph by Lisa Blackburn.

Tooey Durning (right) views the newly installed Supper at Emmaus at the Huntington Art Gallery with Melinda McCurdy (center), associate curator of British art, and Christina O’Connell (left), senior paintings conservator. Photograph by Lisa Blackburn.

Melinda McCurdy is associate curator of British art at The Huntington.

Lusitania’s Anchor to the Past

Cunard Line produced this postcard-sized “souvenir log” (1908) depicting the "Lusitania" departing New York Harbor, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Cunard Line produced this postcard-sized “souvenir log” (1908) depicting the “Lusitania” departing New York Harbor, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A hundred years ago today, on May 7, 1915, a German U-boat sank the British ocean liner RMS “Lusitania.” Of the 1,962 passengers and crew on board, more than 1,100 lost their lives, including 128 Americans. It was a turning point in America’s position of neutrality in the face of increasing German aggression. Less than two years later, on April 6, 1917, the U.S. Congress would vote to declare war on Germany.

Some of The Huntington’s most colorful and curious items about World War I—including items related to the “Lusitania”—come from the Kemble Maritime Ephemera Collection. A treasure trove of 24,000 objects covering the period from 1855 to 1990, the collection includes ship histories, travel brochures, schedules, passenger lists, menus, posters, flyers, and other ephemera from some of the most prominent shipping companies of the 20th century. This includes Cunard, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and the White Star Line.

As a Ph.D. student at Berkeley in the 1930s, maritime historian John Haskell Kemble wrote his thesis on The Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the 19th-century boat service that carried passengers from the Isthmus of Panama to San Francisco before the Panama Canal was built. He published the work in 1943 as The Panama Route, 1848–1869. Kemble’s fascination with maritime history continued throughout his life, and he eventually filled two homes with his assorted ephemera. In the 1960s, he started donating much of his collection to The Huntington.

A place card (1914) from the "Lusitania" indicates where a passenger and his four family members should sit. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A place card (1914) from the “Lusitania” indicates where a passenger and his four family members should sit. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The “Lusitania” figures in at least a dozen items in the collection. In brochures, a deck plan, a postcard, and menus, we see a large and luxurious ocean liner equipped to satisfy the most demanding travelers. A wonderful brochure compares the size of the “Lusitania” to famous landmarks, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza and the U.S. Capitol.

There are also somber items reflecting the fateful sinking of the great ship. In a page from Lloyd’s Register of Shipping for the year 1915–1916, the entry for the “Lusitania” has the words “Sunk (War Loss)” stamped beside it.

The sinking of the “Lusitania” off the coast of Ireland shocked Americans. However, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. In early May 1915, several New York newspapers published an announcement from the Imperial German Embassy in Washington, D.C., warning Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones that they did so at their own risk. The warning was placed on the same page as an advertisement of the imminent sailing of the “Lusitania,” departing New York for Liverpool, England.

Travel brochures like this one (ca. 1907) vaunted the grandness of ocean liners such as the "Lusitania." The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Travel brochures like this one (ca. 1907) vaunted the grandness of ocean liners such as the “Lusitania.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The British Admiralty had warned the “Lusitania” to take simple evasive action, such as zigzagging to confuse U-boats plotting the vessel’s course. Captain William Thomas Turner seems to have ignored those recommendations, believing his vessel fast enough to outrun a German submarine.

By lunchtime on May 7, the morning fog shielding the “Lusitania” had burned off. At 2:10 pm, under clear skies and in calm waters, a German U-boat torpedoed the 32,000-ton ship. A larger explosion soon followed. The ship sank in less than 20 minutes. It was later revealed that the “Lusitania” was carrying war munitions for Britain, which the Germans cited as further justification for the attack.

I have an object related to the sinking of the “Lusitania” from my own collection, for I too am fascinated by maritime history. It is a crude copy of an actual medallion created by German artist Karl X. Goetz (1875–1950) and meant as a political statement on the perfidy of the Allies. He depicted the sinking of the “Lusitania” on the front, her decks loaded with armaments. On the reverse, he shows people buying tickets from Death, with the German Ambassador warning them not to go. The British seized upon this medal as proof of German pride in, and approval of, the sinking of the ship. London department store owner Harry Gordon Selfridge produced 300,000 copies of the medallion and sold them in a little box with an image of the “Lusitania” on its cover.

A copy of a medallion (1916) designed in Germany, showing passengers of the "Lusitania" buying tickets from Death. From the author's collection.

A copy of a medallion (1916) designed in Germany, showing passengers of the “Lusitania” buying tickets from Death. From the author’s collection.

The sinking of the “Lusitania” was a wrenching incident that figured prominently in the lead up to World War I, yet after the war, it largely slipped out of the public conscience. That is changing as centennial commemorations of the Great War bring renewed focus to this tragic event. Erik Larson’s new bestselling book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, revisits the gripping story in fine style.

Late last year, The Huntington organized the exhibition “Your Country Calls! Posters of the First World War.” One poster showed the allegorical figure of Britannia rising from the sea holding a sword in her outstretched hand. Bodies float in the water, and the “Lusitania” can be seen sinking in the background. The title urges the viewer to “Take up the Sword of Justice.”

Unlike the unfortunate passengers of the “Lusitania,” John Haskell Kemble, whose maritime collection preserves some of the great ship’s ephemera, died peacefully in his sleep on a deck chair aboard S.S. “Canberra” in February 1990, sailing between New Zealand and Australia on his fourth round-the-world cruise.

“Take Up the Sword of Justice,” 1915, Bernard Partridge (1861-1945), color lithograph, 40 1/16 x 25 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Take Up the Sword of Justice,” 1915, Bernard Partridge (1861-1945), color lithograph, 40 1/16 x 25 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Mario Einaudi is the Kemble Digital Projects Librarian at The Huntington.

Tough Love for Roses

Less water, more blooms? The Huntington’s Rose Garden is more beautiful than ever, thanks in part to the smoky-red ‘Hot Cocoa’ roses (seen in the foreground), a hybrid by rose curator Tom Carruth.

Less water, more blooms? The Huntington’s Rose Garden is more beautiful than ever, thanks in part to the smoky-red ‘Hot Cocoa’ roses (seen in the foreground), a hybrid by rose curator Tom Carruth.

When Tom Carruth started as The Huntington’s E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose Collection in 2012, California was already experiencing record-low precipitation. Carruth decided to do his part by cutting irrigation to the historic roses to twice a week, for just 15 minutes each time. Three years later, The Huntington’s 4,000 rose shrubs are doing better than ever—bursting out in huge, beautiful blooms, filling the air around the Tea Room with a heady mix of rose scents that hint at lemon, apple, and clove.

It turns out that cutting back on water was just what the (rose) doctor ordered. Carruth analyzed the soil and realized it had become saturated and highly compacted. Wet soil chokes a plant’s roots, limiting its ability to grow, he says.

“Reducing water gives roses the tough love they need,” says Carruth. “Like most plants, roses like moist, not wet, soil that allows oxygen to reach their roots. And the plants become even more vigorous as they send out new roots in search of water.”

Carruth says roses aren’t fussy. His advice: “Build healthy soil and try some tough love in the form of less water.”

Carruth says roses aren’t fussy. His advice: “Build healthy soil and try some tough love in the form of less water.”

Carruth also added a thick layer of mulch, which helps to retain moisture and keeps soil and delicate roots cool. Mulch breaks down over time, further boosting soil health. He also makes a twice-a-year amendment of gypsum, a water-soluble form of powdered calcium. In heavy clay soils, gypsum helps particles of clay stick to one another, creating spaces between which oxygen can pass.

Finally, he cut out chemicals. “We’re a no-spray garden,” says Carruth. “We let birds and other natural predators take care of insects rather than using pesticides.”

The Rose Garden dates to 1908. In addition to being a beautiful place where the Huntingtons could stroll, it helped satisfy Arabella’s penchant for large and elaborate arrangements of freshly cut garden flowers. Today, it comprises nearly 1,200 different cultivars that span the history of rose cultivation. One of the oldest varieties, ‘Autumn Damask’, can be traced to the first century. By contrast, the award-winning, smoky pink-purple ‘Cinco de Mayo’ is a more recent addition, developed by Carruth himself during his days as a rose hybridizer at Weeks Roses before he joined The Huntington.

Henry E. Huntington stands under an arbor in the Rose Garden around 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Henry E. Huntington stands under an arbor in the Rose Garden around 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

As rose gardeners in California and elsewhere adjust to water restrictions—but are loathe to forfeit gorgeous blooms and heavenly scents—they might want to follow Carruth’s tried-and-true water-saving tips:

  1. Cover beds around the bushes with three to four inches of mulch.
  2. Irrigate in the cool morning hours.
  3. Use overhead watering to wash grime and dew off plants, and to better hydrate them in hot weather.
  4. Convert sprinkler heads to low-volume models.
  5. Cut back on automated irrigation, giving supplemental water by hand to new plantings.
  6. Use a small spade or a soil probe to check soil moisture. When soil becomes dry two to three inches below the surface, it’s time to water it.

Carruth’s overall message is that roses aren’t fussy. Build healthy soil and try some tough love in the form of less water, he says. They might just reward you with a spectacular show of blossoms.

This watercolor of Rosa damascena, (of which ‘Autumn damask’ is one of two varieties) is by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Les Roses, 1817–24. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This watercolor of Rosa damascena (of which ‘Autumn damask’ is one of two varieties) is by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Les Roses, 1817–24. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Peggy Bernal’s True Calling

During her 25-year career at The Huntington, Peggy Bernal (seen here in the 1990s with her daughter, Victoria) made major contributions in several areas, including fundraising, communications, and publishing.

During her 25-year career at The Huntington, Peggy Bernal (seen here in the 1990s with her daughter, Victoria) made major contributions in several areas, including fundraising, communications, and publishing.

There are jobs, and then there are callings. Most of us have at least a passing acquaintance with the former; we take a job because we need a paycheck, and we move along without regret when a better offer presents itself. But if we’re lucky, we also know what it means to find our true calling—a life’s work inspired by passion and fueled by enthusiasm; a career so rewarding that we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Peggy Park Bernal was one of the lucky ones: her calling was The Huntington. From 1982 to 2007, she made major contributions here in fundraising, communications, and publishing. And she didn’t let retirement slow her down; she merely traded in her employee’s badge for that of a dedicated volunteer and applied for a reader’s card so she could pursue her own research projects. Peggy’s death on March 25 after a brief illness stunned and saddened her colleagues, many of whom recalled having laughed and chatted with her just weeks before. Her passing is a loss deeply felt by all who knew her, but it’s also an opportunity to look back on a stellar career and celebrate a friend and colleague whose far-ranging talents—and warm smile—were constant reminders that Peggy and The Huntington were a perfect fit.

Peggy came to The Huntington in 1982 as a grant writer, joining what was then a fledgling development office with a staff of three. Twenty years as a journalist with Sunset magazine had honed her craft as a writer, but more importantly, it had fostered a love of Southern California and its history. And what a paradise The Huntington was for a history buff!  Right from the start, Peggy knew she’d found her place.

As head of communications, Peggy Bernal played a key role in coordinating the 1991 announcement by then Library director William Moffett of the institution’s decision to release microfilm of the Dead Sea Scrolls—news that generated international headlines.

As head of communications, Peggy Bernal played a key role in coordinating the 1991 announcement by then Library director William Moffett of the institution’s decision to release microfilm of the Dead Sea Scrolls—news that generated international headlines.

In 1985, Peggy was promoted to director of development at a time when strengthening the institution’s finances was becoming an urgent priority. The staff was growing, and fundraising activities were heating up—quite literally. A fire in the Huntington Art Gallery in the pre-dawn hours of October 17, 1985, closed the gallery for an entire year, and a “Fire Fund” was quickly established to raise money for the costly clean-up and painstaking conservation of soot-covered art objects. Two months later, Peggy and her team helped launch The Huntington’s first-ever endowment campaign. Chaired by trustees R. Stanton Avery and Robert F. Erburu, the campaign raised $13.5 million in just 12 months.

As fundraising efforts increased, so did the need for media relations and public outreach, so in 1986, Peggy added the management of the communications office to her job description. It was in this capacity that she made her most historic contribution to The Huntington: coordinating the announcement in 1991 of the institution’s decision to release microfilm of the Dead Sea Scrolls. When William A. Moffett, then director of the Library, declared that The Huntington would make photographs of those ancient texts available for the first time to researchers around the world—ending a monopoly by a small group of Biblical scholars—the news made international headlines. The story ran on the front pages of the Sunday editions of both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other papers, and was widely hailed as a victory for scholarly access.

Books published by the Huntington Library Press under Peggy Bernal’s direction included a wide range of scholarly and collections-related titles. Among her personal favorites were an edition of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, based on the original manuscript at The Huntington, and The Children's Garden Book by Olive Percival, from Percival’s unpublished manuscript.

Books published by the Huntington Library Press under Peggy Bernal’s direction included a wide range of scholarly and collections-related titles. Among her personal favorites were an edition of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, based on the original manuscript at The Huntington, and The Children’s Garden Book by Olive Percival, from Percival’s unpublished manuscript.

Having helped make history with the Dead Sea Scrolls, Peggy’s passion for the historical side of The Huntington soon lured her down the hall to the Huntington Library Press, which she directed from 1992 until her retirement in 2007. One of Southern California’s oldest book publishers—it was established in 1920—the Press publishes a quarterly journal for scholars and a mixture of scholarly books, conference papers, exhibition catalogs, facsimiles from the collections, and visitor publications. Working with curators and scholars, Peggy was in her element.

Collections-related books that she helped usher into print included an exquisite facsimile edition of the Ellesmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales; an edition of Kidnapped based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s original manuscript; Olive Percival’s The Children’s Garden Book, from an unpublished manuscript in the collections; and many others. She also focused some much-needed attention on marketing and sales. Local bibliophiles could count on seeing Peggy every year at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where she would greet people at the Huntington booth with a radiant smile, some hilarious stories, and an irresistible pitch.

After retiring in 2007, Peggy became an active volunteer and a Huntington reader, pursing projects in two areas close to her heart: women’s history and the history of Los Angeles.

After retiring in 2007, Peggy became an active volunteer and a Huntington reader, pursing projects in two areas close to her heart: women’s history and the history of Los Angeles.

To say that Peggy “retired” in 2007 is hardly accurate. She merely shifted gears and transferred her energies to new projects as a volunteer and a reader. In the botanical library, she helped create a finding aid for the extensive papers of Bargyla Rateaver, a pioneering educator in organic gardening. In the manuscripts department, she organized the archive of historian Edwin Carpenter (who may be best known to Verso readers as the man whose collection included slices of his parents’ wedding cake).  She also compiled a bibliography of the Huntington Library Press, organized book sales, and wrote about Huntington history for the volunteer newsletter.

As a card-carrying reader, Peggy also spent time in the Library working on her own research projects in the fields closest to her heart: women’s history and the history of Los Angeles. She even took the plunge into social media, starting a Tumblr page, Peg O’Los Angeles, devoted to books about the city, and co-founding (with her daughter, Victoria Bernal) the L.A. History project, which garnered a large Twitter following. And, as always, she made time to play lots of Bridge, a tradition started at The Huntington in the 1930s.

Looking back on all that Peggy accomplished during her too-short time among us, we’re left with an enormous sense of gratitude. She touched so many members of The Huntington’s community (including this writer, whose own “true calling” Peggy helped nurture), and unstintingly shared with us her gifts of intelligence, energy, warmth, humor, friendship, generosity, experience, and dedication. Thank you, Peggy, for everything!

A memorial fund has been established in honor of Peggy Park Bernal. Donations can be made online; include the words “Library Fund/Peggy Bernal” in the comments field at checkout.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Beautiful Ruins

In Dawn in an Ancient Land, 1871, Anna Blunden depicts the Aqua Claudia, now part of the Park of the Aqueducts on the outskirts of Rome. Unlike Rome’s other ancient monuments, there are no entrance fees and no crowds. As in the 19th century, solitude rewards those who make the trek to see it. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In Dawn in an Ancient Land, 1871, Anna Blunden depicts the Aqua Claudia, now part of the Park of the Aqueducts on the outskirts of Rome. Unlike Rome’s other ancient monuments, there are no entrance fees and no crowds. As in the 19th century, solitude rewards those who make the trek to see it. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

From Rome’s Colosseum to the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, ruins hold an enduring fascination for millions of visitors each year. It’s hardly a new phenomenon. From the 16th to the 19th century, many young Englishmen embarked on the Grand Tour, an expedition to Europe’s cultural capitals that served as the culmination of a gentleman’s classical education. Itineraries varied, but much of the journey took place in Italy, with a compulsory stop to see Rome’s classical ruins.

“Glory After the Fall: Images of Ruins in 18th- and 19th-Century British Art” showcases more than a dozen of The Huntington’s drawings, watercolors, and prints from the heyday of the Grand Tour. You can view them in the Works on Paper room on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery through August 10, 2015.

Much of John Goldicutt’s work focuses on the details of ancient Roman architecture. In View in Rome, 1820, he pays special attention to the deep coffers of the towering, fourth-century Basilica of Maxentius. This type of ornamentation was imitated in countless neoclassical buildings throughout Europe. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Much of John Goldicutt’s work focuses on the details of ancient Roman architecture. In View in Rome, 1820, he pays special attention to the deep coffers of the towering, fourth-century Basilica of Maxentius. This type of ornamentation was imitated in countless neoclassical buildings throughout Europe. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Classicism dominated English artistic tastes during the 18th and 19th centuries. Aristocratic travelers brought home ancient gems and statues of pagan gods. They also commissioned works of art depicting their favorite ruins, which served as souvenirs from journeys that lasted months or even years. One artist featured in the exhibition is John Goldicutt (1793–1842), a trained architect and skilled draughtsman. Goldicutt was a master of classical subject matter, receiving accolades from the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the pope in Rome.

Goldicutt’s spectacular View in Rome, 1820, depicts part of the Roman Forum, the epicenter of the ancient city and a must-see for any traveler, past or present. Marc Antony and Cicero gave their speeches there, and victorious armies once paraded through its triumphal arches. These exalted moments are distant memories in Goldicutt’s watercolor. Instead, the artist shows peasants seeking shade beneath the remains of the Basilica of Maxentius, the Forum’s largest building. For a Grand Tourist schooled in Roman history, the contrast between past and present must have been especially poignant. The tiny figures add an air of quaintness, highlighting just how far the mighty empire of Rome had fallen.

James Holland (British, 1800-1870), Verona, Amphitheater, n.d., watercolor over pencil. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

James Holland (British, 1800-1870), Verona, Amphitheater, n.d., watercolor over pencil. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The incredible demand for classical content made study in Italy a vital component of any artist’s training. Anna Blunden (1829-1915) was among the many artists to establish a studio in Rome. Her exquisite Dawn in an Ancient Land, 1871, shows a popular image of landscapes with ruins. Such drawings were in demand as independent works of art or as studies for large-scale paintings.

Blunden’s serene panorama is interrupted only by an ancient aqueduct that parallels a country road. The mood of her watercolor was echoed by the novelist Charles Dickens, who visited the same site in the mid-19th century. He wrote: “Here was Rome indeed at last…. Except where the distant Apennines bound the view upon the left, the whole wide prospect is one field of ruin. Broken aqueducts, left in the most picturesque and beautiful clusters of arches.”

Many of the sites depicted in “Glory After the Fall” hosted ancient emperors. John Ruskin's Kenilworth, n.d., accommodated an equally illustrious ruler, Queen Elizabeth I, in 1572 and again in 1575. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Many of the sites depicted in “Glory After the Fall” hosted ancient emperors. John Ruskin’s Kenilworth, n.d., accommodated an equally illustrious ruler, Queen Elizabeth I, in 1572 and again in 1575. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

British artists also flocked to ruins on their home turf. John Ruskin (1819-1900) created a haunting image of Kenilworth Castle—a palace constructed from Norman through Tudor times in central England. The skeletal remains of the abandoned estate appear melancholy as ivy slowly overtakes them. In addition to his artistic pursuits, Ruskin was a prolific and influential writer. He addressed an array of subjects, ranging from architectural aesthetics to geology to conservation. Ruins allowed him to simultaneously indulge his passions for nature and architecture. For many of the crumbling buildings, the barrier between interior and exterior has almost been eliminated, blurring the distinction between the natural and built environment.

Ruins continue to fascinate artists and travellers because they are enigmatic, intriguing, and embody contradictions. They remind us of the inexorable march of time, yet appear eternal. They are monuments to achievement but act as emblems of loss. These hallowed sites give visitors the opportunity to come face-to-face with the past, reevaluate the present, and contemplate the future.

James Fishburne is guest curator for “Glory After the Fall: Images of Ruins in 18th- and 19th-Century British Art.” He received his Ph.D. in art history from UCLA in 2014 and is currently an adjunct lecturer in Los Angeles.

Ansel Adams, William Current, and the American West

Monolith, the face of Half Dome, 1927. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 11 ¼ x 8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Monolith, the face of Half Dome, 1927. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 11 ¼ x 8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Legendary photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) produced seven limited-edition portfolios over the course of his long and storied career. He published the first portfolio in 1948 and the last in 1976, referring to the 90 photographs all told as “an excellent cross section of my work.” Thanks to a recent gift from George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne, The Huntington has acquired all seven in one fell swoop.

Each of the portfolios contains between 10 and 15 pictures selected and printed by the artist himself. There are personal favorites and iconic early career images, such as Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. Adams often referred to making Monolith as a creative epiphany, a moment when he first began to envision the finished print’s look.

Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, 1939. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ¼ x 18 3/8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, 1939. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ¼ x 18 3/8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

The portfolios also showcase less well-known but equally stunning works, such as Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, 1939. Adams told one interviewer that he approached the composition of these seemingly incongruous subjects as a “quasi-surrealistic thing.”

The donor, Dr. George Byrne, who sadly passed away not long after making the gift, had been a passionate amateur photographer for many years. A hiker and avid environmentalist, he purchased Portfolio III (1960) and Portfolio IV (1963) from the Sierra Club, the publisher of those particular sets. Dr. Byrne acquired other portfolios directly from Adams, the two having become acquainted when Byrne attended one of the photographer’s famed Yosemite workshops. The portfolios remained packed away in storage for decades; as a result, the photographs look fresh and new.

Moon and Clouds, Northern California, 1959. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ½ x 19 ½ in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Moon and Clouds, Northern California, 1959. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ½ x 19 ½ in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

A second major gift of 420 works by William R. Current (1923-1986) should help insure the Pasadena-born artist’s rightful place on the photo-historical map. Known by a few people today for his in-depth visual investigation of the Arts & Crafts architecture of Charles and Henry Greene, Current’s career highlights included groundbreaking group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as major fellowship awards, such as a 1964 Guggenheim grant. The output of Current’s Guggenheim year—luminous black and white photographs of prehistoric Pueblo architecture—forms the donation’s core.

William R. Current (1923–1986), Mesa Verde, 1964. Gelatin silver print, 10 ½ × 10 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

William R. Current (1923–1986), Mesa Verde, 1964. Gelatin silver print, 10 ½ × 10 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

Current also explored photography’s capacity for producing serial imagery or sequences of pictures to tease out larger ideas. A skilled technician and superb printer, he served as an early mentor to Lewis Baltz (1945-2014), who went on to become one of the medium’s most important conceptual artists. In reflecting on the differences between Current and himself, Baltz told an oral historian: “Bill [Current] photographed the things—trees, rivers, the sea coast, prehistoric architecture in the Southwest—that he loved and admired and used his photography to better understand and bring himself closer to it.”

The gift, which came from the artist’s estate, forms one of the largest groups of Current’s work in an institution and includes personal correspondence and archival material as well.

With these two seminal acquisitions, The Huntington’s photography collections related to California and the American West continue to deepen and grow.

William R. Current  (1923–1986), Point Lobos, 1968. Gelatin silver print, 7 ½ × 7 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

William R. Current (1923–1986), Point Lobos, 1968. Gelatin silver print, 7 ½ × 7 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

In Huntington Frontiers, you can read an article by Jennifer A. Watts about two versions of Monolith by Ansel Adams and an article by Ann Scheid about William Current’s photographs, which are part of the University of Southern California’s Greene and Greene archives housed at The Huntington.

Jennifer A. Watts is curator of photography at The Huntington.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece

Aristotle’s Masterpiece provided ordinary readers access to images such as this one, which depicts the position of a baby in the womb, as well as access to practical instructions about maintaining health during pregnancy. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece provided ordinary readers access to images such as this one, which depicts the position of a baby in the womb, as well as access to practical instructions about maintaining health during pregnancy. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece was the bestselling book about sex and reproduction on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean from the late 17th to the early 20th century—but the book isn’t by Aristotle, and it’s not usually considered a masterpiece. First printed in London in 1684, it was imported to the American colonies and then became a staple of early publishing in the United States, going into hundreds of editions.

An anonymous writer compiled the book from several earlier texts. He or she borrowed the name “Aristotle” to make the work seem scientific when the book was first published. It was still for sale in London’s Soho sex shops right up into the 1930s. Primarily a late 17th-century manual on pregnancy and childbirth—an early-modern precursor to today’s perennial bestseller What To Expect When You’re Expecting—the book endorses sexual pleasure but also includes images of deformed infants, or so-called “monster babies.” This seemingly bizarre combination of contents contributed to the book’s long-lasting appeal.

By the 19th century, the Masterpiece often combined a racy appeal to male readers, as in the image on the left, with a family-oriented appeal, as in the romantic depiction on the right. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

By the 19th century, the Masterpiece often combined a racy appeal to male readers, as in the image on the left, with a family-oriented appeal, as in the romantic depiction on the right. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Mary Fissell, professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, is currently writing a cultural history of Aristotle’s Masterpiece, focusing on its production and reception in Britain and the United States. On April 22 in Rothenberg Hall, Fissell presents the George Dock Lecture in a public talk titled “A Look at America’s First Sex Manual.” (You can listen to the lecture on iTunes U.)

Fissell finds Aristotle’s Masterpiece intriguing because its ubiquity has made it possible for her to discover stories about readers encountering the text in the past. “I know about adolescent boys stealing their mothers’ copies, a teenage girl reading it aloud in a factory lunchroom, and working-class couples who kept it hidden in their bedroom,” she says. Such stories provide rare glimpses into the otherwise hidden world of plebeian sexuality.

“The book’s persistence suggests that there’s something about its vision of sex and making babies that remains profoundly appealing across the centuries,” Fissell says. “Part of my task has been to figure out exactly what that something is.”

These are the only known surviving examples of the woodblocks used to illustrate Aristotle’s Masterpiece. The images were carved and recarved over centuries, indicating that publishers thought them essential to the book’s appeal. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

These are the only known surviving examples of the woodblocks used to illustrate Aristotle’s Masterpiece. The images were carved and recarved over centuries, indicating that publishers thought them essential to the book’s appeal. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Her research on the subject led her to The Huntington’s collections, where she came across items in unexpected places. She was surprised and delighted to see a set of woodblocks used to produce editions of the Masterpiece. “After having spent years thinking about how this book was produced, it was really moving to actually hold a woodblock used in the north of England in the early 19th century,” Fissell says. “These kinds of cheap books aren’t often the focus of scholarly study, but I’m impressed by the skill of the artists.”

Another unexpected find at The Huntington lay in the correspondence of the 19th-century radical Richard Carlile, who printed the first birth-control pamphlet in Britain, which in turn prompted a Boston doctor, Charles Knowlton, to do the same in the United States. One of Carlile’s associates, William Holmes, described the Masterpiece in court, claiming that it wasn’t really a dirty book—even if it did have a picture of a naked woman as its frontispiece. One gains insight into just how radical the very idea of contraception was to Carlile and Holmes; their letters grant readers rare access to working-class ideas about sex and reproduction.

At times, the Masterpiece is a bit like a fly in amber, preserving Renaissance ideas into the 19th and 20th centuries. This winged figure, the text tells us, was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 1513. Such monstrous images offered readers a thrill of horror and became something of a trademark for the work. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

At times, the Masterpiece is a bit like a fly in amber, preserving Renaissance ideas into the 19th and 20th centuries. This winged figure, the text tells us, was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 1513. Such monstrous images offered readers a thrill of horror and became something of a trademark for the work. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Mary Fissell’s April 22 lecture, “A Look at America’s First Sex Manual,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Rothenberg Hall. The event is free and open to the public; no reservations required.

Kevin Durkin is the editor of Verso and managing editor for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.