Puyas in Bloom

Puya venusta. Photo by Deborah Miller.

A recent tour of Puya in the Desert Garden with The Huntington’s curator of the desert collections, John Trager, turned me from a Puya Ignoramus to a Puya Enthusiast.

Puya are drought-resistant, mainly South American terrestrial bromeliads (Bromeliaceae) that love arid sun. The Huntington has the best collection of these enigmatic plants anywhere in the country. So, unless you’re trekking through the Andes in Chile, Bolivia, Peru, or Ecuador, you won’t have a chance to see rare and arresting bromeliads—such as Puya alpestris and Puya chilensis—shoot spectacular, long-arching inflorescence blooms of blue-green, chartreuse, violet, red, and yellow three to five feet into the sky during their annual springtime bloom.

As an added bonus, Puya are well adapted to bird pollination because the flowers are full of nectar. During the bloom, birds perch happily on the plants’ lateral floral branches, which provide easy access to the nectar they love. Beware, however, as battalions of bees may be buzzing about.

Puya alpestris. Photo by Deborah Miller.

“The bees obviously are also attracted by the copious nectar, as are squirrels and other nectar thieves,” said Trager. “The birds actually achieve pollination, the others may not.”

As we toured the Desert Garden and Trager pointed out the many thriving Puya species, it was clear why these aren’t found in residential gardens (and why many of us are unfamiliar with them). The plant’s thick, gangly foliage spreads into densely packed, impenetrable colonies that take up a lot of space. Some have become enormous thickets the size of built-in swimming pools and have swallowed up their identifying species placard a long time ago.

“The placards, which were placed many decades ago, are buried somewhere in the middle; to find them, someone would have to push through the thicket completely covered in some kind of safety suit,” said Trager.

Puya coerulea var. violacea. Photo by Deborah Miller.

That only adds to the allure of these elusive plants. Puya often have virtually indistinguishable leaves, which makes it difficult for a novice to tell the difference between one variety and another and can even leave experts scratching their heads. Because The Huntington is the best place for Puya research in the country, experts and specialists come here to study plants in cultivation before going into the wild. (The Huntington’s excellent collection of mature Puya specimens were mainly collected decades ago when restrictions on botanical collecting were much more lenient.)

Earlier this decade, then graduate student and current Colorado College assistant professor Rachel Jabaily spent time studying Puya at The Huntington and identified many of the unknown specimens.

Many rare Puya species are located in the Desert Garden’s Heritage Walk section, which was closed after World War II due to staff cuts and largely lay dormant for several decades until it was renovated and reopened in 2013. During the renovation, Trager said, botanical staff discovered happily thriving early Puya collections. These included species born from seeds brought back from the South American Andes in the 1930s by T. Harper Goodspeed of the University of California (collected near Concepción, Chile, at the altitude of 100 meters, where it was found growing on dry slopes among shrubs and grasses), as well as Puya acquired later during explorations of Bolivia and Peru by Myron Kimnach, The Huntington’s director of botanical gardens from 1962 to 1986.

Puya coerulea var. violacea. Photo by Deborah Miller.

This formerly off-limits garden area was largely redesigned to accommodate these fantastic specimens, including the huge mass of Puya alpestris that dates to the 1940s and is situated right at the Heritage Walk entrance. This Puya’s towering flower spike displays brilliant aqua-blue flowers (and also goes by the name Sapphire Tower).

After my tour with John Trager, I realized Puya had been hiding in plain sight right before my eyes all along, waiting for me to relish their rarity and beauty.

Manuela Gomez Rhine is a freelance journalist based in Pasadena, California.

Out of the Woods

Asuka Hishiki, Black Pine Half-Cascade-Style Bonsai (2015-2017), Pinus nigra, Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, Saitama, Japan. Oil on paper, 28 ¼ x 36 ½ inches. © Asuka Hishiki. Courtesy of the American Society of Botanical Artists and the New York Botanical Garden.

Visitors to public gardens tend to view trees as background. Exotic blooms, shimmering ponds, and sweeping vistas of color draw the eye more readily. “Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens”—an exhibition of botanical illustrations opening May 19 in the Flora-Legium gallery located in The Huntington’s Brody Botanical Center—focuses on trees in all their glorious detail.

The subjects of the 43 illustrations, selected from more than 200 submissions, were cultivated in public gardens located on five continents. And one of the trees is at The Huntington.

“Like everything else in the garden, trees are part of our collections and objects of study,” notes Robert Hori, The Huntington’s Gardens Cultural Curator and Program Director.

Deborah Friedman, California Sycamore (2016), Platanus racemosa, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California. Watercolor and ink on paper, 24 x 19 inches. © Deborah Friedman. Courtesy of the American Society of Botanical Artists and the New York Botanical Garden.

Trees clean the air, moderate temperatures, provide habitat and food for animals, absorb storm water, and help prevent erosion. Threats to this vital resource—invasive pests, development, deforestation, climate change—led the New York Botanical Garden and the American Society of Botanical Artists to focus on trees for this third in a series of triennial exhibitions to tour the country.

Beyond environmental considerations, trees resonate with us on a spiritual level—as many “Out of the Woods” artists attest.

As a child riding her bicycle through a canyon, Deborah Friedman recalls watching red-tailed hawks soar above their nests in massive sycamore treetops. This cherished memory is one reason she chose to depict the California Sycamore—based on multiple specimens, including one located by the terrace of The Huntington’s Café 1919—for her entry in the juried show.

The ‘Fibonacci spirals’ of the Screw-Pine’s unusual fruits fascinated Margaret Best on her first view of them. She finalized her selection from the Bermuda Arboretum in Devonshire, Bermuda, when one of the fully ripe fruits, part of a mantelpiece decoration in a home where she was staying, exploded, disseminating its seeds and emitting a tropical aroma.

Margaret Best, Screw-Pine (2017), Pandanus utilis, Bermuda Arboretum, Devonshire, Bermuda. Watercolor on paper, 18 ½ x 14 ¼ inches. © Margaret Best. Courtesy of the American Society of Botanical Artists and the New York Botanical Garden.

Asuka Hishiki’s oil painting of a Black Pine Half-cascade Style Bonsai from the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama, Japan, won the juried show’s Gold Medal. The pine’s aging dignity left her awestruck. “The thick layered trunk is bold and strong, and it tells you the long but calm life the tree has had.”

Botanical illustration demands scientific as well as artistic skills. Friedman rendered the California Sycamore not only for “Out of the Woods,” but also for a project toward her diploma from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Distance Learning Course.

Following exacting standards, she studied the tree in all seasons, rendered a full silhouette, bark and leaf details, branching architecture, and flower and fruit development. She made flower dissections, pressed and preserved plant parts, kept a sketchbook, and took hundreds of photographs to record her observations. (You can watch a video of Friedman discussing her process on YouTube.)

Two more entries represent Southern California as well: Mitsuko Schultz’ Sweet Gum from the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, and Olga Ryabtsova’s Roxburgh Fig from the San Diego Botanic Garden.

Esmée Winkel, Leiden’s 300-Year-Old Tulip Tree in Autumn (2016), Liriodendron tulipifera. Hortus Botanicus Leiden, Leiden, The Netherlands. Watercolor on paper. © Esmée Winkel. Courtesy of the American Society of Botanical Artists and the New York Botanical Garden.

Our region is but one stop on the exhibition’s global journey. Arresting images abound, from the orchid-like flowers of the Noz-moscada Africana in the Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; to the slim cones of the 300-year-old Tulip Tree of Hortus Botanicus Leiden, The Netherlands; to the intricate tangle of roots and fibers of the Invasive Chinese Banyan Tree of Kowloon Park, Hong Kong, China. The artworks of “Out of the Woods”in watercolor, ink, oil, color pencil, and graphitetrace the cycle of life.

An adjunct exhibition, “Amazing Trees,” featuring works by the Botanical Artists’ Guild of Southern California (BAGSC)—a chapter of the American Society of Botanical Artists—will be on view adjacent to “Out of the Woods.”

Drop-in family activities centered around botanical art and facilitated by BAGSC will be offered in the Brody Botanical Center every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. through the run of the exhibition, May 19–Aug. 27, 2018.

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

“Frankenstein” Then and Now

Frontispiece from the 1831 third edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus. The engraving on the frontispiece, produced by William Chevalier from a drawing by the British artist Theodor von Holst (1810–1844), is the first known visualization of Victor Frankenstein and his creature attached to an edition of the novel itself. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus first appeared in print 200 hundred years ago, when the author was only 20. Since 1818, her boundary-breaking novel has become the most famous “Gothic” and Romantic-era text ever written, one of the founding works of science fiction, the inspiration for countless (if often “loose”) adaptations for the stage, film, and other media, and the source of a metaphor—the very name “Frankenstein”—that has come to designate several of the issues now raised by the modern sciences of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, which it foresaw with astonishing prescience.

I am therefore delighted to join with my colleague, Distinguished Professor Anne K. Mellor of UCLA, in co-chairing the conference Frankenstein Then and Now, 1818–2018” in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall this coming Friday and Saturday, May 11–12. The conference celebrates the bicentennial of Frankenstein’s publication by bringing together major experts from around the world to discuss this widely influential “monster story” about the creation of artificial life.

Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus, London, printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818. The first edition of Frankenstein was published anonymously. Author Mary Shelley’s name first appeared on the second edition, published in 1823. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington is an apt location for staging this conference, since its collections house original editions of the novel, holograph letters and manuscripts from the Shelley circle, and original documents in the history of science from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The first day of the conference, May 11, focuses on “Then”: what appears in, underlies, or surrounds the original Frankenstein in the 1810s. Professors Susan Wolfson of Princeton University and Gillen D’Arcy Wood of the University of Illinois will start the talks at this event by discussing the stages in the development of the novel’s manuscript and the physical conditions effecting the site of its conception, Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the region of the novel’s main setting. Professors Alan Bewell from the University of Toronto and Maisha Wester from Indiana University will then bring out long-hidden undercurrents in the novel that stem from, first, its relation to the new mobility of biological connections between bodies, places, and people; and, second, its allusions to non-Anglo races and the controversies over slavery and British imperialism that raged around them. The third session of the day will turn to the ways in which Shelley’s novel dialogues with the rapidly changing and conflicted sciences of its time in lectures offered by two of the world’s leading experts on the interfaces between Romantic literature and science: Professors Robert Mitchell of Duke University and Alan Richardson of Boston College.

Mary Shelley’s letter to Leigh and Marianne Hunt, April 6–8, 1818. Mary Shelley writes to her dear friends Leigh and Marianne Hunt from Italy, where she and the poet Percy Shelley would live until his death in 1822. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The conference’s second day, May 12, will move toward the “Now”: what has happened and is happening to the Frankenstein story and the issues it keeps raising in the 20th and 21st centuries. The day will begin with a screening of the astounding 2011 English National Theater stage adaptation of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, directed by Danny Boyle, and written by the prolific British playwright Nick Dear. Mr. Dear himself will then join Professor Mellor and me, along with distinguished movie historian David J. Skal, to talk about the challenges in adapting the original novel, starting with the National Theater production but then ranging more widely across the still-expanding array of Frankenstein films. The conference will then close with an extraordinary session on the most recent innovations in genetic engineering and the ethical and legal issues they raise that recall Frankenstein directly. Joining us to confront these advances and debates will be Jennifer Doudna, the award-winning professor of biochemistry who directs the Genomic Institute at UC Berkeley and whose laboratory invented the revolutionary gene-editing process called CRISPR/Cas-9; and Henry T. Greely, the Edelman Professor of Law at Stanford University and the director of its Center for Law and the Biosciences.

Nobel Prize–winner David Baltimore, President Emeritus and the Milliken Professor of Biology at Caltech, will give a lecture the evening before the Frankenstein conference begins in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall on Thursday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m. He will address what he calls “The Frankenstein Challenge” of today, the problem of controlling rapid and contentious developments in new biotechnology when there are so many different jurisdictions across our modern world. Photo courtesy of Caltech.

It turns out, in fact, that these legacies of Frankenstein are so current and unresolved in the sciences and ethics of our own moment that yet another very distinguished scholar has agreed to offer a pre-lecture, also in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 10, the evening before the conference begins.  He is David Baltimore, President Emeritus and the Milliken Professor of Biology at nearby Caltech, who will address what he calls “The Frankenstein Challenge” of today, the problem of controlling rapid and contentious developments in new biotechnology when there are so many different jurisdictions across our modern world.  (This event is free to the public, but you must reserve tickets online in advance.)

Professor Mellor and I deeply appreciate the support this conference has received from Caltech, the Keats-Shelley Association, the Byron Society of America, and from The Huntington itself, from its William French Smith Endowment to its extraordinary staff.

You can read more about the conference program on The Huntington’s website.

You can see a copy of the 1831 third edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus in the Library Exhibition Hall.

Jerrold E. Hogle is University Distinguished Professor in English at the University of Arizona and a former Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow at The Huntington.

The Name of the Rose

‘Marilyn Monroe’ roses capture the freshness of a spring morning. Tom Carruth, The Huntington’s E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose Collections, named this creamy, long-limbed hybrid in 2002. Photo by Deborah Miller.

An old Hollywood crowd graces bed number 15 North in The Huntington’s Rose Garden. ‘Ronald Reagan’ and ‘Nancy Reagan’ naturally stand together, with ‘Ginger Rogers’ to one side, ‘Dick Clark’ on the other, and ‘Lucille Ball’ and ‘Cary Grant’ nearby.

Meanwhile, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and ‘John F. Kennedy’ share their own quiet spot in bed number 23.

Tom Carruth, The Huntington’s E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose Collections, has been having fun grouping and pairing rose cultivars in the Rose Garden according to their names. Another inspiration led to his planting ‘Sexy Rexy’, a pink floribunda, one bed away from ‘Hanky Panky’, a striped floribunda.

‘Hanky Panky’, a striped floribunda, attracts attention in bed number 9 of the Rose Garden. Photo by Deborah Miller.

Carruth’s playful approach is a way for both the public and garden volunteers to navigate the three-acre Rose Garden, which showcases more than 1,200 cultivars and just over 2,500 individual shrubs.

An award-winning rose hybridizer who, over his long career, has introduced 142 rose cultivars and named many of these, Carruth clearly understands the importance of a rose’s name—one that somehow suits the cultivar’s personality, color, and fragrance. As it typically takes eight to 10 years to research, hybridize, and introduce a rose, a little name-dropping may be in order for its long-term life. (Attributing the qualities of a person to a rose seems a sure way to boost a flower’s appeal.)

“You want the name of a rose to be something that people easily remember,” Carruth says. “When you go to the store to buy it, if you can’t remember what it’s called—it wasn’t named right.”

Tom Carruth planted the captivating ‘Sexy Rexy’, a pink floribunda, in bed number 10—just one bed away from ‘Hanky Panky’. Photo by Deborah Miller.

Similarly, gardeners may not buy and plant roses with forgettable or unfamiliar names, which can lead to their demise because rose producers stop growing them.

A great name can help a mediocre rose, Carruth said, such as the ‘John F. Kennedy’, which he deemed an average white rose in need of more vigor, marked by a stingy bloom.

The ‘Marilyn Monroe’ rose, however, fully lives up to her appellation. Named by Carruth in 2002, this creamy, long-limbed hybrid has a platinum-blonde hue. Carruth gained the rights to Monroe’s name, he says, because the original director of the late actress’s estate had recently passed and his wife was happy to provide licensing rights for a one-time fee.

The ‘Julia Child’ rose, a floribunda that’s as golden-yellow as butter and has a sweet licorice fragrance, is named after the famous Pasadena-born chef. Photo by Deborah Miller.

Indeed, the person for whom a rose is named, or their estate, must give authorization. In the case of first ladies, for example, neither Hillary Clinton nor Michelle Obama have given authorization; Barbara Bush has had a rose named for her, and Nancy Reagan has had three. Hard to believe (and Carruth does not know why), but a rose has never been named for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Carruth has named roses for a number of celebrities, including ‘Julie Newmar’ and ‘Barbra Streisand’ (a 2001 hybrid tearose with rich lavender blooms and a citrusy fragrance that she chose herself).

But he’s most proud of his achievement with the ‘Julia Child’ rose, a floribunda that’s as golden-yellow as butter and has a sweet licorice fragrance. “It’s one of the top five of my career,” says Carruth. The All-American Rose Selection winner has seen considerable international success because it grows in a variety of climates.

This tastefully named rose is called ‘Ketchup and Mustard’. Photo by Deborah Miller.

Carruth had asked the American, Pasadena-born chef several times if he could name a rose for her, but she always said no. It was by happenstance that one day, in 2004, she visited a mutual friend, a Santa Barbara rose grower, who had one of Carruth’s new varieties in her garden. “When Child saw that rose, she said, ‘if there ever was a rose for which I would want to be named, this is it,’ so we jumped on it,” said Carruth.

After talking with Carruth and gaining an understanding of how roses are named, I walked through the Rose Garden thinking about the historical context or zeitgeist that must have influenced each chosen appellation: why is a rose variety named ‘Chrysler Imperial’ (1952), ‘Jiminy Cricket’ (1954), ‘City of Belfast’ (1968), ‘Apache Tears’ (1971), ‘Betty Boop’ (1999), or ‘Ketchup and Mustard’ (2012)?

Shakespeare famously wrote, “a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” but would it be as much fun to contemplate?

Manuela Gomez Rhine is a freelance journalist based in Pasadena, California.

Radiant Beauty

E. L. Trouvelot (1827–1895), Aurora Borealis, 1881, color lithograph, 25 3/4 × 32 3/4 in. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

E.L. Trouvelot made one big mistake in his life: releasing, by accident, gypsy moths he was studying into the woods near his home in Medford, Massachusetts in the 1860s. This error, which had dire consequences for North America’s hardwood trees, has obscured Trouvelot’s very real achievements in art and astronomy. “Radiant Beauty: E.L. Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings,” opening April 28 in the Library’s West Hall, represents the zenith of his career: the 15 chromolithographs published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1882.

“Kudos to Trouvelot,” says Krystle Satrum, assistant curator of The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. “He moved on. He said, ‘Maybe my role is not to be a great entomologist. I’ll use my artistic skills and move to another field.’”

E. L. Trouvelot (1827–1895), The Planet Saturn, 1881, color lithograph, 25 3/4 × 32 3/4 in. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Born in France, Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (1827–1895), a self-taught astronomer, produced more than 7,000 astronomical illustrations and 50 scientific articles in his working life. His depictions of planets, comets, eclipses, moon craters, and sunspots display the wonders of the cosmos in vivid color and meticulous detail.

“He had an uncanny capacity to combine art and science in such a way as to make substantial contributions to both fields,” observes Satrum.

Trouvelot’s singular mix of talents garnered him a position in 1872 at the Harvard College Observatory. In 1875, the U.S. Naval Observatory invited him to use their 26-inch refracting telescope, then the world’s largest. And, in 1876, Harvard published a volume containing 35 lithographs based on his drawings of solar phenomena.

Astronomy enjoyed the status of a popular science in the latter half of the 19th century. “You could get your own telescope, start looking at the stars, and learn as you go,” says Satrum.

E. L. Trouvelot (1827–1895), Mare Humorum, 1881, color lithograph, 25 3/4 × 32 3/4 in. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Trouvelot showed several of his pastels at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where the general public could view them. That exposure led Scribner’s to publish some 300 sets of the 15 chromolithographs on view in the “Radiant Beauty” exhibition.

Each set included Trouvelot’s manual, also on display in the West Hall, with specific descriptions of his observations and each plate. The content reflects what was known at the time about such celestial bodies as the Moon, Mars, and Saturn.

Full sets of the color lithographs are rare today. As early 20th-century advances in photographic technology permitted more accurate and detailed depictions of astronomical phenomena, the libraries and observatories that owned the portfolios discarded the prints or sold them to collectors. Jay T. Last donated his set to The Huntington as part of his collection of graphic arts and social history. “Radiant Beauty” marks the set’s first public exhibition at The Huntington.

E. L. Trouvelot (1827–1895), The Great Comet of 1881, 1881, color lithograph, 32 3/4 × 25 3/4 in. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

As dazzling as these lithographs look in this blog post, seeing them in person has an “indescribable effect,” says Satrum. “You’re viewing a 135-year-old, beautiful pristine print. There’s still that ‘wow’ factor that you get when you’re looking at the originals.”

Trouvelot wrote, “No human skill can reproduce upon paper the majestic beauty and radiance of the celestial objects.” His own works seek to disprove those words.

You can watch a video about the exhibition—with commentary by Krystle Satrum, assistant curator of The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History—on YouTube.

To place Trouvelot’s contributions in context, visit the astronomy section of “Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World,” located next door to the “Radiant Beauty” exhibition. You can see how Galileo, Newton, and other pioneers of astronomy observed the heavens and recorded their experiences.

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Recent Lectures: Nov. 5, 2017–April 5, 2018

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of 24 recent lectures and conversations.

To the Edges of the Earth (April 5, 2018)
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Edward J. Larson discusses in his new book, To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration. Larson tells the story of three simultaneous and groundbreaking expeditions that pushed to the furthest reaches of the globe and brought within human reach a complete accounting of all the Earth’s surface.

 

Making Art/Discovering Science (March 14, 2018)
Steven Shapin, the Franklin L. Ford Research Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, draws attention to the widely held view that artistic productions are “things made up” and scientific knowledge consists of “things found out.” How stable and coherent are such presumptions? Shapin discusses examples drawn from 19th-century biology and from 20th-century and contemporary art.

 

Conversion & Religions of the World in 18th-Century America (March 7, 2018)
Mark Valeri, the Reverend Priscilla Wood Neaves Distinguished Professor of Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, describes how new ideas of moral virtue and political reasonableness shaped Protestant approaches to religious choice in colonial America.

 

In Search of Blue Boy’s True Colors (Feb. 28, 2018)
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, art historian and journalist, reveals the scholarship and science behind Project Blue Boy, The Huntington’s two-year effort to conserve one of Western Art’s greatest masterpieces in this annual Founder’s Day lecture.

 

Chop Suey, USA: How Americans Discovered Chinese Food (Feb. 22, 2018)
Yong Chen, professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, discusses the historical forces that turned Chinese food, a cuisine once widely rejected by Americans, into one of the most popular ethnic foods in the U.S.

 

The Introduction of Japanese Plants into North America (Feb. 20, 2018)
Through the pioneering work of collectors and nurserymen, many new Japanese species were introduced to the American gardening public in the late 19th century. Peter Del Tredici, Senior Research Scientist, Emeritus, of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, will examine the history behind these early introductions, some of which had a profound impact on both cultivated and wild landscapes across America.

 

Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (Feb. 15, 2018)
David Armitage, the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard University, puts contemporary conflicts from Afghanistan to Syria into historical perspective and asks why it matters whether we call them “civil wars” instead of insurgencies, rebellions, or even revolutions.

 

Miraculous Things: The Culture of Consumerism in the Renaissance (Feb. 7, 2018)
Martha Howell, professor of history at Columbia University and the R. Stanton Avery Distinguished Fellow, discusses the meaning attached to goods—both humble and luxurious—during the Renaissance. The era is considered by many to be the first age of commercial globalism.

 

Louis C. Tiffany’s Glass Mosaics (Feb. 1, 2018)
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Louis Comfort Tiffany directed an artistic empire in the design and creation of stained glass windows and lamps, blown glass vases, and other objects of luxury. But his innovations in glass mosaics represented perhaps his most expressive mastery of the medium. Kelly Conway, curator of American glass at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, discusses this understudied aspect of Tiffany’s virtuosity. This talk is part of the Wark Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Exhibition Talk: Live Free or Die (Jan. 27, 2018)
Artists Soyoung Shin and Juliana Wisdom, two of the seven artists whose work is featured in the current exhibition COLLECTION/S, will discuss the influence of 18th-century French history and decorative arts on their work. The discussion is moderated by Jenny Watts, curator of photography and visual culture at The Huntington, and Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art.

 

Decoding the Book: Printing & the Birth of Secrecy (Jan. 24, 2018)
Bill Sherman, director of the Warburg Institute in London, delivers the inaugural annual lecture honoring David Zeidberg, recently retired Avery Director of the Library. In his presentation, Sherman traces the modern field of cryptography back to the Renaissance and asks what role the invention of printing played in the keeping of secrets. This talk is part of the Zeidberg Lecture in the History of the Book Series at The Huntington.

 

Portland Japanese Garden: The Journey Continues (Jan. 23, 2018)
For more than 50 years, the Portland Japanese Garden has been a haven of serenity and an important center for Japanese culture. Join Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator of the Portland Japanese Garden, as he reflects on their recent expansion and newly founded institute for teaching garden history, design, construction, and maintenance. This talk is part of the East Asian Garden Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Frederick Hammersley’s Remarkable Account of his Painting Practice & Materials (Jan. 18, 2018)
Abstract artist Frederick Hammersley (1919-2009) kept meticulous documentation of his painting process and materials. His Painting Books, compiled over the course of nearly 40 years, describe in detail the creation of hundreds of individual works. Scientist Alan Phenix of the Getty Conservation Institute will survey the technical content of the Painting Books, with particular focus on matters that have significance for the care and conservation of Hammersley’s works.

 

Anton Roman: San Francisco’s Pioneering Bookseller & Publisher (Jan. 17, 2018)
John Crichton, proprietor of the Brick Row Book Shop in San Francisco, shares the story of pioneering entrepreneur Anton Roman (1828-1903), who came to California from Bavaria in 1849 to make his fortune in the gold fields, then converted his gold into books and became one of the most important booksellers in the West. This program is the Book Club of California’s inaugural Kenneth Karmiole Endowed Lecture.

 

A Mormon Diarist in California, 1850-1858 (Jan. 10, 2018)
Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the 300th Anniversary University Professor of History at Harvard University, shares stories from the remarkable diary of Caroline Crosby. The wife of a Mormon missionary, Crosby reached California with her husband in 1850 en route to a posting in the South Pacific, and later lived among “saints and strangers” in San Jose, San Francisco, and San Bernardino. This talk is part of the Mormon History Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Conversation and Readings from the Podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text (Dec. 21, 2017)
Vanessa Zoltan (co-host) and Ariana Nedelman (producer) of the celebrated podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, along with Huntington curator Vanessa Wilkie, discuss how media format shapes message. The podcast team discusses why they choose to do their program as a podcast (as opposed to a reading group, blog, or book), the opportunities of this media, as well as its limitations. This program was presented in conjunction with the exhibition “The Reformation: From the Word to the World.”

 

Cochineal in the History of Art and Global Trade (Dec. 10, 2017)
Alejandro de Ávila Blomberg of the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden and Oaxaca Textile Museum will explore the historical and cultural significance of this natural crimson dye. Used from antiquity, cochineal became Mexico’s second-most valued export after silver during the Spanish colonial period.

 

Christian Origins in Early Modern Europe: The Birth of a New Kind of History (Dec. 7, 2017)
In the 16th century, the unified Latin Christianity of the Middle Ages broke apart. New Protestant churches and a reformed Catholic church created new theologies, new liturgies, and new ways of imagining what early Christian life and worship were like. Anthony Grafton, professor of history at Princeton University, discusses how the new histories were ideological in inspiration and controversial in style, but nonetheless represented a vital set of innovations in western ways of thinking about and representing the past. This talk is part of the Crotty Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

The Florentine Codex and the Herbal Tradition: Unknown versus Known? (Dec. 5, 2017)
The 16th-century ethnographic study known as the Florentine Codex included a richly detailed account of natural history of the New World. In this lecture, Alain Touwaide—historian of medicine, botany, and medicinal plants—compares the Codex and contemporary European herbal traditions. He suggests that they represent the opposition between unknown and known—a dynamic force that led to many discoveries in medicine through the centuries.

 

The Ecology of Eternity in a Song-Dynasty Buddhist Monastery (Nov. 21, 2017)
In his inaugural Huntington lecture, Phillip Bloom, The Huntington’s new director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies and curator of the Chinese Garden, examines the history of Shizhuanshan, a hilltop Buddhist sanctuary in southwestern China constructed in the late 11th century. Bloom argues that, at Shizhuanshan, architecture, image, and text work together to transform the natural environment itself into a site for the eternal performance of Buddhist ritual.

 

Did Early-Modern Schoolmasters Foment Sedition? (Nov. 15, 2017)
Markku Peltonen, professor of history at the University of Helsinki and the Fletcher Jones Foundation Distinguished Fellow, discusses why the famous philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) placed the blame for the English Civil War and Revolution of the 1640s at the door of schoolmasters. This talk is part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

The Landscape Designs of Ralph Cornell (Nov. 12, 2017)
Among the first generation of landscape architects in Southern California, Ralph Cornell (1890–1972) is considered the most influential. His wide scope of projects included college campuses, city parks, and significant residential commissions. Noted architect Brian Tichenor discusses Cornell’s life and milieu while examining three of his highly significant landscape designs. The lecture is presented in collaboration with the California Garden and Landscape History Society.

 

The Lords Proprietors: Land and Power in 17th-Century America (Nov. 8, 2017)
If England’s King Charles II and his courtiers had had their way, most of eastern North America would have been the personal property of about a dozen men who dreamed of wielding virtually absolute power over their vast domains. Daniel K. Richter, professor of history and director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Fellow, explores this neglected chapter in American history and why it still matters.

 

Rediscovered Botanical Treasures from the Smithsonian and the Hunt Institute (Nov. 5, 2017)
Lugene Bruno, curator of Carnegie Mellon’s Hunt Institute, and Alice Tangerini, curator of botanical art at the Smithsonian Institution, present an illustrated lecture on recently rediscovered artworks long forgotten in their archives. These botanical illustrations represent significant historical and scientific findings of an earlier era.

Find more audio recordings of Huntington lectures and conferences on SoundCloud and iTunes.

Fiber Arts

Weaving on a backstrap loom. Photo by Deborah Miller.

A group of Herb Garden docents gathered in the Botanical Center’s headhouse one recent morning to begin work on a textile installation piece they plan to display at the upcoming Fiber Arts Day, taking place on April 14 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in and around the Huntington’s Herb and Rose Gardens.

As most of the dozen or so docents were new to weaving, fiber arts teacher Anna Zinsmeister began the workshop with a lesson on using a backstrap and table loom. She demonstrated carding cotton (a process that disentangles and cleans fibers) and twisting fibers on the reproduction 18th-century spinning wheel she brought along. Terms such as “warp” and “weft” were bandied about, and spinning facts dispensed—such as that flax, once spun, becomes linen.

Lorynne Young, Herb Garden docent chair, weaves on a table loom in the Herb Garden. Photo by Deborah Miller.

The docents’ ambition to learn to weave and create a fiber arts installation piece was predicated on their desire to be more knowledgeable for Fiber Arts Day, a popular annual Huntington event that draws fiber and textile artisans from throughout the Los Angeles area to showcase their hand-weaving and textile-related craftsmanship. For the event four years ago, the docents learned to dye fibers using natural plant pigments culled from such Herb Garden plants as madder (Rubia tinctorum) and indigo (Indigofera tinctoria).

“It’s fascinating to see the end products of some of the plants,” said Leslie Rasmussen, a five-year docent who sees the docents’ collaboration as both an experiment and a chance to have a great time.

This year’s Fiber Arts Day may prove to be the biggest ever, said Herb Garden gardener Kelly Fernandez. Almost 50 craftspeople from local craft guilds are slated to set up their looms and spinning wheels and demonstrate many traditions of this ancient craft. Visitors can see various kinds of looms used for weaving techniques that range from inkle and Navajo to tapestry and free form. Huntington docents will present throughout the day to talk about relevant plants in the garden used by the weavers, spinners, and dyers.

Weaving on a table loom. Photo by Deborah Miller.

“What I love about fiber arts is that it’s an accessible art form,” said Fernandez. “Everyone is fascinated by the process. It’s for everyone, for beginners and advanced people.”

Because craft guilds—such as the Southern California Handweavers’ Guild, the Bobbinwinders Handweaving Guild, and the Greater Los Angeles Spinning Guild—have so enthusiastically embraced the event, as has the public, Fernandez is hopeful it will one day grow to include workshops and a symposium.

This year’s event will include the addition of Pasadena fine artist Valérie Daval, whose textile sculpture “Spindles 100: Hers” will be installed on a tree between the Huntington Art Gallery and the Library. Inspired by the shapes of tree seedpods, chrysalises, distaffs and spindles, Daval enlisted 50 women to use red paint to put their handprints on white, spindle-like cones of textiles that will hang from tree branches throughout the day. “Distaffs and spindles are old instruments used for spinning natural fibers,” she said. “They symbolize exclusively feminine work and are symbols of life and time.”

As the Herb Garden docents gamely focused on their own artistic creations, they were glad for the extra support from fellow docent Jane Leese, a retired arts teacher from a Pasadena private school who previously taught backstrap weaving to her fourth-grade students.

Fiber Arts Day takes place on Saturday, April 14, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m in The Huntington’s Herb Garden. Photo by Kelly Fernandez.

“Did you get your tension problems solved?” she asks a colleague who had been struggling with this loom issue. Docents were instructed to continue working on their weavings at home, then bring them back so that they could be assembled into the greater installation piece.

“I just love textiles and weaving,” said Leese. In fact, it was through attending a Fiber Arts Day that she decided to become an Herb Garden docent. “When I saw the cotton, flax, and madder growing, well, it just opened my eyes to what’s possible.”

Fiber Arts Day takes place on Saturday, April 14, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m in The Huntington’s Herb Garden. Skilled craftspeople will demonstrate the tools and techniques for carding and combing fibers such as cotton and linen, spinning the fibers into yarn or thread, weaving, and making natural dyes using herbs and other plant materials. General admission.

Manuela Gomez Rhine is a freelance journalist based in Pasadena, California.

The Queerness of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Shakespeare’s image as it appeared on the title page of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, known as the First Folio, published in London in 1623. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are enduringly popular. Many people recognize famous lines from the sequence or even know some of the sonnets by heart. Even though the first edition, published in 1609, was not reprinted in Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Sonnets are now among the most culturally valued and widely marketed of his productions. They outsell all of his other works. They are often read at weddings.   

Most sonnet sequences of Shakespeare’s time involve a man addressing a woman who is aloof and not interested in his advances. Her refusal is what keeps him writing poems as he tries to persuade her to love him in return. Shakespeare’s Sonnets buck this trend by being addressed to a young man—at least the first 80 percent of them are. This is unusual enough in itself. Still more unusual is the way the Sonnets begin, which is by urging the young man to marry and produce a child. The reason for this, the poet says, is that “From fairest creatures we desire increase” (Sonnet 1). The young man is beautiful, and the poet wants his name and beauty to live forever.

The title page of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1609. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Equally unusual is the way the poet describes this business of making babies, which he compares with the business of making money. Specifically, he compares it with usury, the practice of charging interest on loans. In Sonnet 4, for example, the young man is accused of being a “Profitless usurer.” He is said to be guilty of abusing nature’s gifts by refusing to use them properly: he is not spending what nature lends him in order to make more. “Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee, / Which usèd lives th’executor to be.” In Sonnet 6, having children is encouragingly presented to the young man in terms of the kind of increase promised by capital investment: “That use is not forbidden usury / Which happies those that pay the willing loan; / That’s for thyself to breed another thee, / Or ten times happier, be it ten for one. / Ten times thyself were happier than thou art, / If ten of thine ten times refigured thee” (Sonnet 6).

This language strikes an odd note because making children might seem a natural process, while making money is an artificial one. For thousands of years, usury had been condemned as unnatural and immoral for just this reason. Money could not breed in the same way that living creatures can. In Shakespeare’s time, this view was beginning to change as lending at interest was becoming more widespread and increasingly acceptable, but there was still a lot of resistance to it. Many people still regarded usury as wrong.

It was this traditional thinking that Shakespeare was challenging when he suggested that having children and practicing usury were basically the same. At a much earlier stage in the history of money, Socrates had described interest metaphorically as human offspring (tokos in Greek). In the Sonnets, Shakespeare effectively turns this metaphor around by describing offspring as interest. He suggests that both are a good thing and an increase in either naturally more so.

Dedication page of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1609. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One of the things Shakespeare is doing here is encouraging us to think about what is natural and what is unnatural. The young man in the Sonnets is not being asked to sow wild oats, as it were. He is being asked to produce an heir—specifically a son—because this will ensure the continuity of his name down the generations and the proper transfer of property through the male line. However natural it might seem, therefore, the act of producing a child is entirely bound up with such artificial considerations as legitimacy and inheritance. What is “natural”, therefore, turns out to be a very particular way of organizing society that is made to look natural.

This explains Shakespeare’s weird take on the carpe diem motif. Usually, in love poetry, the poet invites the beloved to “seize the day” and make love to him without delay. Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593), for example, wrote a famous poem on this theme that begins “Come live with me and be my love.” In the Sonnets, however, Shakespeare does not proposition the young man directly in this way. Instead, he asks him to proposition someone else. He tells him there are plenty of women out there who would be happy to bear his child: “. . . where is she so fair whose unear’d womb / Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?” (Sonnet 3); “. . . many maiden gardens yet unset, / With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers” (Sonnet 16). For all the natural imagery, however, nothing could be less straightforward or direct. It is more a matter of “come live with me and be my love, but first go live with her and be hers.”   

By making his beloved a man, Shakespeare is suggesting that we should think twice about what seems “natural” and be a bit less hasty in treating it as something obvious and self-evident. He suggests that appealing to what is “natural” and legitimizing only that is actually appealing to a particular way of organizing society—and here, appealing to a particularly patriarchal and capitalist way, one that tries to pass itself off as “natural,” as just the way things are. We are urged to see that this is, in fact, a fundamentalist position. In describing a love between two men, Shakespeare’s Sonnets challenge the kind of society in which succession (the production of sons) is the only thing that counts as success. Here, the only thing that love begets is poetry—not sons, but sonnets.

Sonnets 3 and 4 in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1609. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Looking for more Shakespeare? Come to The Huntington for Shakespeare Day on Saturday, April 7, from 11 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Performers from LA Opera and the Guild of St. George will perform scenes and songs from some of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays in locations throughout the grounds. General admission.

And, since April is National Poetry Month, why not attend the Claremont Graduate University’s 2018 Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Reading and Reception in The Huntington’s Haaga Hall on April 19? Hear Patricia Smithwinner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and Donika Kelly, winner of the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, read from their work. The reading is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7 p.m.; reading begins at 7:30 p.m. Reception and book sales to follow. Please RSVP via Eventbrite.

Catherine Bates is research professor at the University of Warwick. She specializes in English Renaissance poetry and is currently writing a book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Her recent books include On Not Defending Poetry (2017, Oxford University Press), currently nominated for the biennial Society of Renaissance Studies prize in Britain and the MLA James Russell Lowell Prize in the U.S.; and Masculinity and the Hunt (Oxford University Press, 2013), winner of the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in 2015.

John Ogilby’s English Restoration Fantasy

Portrait of John Ogilby, signed by William Faithorne, from Ogilby’s 1663 translation of Virgil, Publii Virgilii Maronis opera per Johannem Ogilvium edita, et sculpturis aneis adornata (London, 1663). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

John Ogilby was born in Scotland in 1600, died in London in 1676, and was, at various points in between, a dancing master, a theatrical impresario, a translator of Virgil and Homer, and a widely read geographer.

He employed all his talents in April 1661, when King Charles II formally reclaimed the British throne after more than a decade of rule by Parliament and Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. Ogilby took charge of “the Conduct of the Poetical part” of the restored king’s coronation procession through London. His “Speeches, Emblemes, Mottoes, and Inscriptions” graced four triumphal arches through which the procession passed. These constructions imitated, said Ogilby, those of “the antient Romanes, who at the Return of their Emperours, erected Arches of Marble.” True, his monuments were mere stage sets, probably constructed of wood and canvas, but they surpassed their ancient predecessors “in Number and stupendious Proportions.” They also reveal how Ogilby, and presumably many of those who witnessed his extravaganza, preferred to imagine England’s role on the eve of one of its greatest eras of colonial expansion.

The first page of Ogilby’s lavishly illustrated memorial of Charles II’s Coronation procession: The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II, in His Passage through the City of London to His Coronation (London, 1662). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Part of Ogilby’s genius as a promoter was to secure exclusive rights to publish accounts of the festivities he produced. The Huntington owns beautiful examples of the two volumes that resulted, most copies of which, Ogilby later lamented, perished in the 1666 Great Fire of London. The first, The Relation of His Majestie’s Entertainment Passing through the City of London, to His Coronation (1661) is a straightforward narrative of what the king and the crowds lining his way did and saw, quickly printed to prevent others from scooping the story. The far more elaborate second book, The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II, in His Passage through the City of London to His Coronation (1662), buries the original’s words beneath an unreadable mess of classical allusions, poetry, and other intellectual ostentations more elaborate than the ceremonies it describes.

The impenetrability of the 1662 volume’s prose only highlights the wonders of its lavish illustrations. Five double-page spreads by Wenceslaus Hollar detail in order every horse and rider in the coronation parade. Each of the four triumphal arches gets a one-fold-out plate engraved by David Loggan: the first shows chaotic images of “Rebellion” conquered by “Loyalty”; the third and fourth portray, respectively, “The Temple of Concord” and “the Garden of Plenty” promised by the restoration of the monarchy.

Charles II’s Coronation Procession, from John Ogilby, The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II, in His Passage through the City of London to His Coronation (London, 1662). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The image of the second arch, erected in Cornhill near the Royal Exchange, is perhaps the most fascinating. King Charles would have had to crane his neck to glimpse what those watching the parade from rooftops would see first: Atlas holding a globe topped by an enormous sailing ship. Beneath these tottering figures, a pair of “Celestial Hemi-spheres” flanked a quotation from the ancient Roman poet Juvenal about Alexander the Great: unus non sufficit [orbis], “one world is not enough.” Beneath this favorite slogan of globally ambitious early modern kings was an emblem with the motto of the royal Order of the Garter, Honi soit qui mal y pense, “Shame on him who thinks ill of it.” Two other Latin inscriptions completed the homage to the restored king as lord of the waters: “For thee O Jove’s delight, the Seas engage / And muster’d winds, drawn up in Battle, Rage,” stated one. “British Neptune, Charles II, ruler of the seas, whether open or closed,” proclaimed the other.

Well-read viewers would recognize in this a reference to the debate between the Dutch legal theorist Hugo Grotius and his English critic John Seldon over whether the seas were Mare Clausum, exclusive possessions of particular monarchs, or Mare Liberum, open to all. Either way, Charles II would prevail. Anyone who missed the Latin messages would hear them repeated in plain English by costumed sailors who sang verses such as this from a stage-set ship at curbside:

King Charles, King Charles, great Neptune of the Main!
Thy Royal Navy rig,
And We’ll not care a Fig
For France, for France, the Netherlands, nor Spain.
The Turk, who looks so big,
We’ll whip him like a Gig

The Naval Arch, from John Ogilby, The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II, in His Passage through the City of London to His Coronation (London, 1662). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The centerpiece of the entire display—best seen from third-floor balconies along the route—was a huge painting of “King Charles the First, with the Prince, now Charles the Second, in His Hand . . . leaning on a Cannon.” Flanking the martyred father and his restored son were “living Figures, representing Europe, Asia, Africk, and America, with Escutcheons, and Pendents, bearing the Arms of the Companies trading into those parts.” The woman representing Africa held an umbrella to defend herself from the blazing sun (and perhaps from young Charles’s cannon), carried a pomegranate in her hand, and wore a crown of corn and ivory. The pomegranate was an abstruse classical reference to the goddess Juno, the corn symbolized “the Fertility of the place,” and the ivory evoked “the great number of Elephants, bred in that part of the World.”

The classics, of course, could provide no help in personifying America, which Ogilby could only portray as “Crown’d with Feathers of divers Colours, on her Stole a Golden River, in one Hand a Silver Mountain.” The river was the Amazon, the mountain was the silver mine of Spanish Potosí, and neither image conveyed anything about the North American and Caribbean colonies where tens of thousands of English colonists actually lived in 1662. Nor did the embodiment of Africa hint at the tens of thousands of captive laborers who would soon be leaving the continent’s shores on English ships to slave and die on English plantations. Instead, Ogilby portrayed a learned, aristocratic, fantasy empire, where classical models combined with elite guilds of merchants to reap riches and glory for king and nation.

The Naval Arch (detail), from John Ogilby, The Entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II, in His Passage through the City of London to His Coronation (London, 1662). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A decade before Ogibly’s arch fantasies spanned Cornhill and filled the pages of his lavish memorial volume, a tiny unillustrated pamphlet in The Huntington’s collections had painted a very different prose picture. Its author, George Gardyner—who had actually been to the colonies rather than just read about them—shared Ogilby’s hope that Englishmen would “grow great and famous and extend their authority and name beyond either Roman, Grecian, Assyrian or Persian Nations.” But alas, he had to say, “the trade of America is prejudiciall, very dishonest, and highly dishonourable to our Nation.” Far from being admired as modern Neptunes, his fellow Englishmen were “upbraided by all other Nations . . . for selling our own Countreymen for the Commodities of those places.” He was talking about the commerce in indentured servants, people of England’s “own Nation, which have most barbarously been stolne out of their Countrey” to harvest sugar in Barbados and tobacco in Virginia.

Gardyner’s portrait of what went on in New England was no more flattering. The puritans there, he said, “punish sin as severely as the Jews did in old time, but not with so good warrant.” Moreover, “they have brought the Indians into great awe, but none to any Gospell knowledge.” These were not pretty pictures. No wonder Ogilby preferred images from two thousand years distant in his past to those from four thousand miles away in his present.

The title page of John Gardyner’s far less rosy picture of England’s colonies: A Description of the New World (London, 1651). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Daniel K. Richter, the 2017–18 Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Fellow at The Huntington, is a Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History and the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Among his publications are Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America and Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts.

You can listen to Richter’s Distinguished Fellow Lecture, “The Lords Proprietors: Land and Power in 17th-Century America,” on SoundCloud.

George Washington, a Letter, and a Runaway Slave

Gilbert Stuart, George Washington, 1797, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (72.4 x 60 cm.)
frame: 35 1/4 x 30 5/16 x 3 in. (89.5 x 77 x 7.6 cm.). Gift of Mrs. Alexander Baring. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

On August 26, 1852, Charles Sumner (1811–1874), the junior Senator from Massachusetts, took the floor of the United States Senate to deliver a major speech against slavery. For three hours, Sumner blasted slavery as a barbaric custom that was an affront to the law of God, the foundational principles of the Republic, and the original intent of the Founding Fathers. The latter point was rather tricky to argue considering that several of the Founding Fathers had owned slaves. Sumner got around this obstacle by painting the Revolutionary generation, epitomized by George Washington, as unwilling inheritors of this poisonous legacy from the colonial past.

At this point in his speech, Sumner triumphantly held up an old letter, dating from 1796 and written by George Washington himself, that had “never before seen the light.” Addressed to Joseph Whipple, the collector of the customs in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the letter asked Whipple to help recover a fugitive slave who had worked for Martha Washington.

Sumner pointed to Washington’s words that he was “well-disposed” to the abolition of slavery and that the runaway should not “be forcibly removed.” In the end, according to Sumner, the “fugitive was never returned, but lived in freedom to a good old age, down to a very recent day, a monument of the just forbearance of him who we aptly call Father of his Country.”

George Washington’s letter to Joseph Whipple regarding the runaway slave Ona Maria Judge, Nov. 28, 1796. In the second paragraph, Washington writes: “I regret that the attempt you made to restore the girl (Oney Judge as she called herself while with us, and who, without the least provocation absconded from her Mistress) should have been attended with so little success. To enter into such a compromise, as she has suggested to you, is totally inadmissible, for reasons that must strike at first view: for however well disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of People (if the latter was in itself practicable at this Moment) it would neither be politic or just, to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference; and thereby discontent, beforehand, the minds of all her fellow Servants; who by their steady adherence, are far more deserving than herself, of favor.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

What a nice story. Unfortunately, it is also largely untrue. Washington’s letter, along with Whipple’s reply, now reside at The Huntington. They came to San Marino in 1960, after the Library acquired a collection of papers from the extended family of Reverend Charles Russel Lowell (1782–1861), a Boston Unitarian minister, anti-slavery preacher, and a relative of Whipple’s. Washington’s letter is indeed quite revealing, although mostly not in the way Sumner spins it.

The slave’s name was Ona (or Oney) Maria Judge, the subject of a recent book by Erica Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge. A personal maid and “property” of Martha Washington’s, Ona Judge ran away from the president’s house in Philadelphia on May 21, 1796. Two days later, the president’s chief of staff placed an advertisement in two newspapers, offering a handsome reward for her return. It was too late: Judge had been able to board a ship that carried her to Portsmouth.

When Washington found out about Judge’s whereabouts, he asked his Secretary of the Treasury, John Oliver Wolcott, to help him return the young woman to Virginia in a discreet and speedy manner. Wolcott contacted Whipple, his subordinate, who duly arranged to meet Judge under the pretense of interviewing her for a position as a domestic servant. Wolcott forwarded Whipple’s report to the president.

Letter from Joseph Whipple to George Washington, Dec. 22, 1796. In his second sentence, Whipple writes: “I sincerely Lament the ill success of my endeavours to restore to your Lady her servant on the request of Mr Wolcott—It had indeed become a subject of Anxiety to me on an Idea that her services were very valuable to her mistress and not readily to be replaced.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Washington’s letter of November 28, 1796, is a response to Whipple’s report. When read in its entirety, the letter doesn’t speak to his conviction regarding the abolition of slavery. Rather, it has the combative and aggrieved tone of a slaveholder smarting from the loss of his wife’s human property.

Washington had little appreciation for Whipple’s report that Judge had decided to run away because of her “thirst for compleat freedom.” Nor did Washington favorably view Judge’s “willingness to return & to serve with fidelity during the lives of the President & his Lady if she could be freed on their decease, should she outlive them.”

The president was having none of it. “To enter into such a compromise, as she has suggested to you, is totally inadmissible,” writes the president. Moreover, to concede to Judge’s proposal would be tantamount to rewarding “unfaithfulness with a premature preference,” which would be unfair to “her fellow Servants; who by their steady adherence, are far more deserving than herself, of favor.”

A caricature of the Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner (1811–1874), titled Statesmen No. 1. “Amnesty and equal rights to all.” On August 26, 1852, Sumner held up Washington’s letter about Ona Judge during his Senate speech against slavery and interpreted it in a way that bolstered his argument at the expense of strict historical accuracy. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

And here was the rub. The Father of the Nation, in his widely popular “Farewell Address,” published just two months earlier, had solemnly presaged that the blessing of liberty would secure “the happiness of the people of these States.” Clearly, he must have excluded slaves from this happy future. For “that description of People,” as Washington refers to slaves in his letter to Whipple, liberty was a “favor” to be granted or withheld by the master.

This sentiment was hardly peculiar to the South. In 1779, a group of 19 New Hampshire slaves petitioned to the state legislature for their freedom, only to be told that the conditions were “not ripe for a determination in this matter.” The legislature in the Granite State, which became Ona Judge’s home, postponed the decision until “a more convenient opportunity.”

That day finally arrived . . . but not until 2013, when the governor of New Hampshire signed a bill into law that posthumously granted the slaves their freedom.

Olga Tsapina is the Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington.