Edith Wharton’s Book of the Homeless

Title page of The Book of the Homeless, edited by Edith Wharton and published in 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Title page of The Book of the Homeless, edited by Edith Wharton and published in 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Few people know that Edith Wharton (1862–1937), the eminent American author, played a significant role in the war effort during World War I. Wharton lived in France for much of her life, and, appalled at the reluctance of the United States to enter the European struggle, she applied her pen to writing in support of the war, including two novels—The Marne and A Son at the Front—and a nonfiction work, Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort.

With her family connections and her celebrity as a writer, Wharton wangled permits to visit the front, and she struck a formidable figure as her chauffeur drove her massive touring car through the muddy battlefields to reach officers and generals, many of whom were family friends. She helped establish the American Hostels for Refugees, and, at the request of the queen of Belgium, she organized the Children of Flanders Rescue Committee in 1915.

That same year, she launched a plan to produce a commemorative volume of original stories, essays, poems, art works, and musical scores by eminent writers, artists, and composers of the day, many of whom were her friends. Wharton proposed the book, whose sales would support her refugee work, to her own publisher, Charles Scribner. Wanting to please one of his most successful writers, he agreed. Then Wharton approached her friend Daniel Berkeley Updike, who headed the Merrymount Press, a Boston fine printing house. He readily signed on.

Reproduction of a charcoal portrait by Auguste Rodin of his son, Auguste-Eugène Beuret (1866–1934), a soldier wounded in World War I. The drawing appeared in The Book of the Homeless. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Reproduction of a charcoal portrait by Auguste Rodin of his son, Auguste-Eugène Beuret (1866–1934), a soldier wounded in World War I. The drawing appeared in The Book of the Homeless. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington holds the corporate archive for the Merrymount Press, extending to 320 boxes, plus ledger volumes and type samples. Among the records is a file of correspondence between Wharton, Scribner, and Updike about the planning and printing of her proposed volume, The Book of the Homeless. The virtue of the cause at hand is apparent throughout the correspondence, as when Updike writes to Wharton on Sept. 10, 1915, “Both on your account, and on account of what the book stands for, I shall do my best with it.”

A frequent topic of concern is the quality of the book, especially the reproductions of original works by such artists as Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and John Singer Sargent. Reproducing the artwork proved a challenging task due to shortages caused by the war. Updike wrote to Wharton on Jan. 7, 1916, “This has been a long and difficult piece of work. We have had a good deal of trouble with our inks, because since the war the ingredients in the colours are not reliable, and this has played us some very unpleasant tricks.”

In early 1916, the book appeared to widespread praise. On Feb. 14, Wharton wrote to Updike, “The illustrations . . . are wonderful and the French artists who have seen them are delighted. I want to tell you at once how happy I am over the chorus of praise which comes from all sides at home concerning your share in the making of the book. Mr. Scribner seems delighted with the sales thus far, and I hope you have seen the appreciative notice of your work in The New York Times.”

Detail of a letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, head of the Merrymount Press, Aug. 4, 1915. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of a letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, head of the Merrymount Press, Aug. 4, 1915. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Book of the Homeless is indeed an admirable production, containing 57 original works by such contributors as Henry James, Joseph Conrad, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, William Butler Yeats, Vincent d’Indy, and Igor Stravinsky. It boasts a spirited introduction by former president Theodore Roosevelt (another friend of Wharton’s). A special keepsake edition was printed on French handmade paper in a limited printing of 175 copies, each signed by Updike and housed in a slipcase that also encompasses a portfolio of reproductions of the art works. The Huntington’s copy of the book is number 21 of this limited edition, from the collection of Max Farrand, the first director of The Huntington.

Wharton is best known for her superb novels of upper-class society in New York City, including The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1920 and was adapted as a theatrical film by Martin Scorsese in 1993. Wharton, born Edith Newbold Jones, came from a family endowed with wealth and social position. (Her family is said to have inspired the expression “keeping up with the Joneses.”) In her novels and stories, Wharton portrayed the dramas of influential people who, despite their riches and status, nonetheless experienced heartbreak and tragedy familiar to people of all classes.

This year, we celebrate the centenary of Wharton’s remarkable Book of the Homeless, produced by three fine practitioners—a writer, a publisher, and a printer—in ardent support of the refugees made homeless by one of the most devastating wars in history.

Letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, Feb. 14, 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Letter from Edith Wharton to Daniel Berkeley Updike, Feb. 14, 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sara S. “Sue” Hodson is curator of literary manuscripts at The Huntington.

Ballads Galore

The Woody Choristers; or, The Birds of Harmony, ca. 1775. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Woody Choristers; or, The Birds of Harmony, ca. 1775. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Summer 2016 Huntington Library Quarterly is a special issue devoted to English broadside ballads from the mid-16th to mid-18th centuries. That was the heyday of this wildly popular medium, which combined song lyrics, often about current events, with stylized woodcut illustrations. Printed on cheap paper and sold by the thousands, broadside ballads told tales of love, murder, political intrigue, and much more—set to familiar tunes.

Guest-edited by Patricia Fumerton, professor of English at UC Santa Barbara, the HLQ special issue was inspired by a conference she convened at The Huntington in April 2014 titled “Living English Broadside Ballads, 1550–1750: Song, Art, Dance, Culture.” As Fumerton explains in her introduction to the issue, the conference had two goals: “to celebrate the inclusion of the Huntington Library’s sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English broadside ballads . . . in the English Broadside Ballad Archive,” of which she is the director, and “mingling scholarly activities with such untraditional functions as ballad singing, fiddling, dancing, and visual encounters with broadside ballad sheets and woodcuts.”

The Whipster of Woodstreet, or, A True Account of the Barbarous and Horrid Murther committed on the Body of Mary Cox, late Servant in Woodstreet London, ca. 1690. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Whipster of Woodstreet, or, A True Account of the Barbarous and Horrid Murther committed on the Body of Mary Cox, late Servant in Woodstreet London, ca. 1690. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The issue’s nine essays—written through the lenses of art and music history, literary and theater studies, cognitive science and computer-aided bibliographic analysis—convey the multifaceted scholarly approaches current in the study of broadside ballads. These range from close scrutiny of ballad texts and their contexts to explorations of their woodcut illustrations to accounts of their performances on stages, in streets, and in alehouses. One of the essays even delves into the use of computers to date the publication of ballads. The automated tracking of individual pieces of moveable type as they are used and reused helps scholars to map the early print industry.

The Ballad of the Cloak: or, The Cloak’s Knavery, ca. 1701. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Ballad of the Cloak: or, The Cloak’s Knavery, ca. 1701. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In the epilogue to the issue, Katherine Steele Brokaw, assistant professor of English at UC Merced, draws striking parallels between broadside ballads and present-day popular media: “The repetitions of today’s popular music are as interpretively complex as ballads were in early modern culture. In the visual memes of the Internet, we see an analogue for the morphing and popularity of ballad woodcuts . . . Lyrics are rarely distributed through cheap print anymore, but they are posted on social media, snatches of them ‘retweeted’ when the words hit home with a listener. Melodies are transmitted digitally, flowing freely through our computers and iPhones, and they are transmuted, too, so that a sampled riff—like the borrowing from Sir Mix-a-Lot in Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’—creates meaning for its popular audiences because of its familiar melody.”

The Huntington’s collection of broadside ballads, many of which can be viewed online at the Huntington Digital Library, provide us with insight into a past that can seem foreign at first and yet strangely familiar—once we recognize in these songs and images the perennial stories that continue to fascinate us today.

The High-Priz’d Pin-Box, ca. 1750. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The High-Priz’d Pin-Box, ca. 1750. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can subscribe to the Huntington Library Quarterly or order the Summer 2016 issue from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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

Prized Succulents

The variegated yellow and red-blushed leaves of this Gasteria batesiana from South Africa set it apart from the typical form of the species with green leaves. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

The variegated yellow and red-blushed leaves of this Gasteria batesiana from South Africa set it apart from the typical form of the species with green leaves. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

The Huntington recently acquired a collection of rare succulents from the late Gerald Barad (1923–2016) of Flemington, New Jersey. Participants at the Philadelphia Flower Show knew Barad as the guy who cultivated the stunning cacti and other succulents that grabbed top ribbons year after year. The beach ball–sized specimen he grew out of tiny rosettes of Aloe descoingsii, a native of Madagascar, was legendary.

The Huntington’s botanical staff remained in regular contact with the retired physician and horticulture expert. They knew of his expeditions to Mexico, Africa, and Asia, as well as his large collection of cactus-like stapeliads, spine-bearing pachypodiums, and other highly unusual specimens. “He was a commanding figure in the world of succulent horticulture and exploration,” says John Trager, The Huntington’s curator of the desert gardens and collections. “But he also had a soft spot for his plants and those who shared his passions.”

Trager was sad to learn that Barad had died earlier this year, at the age of 92. Shortly thereafter, The Huntington received word that Barad had named it as the primary beneficiary of his dazzling collection.

The tiny Madagascar native Aloe descoingsii is a repeat bloomer—flowering nearly year-round—whose slender stalks bear urn-shaped, scarlet-orange flowers with yellow tips. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

The tiny Madagascar native Aloe descoingsii is a repeat bloomer—flowering nearly year-round—whose slender stalks bear urn-shaped, scarlet-orange flowers with yellow tips. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

Barad may have figured that his plants would be in good company (and good care) at The Huntington, which houses what is probably this country’s best selection of succulents. It didn’t hurt that the hot, dry climate of San Marino, Calif., is well suited to growing his plants.

Trager flew to New Jersey, where Barad and his late wife, Bea, cared for the succulents at their home and farm. When Trager laid eyes on three greenhouses crammed with amazing specimens, he knew he’d have to choose wisely.

“I looked for rarity, of course, but also size and maturity. I also picked one-of-a-kind selections that were developed in nurseries but were not yet introduced,” he explains. In all, he took about 10 percent of the potted plants he saw, packed them carefully into trucks, and left their transportation in the hands of two of Barad’s trusted assistants.

The leaves of Aloe descoingsii are arranged in miniature rosettes only two inches across and are notable for their small white markings and distinctive teeth. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

The leaves of Aloe descoingsii are arranged in miniature rosettes only two inches across and are notable for their small white markings and distinctive teeth. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

The Barad collection currently sits on a series of tables in the botanical nursery. There’s
a bumpy, colorful succulent, a Gasteria from South Africa, which is fairly common in cultivation—but this one’s variegated with vivid yellow and red-blushed leaves. Then there’s a Cyphostemma with a large bulbous stem—a slow-growing plant Barad found on an expedition many years ago to Namibia. And so many others, too numerous to mention, each with its own unusual form and provenance.

Huntington staff will lovingly tend to the collection and, if possible, propagate the plants to preserve them and share them with researchers and others who delight in succulents.

The specimens will be an ongoing reminder of a very special man who devoted much of his life to growing these tough, weird, and wonderful plants.

Those with a similar enthusiasm for rare succulents might consider attending the 33rd Succulent Plants Symposium at The Huntington on Sept. 3, 2016, from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. For information about registration and an optional dinner, call 626-405-3504.

Cyphostemma seitziana, from Namibia, is a caudiciform plant, which means that it has a swollen, water-storing stem to sustain it during drought. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

Cyphostemma seitziana, from Namibia, is a caudiciform plant, which means that it has a swollen, water-storing stem to sustain it during drought. Photo by Karen Zimmerman.

Related content on Verso:
Fantasy Aloe Hybrids (March 10, 2015)
Echninopsis: Queen for a Day (March 11, 2014)
Paying it Forward (Oct. 3, 2012)
Around the World of Succulents (Aug. 24, 2012)

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

Silver Bird

Outside form of an intercontinental super bomber proposed in Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers) by Eugen Sänger, an Austrian aeronautical engineer who—along with his partner (and later, wife) Irene Bredt—developed the concept during World War II. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Outside form of an intercontinental super bomber proposed in Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers) by Eugen Sänger, an Austrian aeronautical engineer who—along with his partner (and later, wife) Irene Bredt—developed the concept during World War II. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I’m a history professor doing research on how the detritus left behind by the space race informs the global circulation of knowledge in the modern era. One of the things I love about academic exploration is not knowing what I’ll uncover. So when I arrived at The Huntington as the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science and Technology, I was hoping for a few surprises.

Little did I imagine, however, that I’d unearth an original copy of a report about a Nazi-era secret weapon that could skirt the very reaches of space as it flew from Europe to North America. Yet there it was: Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers) by an Austrian aeronautical engineer by the name of Eugen Sänger (1905–1964). I was able to piece together the story of this intercontinental super bomber by delving into Sänger’s papers, which are spread across several collections at The Huntington.

Eugen Sänger (1905–1964), Theodore von Kármán Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Eugen Sänger (1905–1964), Theodore von Kármán Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sänger developed the concept in collaboration with his partner (and later, wife) Irene Bredt to satisfy Nazi interest in obtaining a weapon with which to attack the contiguous United States. Sänger was a member of both the Nazi Party and the SS, and in 1944, he drew up a formal proposal and sent it to the Reich’s Air Ministry. Although some Nazi officials believed they could build such a bomber, which Sänger called Silbervogel, or Silver Bird, the end of the war interceded and the idea remained largely on paper.

Silhouette of the bomber that Sänger called Silbervogel, or Silver Bird, from Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Silhouette of the bomber that Sänger called Silbervogel, or Silver Bird, from Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Yet rumors of the Silver Bird had spread among Allied intelligence. In the chaos of war’s end and in the midst of the plunder of German industry, both American and Soviet officials urgently sought copies of Sänger and Bredt’s report—estimated to number only 100 copies. A Soviet official apparently stumbled upon the document—stamped Streng Geheim (top secret)—while relieving himself behind a woodpile at Peenemünde, the secret German rocket center on the Baltic Sea coast. The Soviets were amazed at the level of specificity in the proposal: Sänger and Bredt had considered every arcane technical detail of flying a piloted rocket ship at 30,000 kilometers per hour—fast enough to send the plane into orbit around the Earth.

The Soviet military immediately translated the report and issued a slim edition circulated among key officials and scientists. Eventually word got to Joseph Stalin, perhaps through Stalin’s son Vasili, who was an air force pilot. Around that time, Stalin found out that Sänger himself was in postwar Germany, providing a tantalizing opportunity to implement the project under its author. Russian archival revelations suggest that Stalin orchestrated a kidnapping attempt, which failed, to bring Sänger to the Soviet Union.

Illustration of the rocket motor for Sänger and Bredt’s proposed long-range bomber in Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Illustration of the rocket motor for Sänger and Bredt’s proposed long-range bomber in Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Silver Bird was never built, being far too ahead of its time. For many years, Soviet scientists and engineers invested resources in building the engine that would power the Silver Bird but eventually abandoned even that line of work around 1950. Some have argued that Sänger-Bredt’s bomber cast a long shadow across the future of space exploration, having essentially anticipated many of the technical innovations that allowed NASA to fly the Space Shuttle into orbit.

Among my findings was Sänger’s personal copy of the Silver Bird report from 1944, which resides in The Huntington’s rare books collection. The volume was probably obtained by Theodore von Kármán, one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and then passed on to Jeremy Norman, a collector of rare books on the history of science, who donated it to The Huntington in 2015.

Global map indicating the theoretical maximum range of the proposed bomber Silbervogel, or Silver Bird, from Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Global map indicating the theoretical maximum range of the proposed bomber Silbervogel, or Silver Bird, from Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The report is beautifully illustrated and annotated with handwritten marginalia in pencil at different points, suggesting that Sänger saw it as a basis for further discussion. Although the tone of the report is highly technical, the subtext is clear: the Silver Bird would fly across the world for one mission and one mission only: to bomb the enemy. The target was the United States—more specifically, New York City. Among the pages of the report are several maps of that city with circles marking Manhattan.

The maps underscore so vividly how the line between scientific research and military imperative was a nebulous one, especially during World War II and the ensuing Cold War. For me, it was one more bit of evidence that the space race was more complicated and stranger than we typically believe—filled with details that are unexpected, sometimes terrifying in their scope, and capable of altering our perspective on the past.

Map of New York City as a bombing target for the Silver Bird in Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Map of New York City as a bombing target for the Silver Bird in Über einen Raketenantrieb für Fernbomber (A Rocket Drive for Long-Range Bombers). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Asif Siddiqi is professor of history at Fordham University and was the 2015–16 Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science and Technology at Caltech and The Huntington. His books include The Red Rockets’ Glare: Spaceflight and the Russian Imagination, 1857–1957, Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge, and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo.

Seeing to It

Candace Hunter, XEN 4:7, (based on Xenogenesis), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Candace Hunter, XEN 4:7, (based on Xenogenesis), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Chicago-based collage artist Candace Hunter first started reading Octavia Butler’s speculative fiction as an undergraduate. Themes from Butler’s writing permeated Hunter’s work through the years and reached a pinnacle with the opening this summer of her solo show in Milwaukee, “So Be It. See To It,” based on Butler’s stories. In excerpts from an interview, Hunter explains how Butler became the driving force behind the exhibition and why the writer’s work energizes her own.

Q: Your new show is called “So be it. See to it.” That’s a phrase from Butler’s journals, part of her archive that is housed at The Huntington. Can you describe the show’s genesis?

A: I was returning from London with my daughter. I read a blog post on The Huntington’s site with words from Ms. Butler’s journals. When I saw “So be it. See to it,” it hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt like a mandate from Butler. I had just won the popular vote award in the artist-in-residence program at Milwaukee’s Pfister hotel, and I had the opportunity to hold a solo show. I decided then and there that I would create a body of work illustrating Butler’s works.

Candace Hunter, XEN 7:7, (based on Xenogenesis), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Candace Hunter, XEN 7:7, (based on Xenogenesis), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Q: What was it about Butler’s writing that resonated with you?

A: My mother was ahead of her time. She lived by affirmations and tried to get her children to do the same. I often dragged my feet to her requests because that’s what daughters sometimes do. When I read Butler’s six words, I was spellbound. They immediately reminded me of my mother’s lessons on how to fulfill your dreams. They made me see and understand Butler’s work and work ethic. Butler made me feel that all is possible, as long as you have the vision and put your shoulder to the wheel.

Candace Hunter, FLD 7:15, (based on Fledgling), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Candace Hunter, FLD 7:15, (based on Fledgling), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Q: How did you approach the works for the new show?

A: I’ve been focused on the importance of creating literate communities for some time now, and that concern always seems to seep into my work. Illiteracy has so many root causes, but most are tied to economics. I thought that I would create a show that could be read via images, that would be read one panel at a time from left to right, and that would honor a writer who fought with dyslexia and the obstacles attached to it for most of her life.

Candace Hunter, FLD 15:15, (based on Fledgling), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Candace Hunter, FLD 15:15, (based on Fledgling), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Q: In her journals, Butler spoke about finding the confidence to pursue her writing. Is this something you can relate to as a visual artist?

A: I’m not sure about other artists, but every time I start a new project, there is a certain amount of anxiety and unsureness about whether what I see and feel will be seen and felt by the audience. Also, with collage—which is a ginormous puzzle—at some point it looks like nonsense. The trick is to plod along at what seems like the worst junctures. At the end of that path, the chaos turns into beauty. I am hoping that others find both the beauty of Butler and the beauty of my creations in this series.

Candace Hunter, FLD 6:15, (based on Fledgling), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Candace Hunter, FLD 6:15, (based on Fledgling), 2016, collage on canvas. Photo by Candace Hunter.

Q: How did you first hear about Octavia Butler?

A: My Uncle Arsene recently turned 95, and at his birthday party, he heard me talking about this show and Octavia Butler. He perked up with, “Octavia Butler? Betty loved her.” And with that he was off to the library upstairs to find copies of her books. Betty was his splendid wife, who had died a couple of years ago. She was the one who introduced me to the works of both Octavia Butler and Alice Walker. And my uncle introduced me to opera and the works of Langston Hughes. I shall always be thankful for those introductions!

Candace Hunter’s exhibition “So Be It. See To It” runs until Oct. 3 in Gallerie M in the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. All 53 works relate to Butler’s fiction, including Patternmaster, Kindred, Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, Fledgling, and the Xenogenesis trilogy.

Related content on Verso:
Mentoring in the Afterlife (June 10, 2016)
Celebrating Octavia Butler (Jan. 27, 2016)
Writing Herself In (June 22, 2015)

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

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A Pure Act of Painting

Emerson Woelffer’s Yellow Poem, 1960, oil on canvas. Gift of Adam Mekler in honor of Ariel Gabriella Mekler and Daphne Lane Beneke. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Emerson Woelffer’s Yellow Poem, 1960, oil on canvas. Gift of Adam Mekler in honor of Ariel Gabriella Mekler and Daphne Lane Beneke. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

As construction winds down in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, many works from The Huntington’s permanent collection are once again on display. Among these works are a few new additions. Thanks to the generosity of Adam Mekler, one of the new paintings is the work of a hugely influential and prolific abstract artist: Emerson Woelffer (1914–2003).

Those unfamiliar with Woelffer’s career may find his painting Yellow Poem (1960) a bit modest in appearance, at first glance, for an artist once dubbed “The Grandfather of L.A. Modernism.” But by the 1960s, Woelffer had already spent 30 years creating paintings, lithographs, and collages with a single-minded dedication to Abstract Expressionism.

Detail from Woelffer’s Yellow Poem. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail from Woelffer’s Yellow Poem. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Born in Chicago, Woelffer studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, worked for the Works Project Administration (WPA), taught at Black Mountain College and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and traveled abroad to paint—primarily in Mexico and Italy—before moving to Los Angeles in 1960. In L.A., he participated in West Coast Abstraction and taught at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) and the Otis Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design). Notable students of his included Joe Goode and Ed Ruscha.

Yellow Poem marks a significant evolution in Woelffer’s artistic style. His early works featured eerily abstract and energetic figures—a marriage of his interests in the contemporary Abstract Expressionism movement and Chicago’s jazz scene. After moving from Chicago to teach at Black Mountain College and Colorado Springs, Woelffer became preoccupied with simple forms and their movements—like those of birds.

Detail from Woelffer’s Yellow Poem. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail from Woelffer’s Yellow Poem. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Over time, his composition became more and more refined. In Yellow Poem, rhythmical characteristics apparent in his previous works still remain: in the white paint haphazardly smeared on the canvas surface, the jagged edges of the black expanse, the paint “dripping” out of frame, and the single yellow bar lining the top. But the actors in this piece are no longer figures found in nature. The main actor is the paint itself, and the painting allows viewers a glimpse into a place just beyond the cusp of articulation.

Woelffer was fond of declaring, as he did in a 1976 oral history with Joann Phillips, “I paint first and think afterwards.” Later, in a 1992 exhibition catalog, he went a step further: “I want to delete everything out of my painting except the pure act of painting.” In Yellow Poem, as in his other paintings, Woelffer explicitly focuses on the interplay of forms and colors. The white paint that dances across the work seems to have been quickly applied with a palette knife; the unruly edges of the black seem locked in a tussle with the lighter borders, suspended from the yellow bar like a curtain. In their interactions, the different elements seem to take on a life of their own. As Paul Wescher, the former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, noted in a 1974 exhibition catalog, Yellow Poem and other paintings by Woelffer during the same period “are completely transformed into an immaterial world of their own being.”

Detail from Woelffer’s Yellow Poem. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail from Woelffer’s Yellow Poem. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Woelffer practiced his art for more than 70 years, continuing even when his eyesight began to fail him late in life, and he garnered several prestigious awards along the way, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a Pollock-Krasner grant, and the Francis J. Greenburger Award. He also received high praise from his close friend Robert Motherwell, who once noted that “Abstract Expressionism is in [Woelffer’s] blood.” In 2003, Ed Ruscha curated a well-received posthumous retrospective of Woelffer’s art at REDCAT Gallery in Los Angeles. The Huntington is pleased to add the work of this devoted and accomplished Abstract Expressionist to its growing collection of American art.

Woelffer’s Yellow Poem, on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Woelffer’s Yellow Poem, on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Chelsea Ngoc-Khuyen Trinh was a curatorial intern in the Art Collections at The Huntington while an undergraduate at UC Irvine. She currently works at The Broad in Los Angeles. 

From Olympics of the Past

As the world celebrates the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro—where more than 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries will compete in 41 sports—we want to share with you some of the Olympics-related items in our Library collections. We start with a fairly recent item and work our way back through time.

Commemorative Olympic Torch, 1984. Otis Chandler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Olympic Torch, 1984. Otis Chandler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Olympic Torch, 1984

Los Angeles hosted its second Olympics in 1984 (the first was in 1932). An Olympic torch—part of The Huntington’s Otis Chandler archive—was a gift to Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times from 1960 to 1980. It is a replica of the torch used by Rafer Johnson, the 1960 decathlon gold medalist, to light the Olympic cauldron in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on July 28, 1984.

 

Commemorative Buckle, American Olympic Team, 1936. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Buckle, American Olympic Team, 1936. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Commemorative Buckle, 1936

This buckle belonged to Harry Meiggs Wolter (1884–1970), who was a professional baseball player and later the Stanford University baseball coach for 26 seasons. In 1936, he coached the U.S. baseball team in a demonstration game in Berlin at the Games of the XI Olympiad. The Americans played against themselves, splitting into two squads, the “World Champions” and the “U.S. Olympics.” Baseball did not become an official Olympic sport until 1992; it was cut from the 2012 games and has not returned this year.

 

Autograph of Jesse Owens (top left) in a memorial album of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Autograph of Jesse Owens (top left) in a memorial album of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Harry Meiggs Wolter papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Memorial album of the Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936

In this memory book from the XI Olympiad, Wolter collected the autographs of other athletes, including four-time track and field gold medalist Jesse Owens. Owens’ achievements are particularly notable for having dashed Nazi hopes that the Games would highlight Aryan superiority.

 

Olympic Games: Official Pictorial Souvenir, Los Angeles: Organizing Committee, Games of the Xth Olympiad, 1932. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Olympic Games: Official Pictorial Souvenir, Los Angeles: Organizing Committee, Games of the Xth Olympiad, 1932. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Official Pictorial Souvenir, Games of the X Olympiad, 1932

In 1932, Los Angeles hosted its first Olympics. The Official Pictorial Souvenir highlights not only the sports competitions, but also the historic, natural, and cultural attractions of California.

 

Report of the American Olympic Committee, Seventh Olympic Games, Antwerp, Belgium, 1920, Greenwich, Conn.: Condé Nast, 1921. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Report of the American Olympic Committee, Seventh Olympic Games, Antwerp, Belgium, 1920, Greenwich, Conn.: Condé Nast, 1921. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Report of the American Olympic Committee, VII Olympiad, 1920 

The 1920 games featured the first American women’s swim team, which dominated its events—sweeping gold, silver, and bronze in both distance events and winning gold in the team relay, all in world-record time.

As the host of two Olympic Games, Los Angeles has a wonderful history with this unique athletic event. If the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics is successful, it will become just the second city to host three Olympic Games—creating a new wave of history that may find its way into The Huntington’s collections.

Natalie Russell is The Huntington’s assistant curator of literary manuscripts.

LOOK>> Spelling Slips

With LOOK>>, we venture into our wide-ranging collections and bring out a single object to explore in a short video. In this installment, we look at a late 19th-century parlor game.

What follows is a Q&A with David Mihaly, The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Curator of Graphic Arts and Social History, about Criss Cross Spelling Slips, a Victorian-era entertainment.

Q: What are these Spelling Slips?

A: A puzzle, a spelling game, and a construction set all in one box.

Q: Who made them? When? And why?

A: McLoughlin Brothers of New York, one of America’s leading children’s book publishers and toy manufacturers of the late 19th century. The company used the catchy slogan “Childhood Looks for McLoughlin Books” to build brand awareness for its diverse line of products. Criss Cross Spelling Slips Set Two sold in the company’s 1885 toy catalogue for 50 cents. They were made to entertain and educate children, and to build basic skills essential to childhood development—including hand-eye coordination, motor skills, shape recognition (letters of the alphabet), and problem-solving.

Q: Who would have used Spelling Slips or had access to them?

A: Children from families of means. Spelling Slips were available from toy stores in urban areas and from general stores or peddlers in rural communities.

Q: Why does The Huntington have them? Are they part of a particular collecting area?

A: They are part of The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History, which includes 19th- and early 20th-century American toys and games.

Q: How might these be used by researchers?

A: They could be used in myriad ways—by people studying 19th-century childhood development, printing and publishing history, visual culture, popular culture, and everyday life of the 19th century.

Q: Anything else that particularly interests you about this toy?

A: I’m fascinated by the idea of a toy manufacturer crediting its illustrator on the box top: Justin H. Howard (active 1856–1876). That suggests healthy relationships between McLoughlin Bros. and its stable of artists and illustrators.

You can read more about McLoughlin Bros.’ Criss Cross Spelling Slips—and cut out your own set of the wolf slips—in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Kate Lain is the new media developer at The Huntington.

First Chinese Lawyer in the U.S.

Hong Yen Chang as a Chinese Educational Mission student to the United States in the 1870s. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Hong Yen Chang as a Chinese Educational Mission student to the United States in the 1870s. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In 1890, a Chinese-born national named Hong Yen Chang arrived in California from New York, where he had obtained a degree from Columbia Law School and a license to practice law. He filed a motion to practice in California, presenting his New York State license and his certificate of naturalization. Those documents should have met the conditions for admission to the California bar. And yet his motion was denied.

What was the rub? Under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, citizenship was not available to the Chinese. The Court ruled that his certificate of naturalization was invalid.

Hong Yen Chang, ca. 1890, around the time he moved from New York to California, hoping to practice law. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Hong Yen Chang, ca. 1890, around the time he moved from New York to California, hoping to practice law. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington has acquired correspondence, photos, certificates, and licenses belonging to Chang, who is considered the first Chinese lawyer in the United States. Chang was denied a law license but went on to enjoy an illustrious career in banking and diplomacy, holding positions as accountant general to the Shanghai Bank treasury and as Chinese consul in Vancouver, Canada.

“The Chang papers are an important addition to our collection of materials on Chinese American history,” says Li Wei Yang, The Huntington’s curator of Pacific Rim collections. “Hong Yen Chang was a significant figure during the infamous Chinese Exclusion era, along with other important leaders of the Chinese American community, including Y.C. Hong, Jack Wong Sing, and Jack Chow—all of whose papers reside at The Huntington.”

Charlotte Ah Tye Chang (Hong Yen Chang’s wife), year unknown. She was one of the first Chinese social workers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Charlotte Ah Tye Chang (Hong Yen Chang’s wife), year unknown. She was one of the first Chinese social workers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Chang appealed the decision denying him a law license to practice in California—fighting all the way up to the California Supreme Court. But the court wouldn’t budge. Finally, in 2015, a group of law students from the UC Davis School of Law’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association took up Chang’s cause.

On March 16, 2015, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously to give a posthumous law license to Chang, resolving that it was “past time to acknowledge that the discriminatory exclusion of Chang from the State Bar of California was a grievous wrong.”

Hong Yen Chang, second row, far left, dressed in Western-style clothing and a bowler hat, at the time when he served as the accountant general to the Shanghai Bank treasury. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Hong Yen Chang, second row, far left, dressed in Western-style clothing and a bowler hat, at the time when he served as the accountant general to the Shanghai Bank treasury. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Chang first came to the United States in the 1870s as a student in the Chinese Educational Mission, a program designed to teach Chinese youth about the West. He enrolled at Yale College in 1879, but in 1881, the Chinese government recalled all mission students, and Chang returned to China. Unlike most other mission students, Chang was able to return to the United States, and with the financial support of his brother, he completed his education.

Chang graduated from Columbia Law School in 1886 but initially was not allowed to practice law because he lacked U.S. citizenship. Later, a judge in New York helped Chang argue his case in front of New York Governor David Hill. In 1888, Chang was granted both U.S. citizenship and the right to practice law in New York. Then he traveled to San Francisco, hoping to serve the large Chinese community there.

Hong Yen Chang, first row, far right, dressed in Western-style clothing. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Hong Yen Chang, first row, far right, dressed in Western-style clothing. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Chang’s collection includes letters and documents concerning his days as a diplomat and consul for the Republic of China. Also in the collection is a letter by Soong Ching-ling, the second wife of Sun Yat-sen, a leader of the 1911 revolution that established the Republic of China; she later went on to become vice president of China, under Mao Zedong, from 1949 to 1954. There is also a smaller portion of papers in the collection about Yee Ah Tye, Hong Yen Chang’s father-in-law, who was a prominent Chinese merchant in San Francisco.

The Huntington’s Yang expresses gratitude to Yee Ah Tye’s great-granddaughters—Rachelle Chong, Lani Ah Tye Farkas, and Doreen Ah Tye—for donating these important papers. “Once the Chang papers are processed,” says Yang, “they will provide researchers with insights into Chang’s life and his contributions to the Chinese community in the United States.”

Letter from Soong Ching-ling to Charlotte Ah Tye Chang (Hong Yen Chang’s wife), March 14, 1917. Soong Ching-ling, who was educated in the United States, was the second wife of Sun Yat-sen, a leader of the 1911 revolution that established the Republic of China; she later went on to become vice president of China, under Mao Zedong, from 1949 to 1954. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Letter from Soong Ching-ling to Charlotte Ah Tye Chang (Hong Yen Chang’s wife), March 14, 1917. Soong Ching-ling, who was educated in the United States, was the second wife of Sun Yat-sen, a leader of the 1911 revolution that established the Republic of China; she later went on to become vice president of China, under Mao Zedong, from 1949 to 1954. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Chinese-American Advocate, Y.C. Hong (Dec. 15, 2015)

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

Jack and Charmian’s National Park Adventures

In commemoration of the centennial of the creation of the National Park Service, The Huntington is mounting two related exhibitions. The first part, “Geographies of Wonder: Origin Stories of America’s National Parks, 1872–1933,” is on view through Sept. 5, 2016. A second exhibition, “Geographies of Wonder: Evolution of the National Park Idea, 1933–2016,” runs from Oct. 22, 2016 to Feb. 13, 2017. We also celebrate the writer Jack London, whose papers reside at The Huntington and who was no stranger to the wonders of our nation’s natural beauty. (Please note that the images in this blog post are not on view in the “Geographies of Wonder” exhibition.)

Snark, the vessel on which the Londons and their crew attempted an around-the-world trip, at anchor in Apia, Samoa, 1908. Photo by Jack London. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Snark, the vessel on which the Londons and their crew attempted an around-the-world trip, at anchor in Apia, Samoa, 1908. Photo by Jack London. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Author Jack London (1876–1916) is best known for adventures in the Klondike, especially as seen through the canine eyes of Buck, hero of his novel The Call of the Wild. But while London traversed the Klondike in search of gold in 1897, it was not his only adventure. London and his wife, Charmian Kittredge London, visited eight of today’s national parks, most of them together.

London traveled to Yosemite in 1895 at the age of 19, climbing from the valley to the rim near the monolithic El Capitan with five friends. His short story “Dutch Courage” chronicles an attempted ascent of Yosemite’s famous Half Dome.

Charmian Kittredge had visited Yosemite even earlier, in 1890, before she was married to London. A college graduate working as a secretary, Kittredge had her own income and was extremely independent for a woman of her day. An avid horseback rider, she was one of the first women in the Bay Area to ride—scandalously—astride! She would become the perfect companion for London. As far as we know, her regular diary keeping didn’t begin until 1900, but she did bring back photographs of her Sierra trip.

Charmian London and Jack London (third and fourth from the left) on a guided mule trip into the Grand Canyon. Photographer unknown, 1909. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Charmian London and Jack London (third and fourth from the left) on a guided mule trip into the Grand Canyon. Photographer unknown, 1909. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

London himself would become a phenomenal photographer, documenting the places he visited and the people he met all over the world.

In 1907, the Londons set off on one of their greatest adventures, a seven-year sailing trip around the world in their new yacht, the Snark. Ill health and a number of other difficulties forced them to abandon the circumnavigation after less than two years, but not before they and their crew had sailed to Hawai’i and the South Pacific. Their travels took them to three future parks.

In Hawai’i, the Londons visited the “House of the Sun,” the great crater of Haleakalā on Maui, which celebrates its centennial as a national park this year. Charmian later described the sight:

“More than twenty miles around its age-sculptured brim the titantic [sic] rosy bowl lay beneath; seven miles across the incredible hollow our gaze traveled to the glowing mountain-line that bounds the other side, and still above . . . we could not believe our sight that was unprepared for such ravishment of beauty.”

Yosemite Valley as photographed by Charmian Kittredge, 1890. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Yosemite Valley as photographed by Charmian Kittredge, 1890. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

On the Big Island, the Londons hiked Mauna Kea and Kilauea, the great volcanoes of Volcanoes National Park. Staying at the famous Volcano House, London commented in the register, “It is the pit of Hell.” Nonetheless, the Londons returned at least two more times on future visits to the island. Hawai’i would become one of their favorite places, which Charmian would recall in her book Our Hawai’i.

Sailing from Hawai’i, the Snark crossed the equator and stopped at numerous islands in the South Pacific. On April 29, 1908, the Londons anchored off the island of Manua, in American Samoa, and stayed in the area for a week. They watched a woman making tapa cloth (a decorative cloth made from bark) and visited the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson. The National Park of American Samoa includes the islands of Tutuila, Ta’u, and Ofu—designated a national park in 1988. At almost 5,000 miles from the mainland, it’s one of the least visited parks in the nation, not quite topping 14,000 visitors last year. Of Ta’u, Charmian wrote: “Our Carmel never flaunted more brilliant turquoise and emerald than do the glorious breakers of Ta’u.”

Clouds over the crater of Haleakalā, Maui, 1908. Photo by Jack London. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Clouds over the crater of Haleakalā, Maui, 1908. Photo by Jack London. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

By the time the Londons reached the Solomon Islands, they were weary and in poor health, and decided to cut short their sailing adventure. They returned from the South Seas by steamer to New Orleans in 1909 and then took the train back to California. Along the way, they stopped to see the great wonder of the Southwest, the Grand Canyon. They rode down into the Canyon on mule, stopping for the signature trail photograph. Afterward, they spent the night on the South Rim at the luxurious El Tovar Hotel and then boarded the train to resume their journey home. The Grand Canyon became the 15th national park in 1919.

Throughout their time together, the Londons enjoyed a life of adventure. They explored Mount Desert Island in Maine in 1905, home to the future Acadia National Park; Death Valley in 1907; and Crater Lake, the only location that was already a park when they visited, in 1911. (Crater Lake National Park was created in 1902). At Crater Lake, they slept in a tent at Camp Arant, the headquarters for the park. In her diary, Charmian compared the crater to Haleakala: “. . . like a wet Haleakala, was way ahead of all expectation and indescribable. Such blue, such rosy and golden rim.”

London’s peregrinations would inspire him to write some of the great novels and short stories in American literature. One hundred years after London’s death, national parks continue to inspire wonder, hosting more than a quarter of a billion people each year and providing visitors with memories that fuel their own special stories.

Jack London in Samoa, wearing a straw hat. Photo attributed to Charmian London, 1908. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Jack London in Samoa, wearing a straw hat. Photo attributed to Charmian London, 1908. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Jack London and the Rose Parade (Jan. 1, 2016)
Jack London, Public Intellectual (Sept. 22, 2015)
To Build a Fire (Jan. 10, 2014)
The Star Rover (Jan. 12, 2012)
A Friend to Jack London (Sept. 15, 2011)

Natalie Russell is The Huntington’s assistant curator of literary manuscripts.