Mementos of Downton

Royal Porcelain Manufactory, Sèvres, Garniture of Three Lidded Vases, c. 1781. This extravagant set of porcelain once belonged to the Countess Carnarvon, the real-life inhabitant of Highclere Castle, the house portrayed in "Downton Abbey." She also owned the paintings and other decorative objects shown below. You can find the porcelain on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, in one of the four rooms devoted to the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Royal Porcelain Manufactory, Sèvres, Garniture of Three Lidded Vases, c. 1781. This extravagant set of porcelain once belonged to the Countess Carnarvon, the real-life inhabitant of Highclere Castle, the house portrayed in “Downton Abbey.” She also owned the paintings and other decorative objects shown below. You can find the porcelain on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, in one of the four rooms devoted to the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

If you’re one of the millions of people who watched the British period drama “Downton Abbey,” you might be craving a juicy story about a lord or lady right about now. “Downton” led viewers on a rollercoaster ride as the titled Crawley family—and their (mostly) faithful staff—navigated the emotional waters of forbidden desire, shattering heartbreak, blackmail, illness, and death. Then in March, the final episode aired. What’s a devoted follower to do?

You may be interested to learn that The Huntington possesses a group of objects once owned by the Countess of Carnarvon, the real-life occupant of Highclere Castle, the English country house portrayed in “Downton Abbey.” The pieces include some gems of 18th-century artistry—including three British oils, some extravagant Sèvres porcelain, and several precious pieces of French furniture.

The tale behind these objects and how Henry E. Huntington got his hands on them is one that rivals the storylines in “Downton Abbey.” Well then, as Countess Grantham would say before moving from one one grand room to another: “Shall we go through”?

Thomas Gainsborough, Henrietta Read, c. 1777. The painting is installed on the ground floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, facing the central staircase. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Thomas Gainsborough, Henrietta Read, c. 1777. The painting is installed on the ground floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, facing the central staircase. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

It all started in 1895, when the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert (1866–1923), married Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell (1876–1969), making her a countess. The 19-year-old Almina was the daughter of wealthy French banker Alfred de Rothschild and his mistress, the married Marie Boyer Wombwell. Upon her marriage, Almina received from her father a dowry of half a million pounds—a huge sum in those days. (Downton fans may remember that it was the fortune of heiress Cora Crawley (née Levinson) that supported that splendid estate.)

In the case of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, there was more to maintain than just a huge house. The Earl was a passionate Egyptologist who used his wife’s wealth to finance years of painstaking excavations in the Valley of the Kings. Indeed, it was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who accompanied English archeologist Howard Carter when he first peered into the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922.

In a Downton-like twist, not six months later, Lord Carnarvon would be dead. Officially, the cause was an infected mosquito bite that had turned into pneumonia. Many people at the time, however, chalked it up to the “Mummy’s Curse.”

Bernard Molitor, Fall-front Secretary, ca. 1812–1816, with plaques produced by Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory and painted by Charles Nicolas Dodin, dating from between the 1770s to early 1780s. You can view it on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, in the same room as the Sèvres vases (see above). Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Bernard Molitor, Fall-front Secretary, ca. 1812–1816, with plaques produced by Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory and painted by Charles Nicolas Dodin, dating from between the 1770s to early 1780s. You can view it on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, in the same room as the Sèvres vases (see above). Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

More turmoil awaited the Countess. In 1923, she remarried, this time to Colonel Ian Onslow Dennistoun. When his former wife learned of the Countess’s riches, she sued him for alimony. The resulting trial revealed scandalous aspects of the Colonel’s earlier marriage, providing rich fodder for the newspapers of the day.

Ultimately, the court cleared Dennistoun of financial responsibility. Still, the demands on the Countess’s riches clearly continued, because between 1924 and 1927, she began to sell some of her most valued possessions. Most of them were collected by her father, Alfred de Rothschild. He had died in 1918 and left his homes, paintings, and other precious assets to his daughter, the Countess, and to his nephew, Lionel de Rothschild.

George Romney, Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, in a Straw Hat, ca. 1782–1794. The painting is installed on the ground floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, above a chest of drawers in the dining room. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

George Romney, Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, in a Straw Hat, ca. 1782–1794. The painting is installed on the ground floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, above a chest of drawers in the dining room. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Meanwhile, back in San Marino, Calif., Henry Huntington had lost his beloved wife, Arabella. He decided to amass a collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture, textiles, and porcelain—mostly 18th-century French objects—that would form the basis of the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. Only the best would do, and so Henry turned to his usual point of contact, art dealer Joseph Duveen.

The objects from Countess Carnarvon made their way to Henry, sometimes via auction, but ultimately through Duveen, and can be viewed today dispersed throughout the Huntington Art Gallery. Several pieces are located in the period rooms on the ground floor; others, on the second floor, where four rooms are devoted to the memorial collection for Arabella.

And that, dear readers, is our Downton story. But wait, what happened to Countess Carnarvon? There’s not much information about her later years. We know she died in 1969, at the age of 92, in quite diminished circumstances. But oh…what a life!

François Rémond, Pair of Six-light Candelabra, c. 1780. This ornate pair of gilt bronze candelabra are on the ground floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, on either side of a doorway in the large drawing room. Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

François Rémond, Pair of Six-light Candelabra, c. 1780. This ornate pair of gilt bronze candelabra are on the ground floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, on either side of a doorway in the large drawing room. Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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

Related content on Verso:
Stories Aboard the Aquitania (Sept. 4, 2015)
Buying a Turner (May 20, 2015)
Open to Interpretation (March 17, 2015)
Be Mine, M’Lady (Feb. 14, 2013)

Thomas Pennant’s Literary Appeal

Title page of Thomas Pennant’s British Zoology. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Title page of Thomas Pennant’s British Zoology. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Asked to name the most famous European naturalists of the 18th century, most scholars would probably choose Sweden’s Carl Linnaeus and France’s Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon. One figure often overshadowed by these contemporaries but deserving further attention is the British naturalist Thomas Pennant (1726–1798). I’ve been researching how British women writers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries engaged with natural history—especially in the developing disciplines of botany, zoology, and geology—and I’ve been struck by Pennant’s singular importance to these authors.

The Huntington holds 45 editions of this prolific naturalist’s works, including such wide-ranging books on natural history as British Zoology (1776–77), The History of Quadrupeds (1781), Genera of Birds (1773), and Arctic Zoology (1784–87), as well as travel writing about England (1790), Scotland (1771), and Wales (1778).

Illustration from Pennant’s British Zoology. The migrations of birds, and particularly of swift and swallow species, fascinated Pennant, Gilbert White, and other 18th-century European naturalists. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Illustration from Pennant’s British Zoology. The migrations of birds, and particularly of swift and swallow species, fascinated Pennant, Gilbert White, and other 18th-century European naturalists. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The late 18th-century poet Charlotte Smith called Pennant “the British Pliny,” and another poet, Anna Barbauld, drew on his natural history texts for her verse. Barbauld’s brother, John Aikin, dedicated to Pennant his Essay on the Application of Natural History to Poetry (1777), in which Aikin urged poets to versify Pennant’s descriptions of zoological species. Pennant may well be best known as one of the two naturalists to whom Gilbert White addressed his correspondence, especially about bird migration, in The Natural History of Selborne (1788).

Creative writers and artists, particularly women, found Pennant’s texts of great interest. In his Preface to British Zoology, Pennant described how natural history supplied artists with the materials to make the paints as well as the subjects of many paintings and noted that painters needed to be informed about natural history to depict nature accurately. Moreover, Pennant stated that descriptive poetry was more indebted to natural knowledge than either painting or sculpture because the poet’s art cannot “exist without borrowing metaphors, allusions, or descriptions from the face of nature, which is the only fund of great ideas.”

Illustration from Pennant’s History of Quadrupeds. In his description of the antelope, Pennant notes the use of this species’ horns in the production of some lyres—an instrument associated with song and poetry—and quotes verses from the Roman poet Horace. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Illustration from Pennant’s History of Quadrupeds. In his description of the antelope, Pennant notes the use of this species’ horns in the production of some lyres—an instrument associated with song and poetry—and quotes verses from the Roman poet Horace. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Pennant also appealed to women writers because, unlike some other naturalists, he “wholly omitted the anatomy of animals,” and thus his work leant itself more easily to public expectations of feminine propriety. At a time when even plant anatomy was thought by some contemporaries to be too risqué for women’s study, Pennant’s delicate treatment of this aspect of zoology provided women with a framework for addressing animal and bird studies while maintaining a sense of decorum.

In addition, Pennant gained the approval of British audiences because he anchored his pursuit of natural history firmly in natural theology—asserting that the study of nature is the study of God—and in British nationalism. He argued that “the study of natural history enforces the theory of religion and practice of morality.” By persuading his fellow “countrymen” to join these nationalist, naturalist pursuits, Pennant challenged the scientific and economic prowess of the countries of his counterparts Linnaeus and Buffon. For Pennant, British exertions in natural history gave the nation “the superiority over [the] so much boasted productions in Sweden,” and he urged that, in terms of the rival French, “we should attend to every sister science that may any ways preserve our superiority in manufactures and commerce.”

By aligning themselves with Pennant’s work, British writers imbued their own texts with claims to usefulness, piety, and patriotism.

Portrait of Pennant that serves as the frontispiece for his British Zoology. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Portrait of Pennant that serves as the frontispiece for his British Zoology. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Melissa Bailes, assistant professor of English at Tulane University, is a 2015–16 Barbara Thom Postdoctoral Fellow at The Huntington.

Flight Path

Lockheed R6V Constitution Aircraft under construction. Harvey Christen Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Harvey Christen (1910–1993), a mechanic, was one of the first employees of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

Lockheed R6V Constitution Aircraft under construction. Harvey Christen Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Harvey Christen (1910–1993), a mechanic, was one of the first employees of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

As part of my project “City on the Edge of Forever: Los Angeles Beyond the Screen,” I’ve been researching the aerospace industry in Southern California. I’ve been looking at its impact on everything from revolutions in the shape of surfboards to high-tech art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, including Finish Fetish and Light and Space. I’ve explored the influence of the aerospace industry on Orange County’s mix of libertarianism and traditional conservatism during Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign and even the Oedipal struggles of 1960s Laurel Canyon rockers against their career military fathers.

The Huntington has been a pioneer in promoting this kind of research. In 2011, The Huntington mounted the exhibition “Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California,” featuring some of its vast collection of books, papers, and photography documenting the aerospace industry and its pioneers, and a year later published a book under the same title.

Recently, I’ve been concentrating on the Lockheed Corporation. Early on, it produced some of Amelia Earhart’s favorite planes, including the Vega, which she flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean, becoming the first woman to do so (and only the second person after Charles Lindbergh).

Amelia Earhart in her Lockheed Vega. Harvey Christen Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Amelia Earhart in her Lockheed Vega. Harvey Christen Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington’s Harvey Christen collection of aerospace photography includes striking images, some unpublished, of America’s most famous aviatrix. She is seen with friends and collaborators, including engineering genius Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, who later founded Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects in the San Fernando Valley, better known as the Skunk Works.

The Skunk Works designed and prototyped the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71 Blackbird, which flew at three times the speed of sound (Mach 3) and set speed records that still stand. Johnson was famous for his management strategy of “KISS”— Keep It Simple, Stupid—and established the very exemplar of the “California” company to come. By the 21st century, countless tech companies embraced KISS, taking risks and flattening hierarchies. Whether they actually called their dedicated labs Skunk Works, as Apple did, or camouflaged them as X Labs, as Google did, their debt to Kelly was incalculable.

Another of The Huntington’s collections features the papers of Anthony “Tony” LeVier, the first person to fly many of Johnson’s revolutionary new planes. The National Aviation Hall of Fame called LeVier “the world’s foremost experimental test pilot,” and he was the first to fly the U-2 and the prototype XF-104 Starfighter—two of the Skunk Works’ most innovative designs.

Amelia Earhart and Kelly Johnson. Harvey Christen Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Amelia Earhart and Kelly Johnson. Harvey Christen Collection, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One of my favorite finds in the LeVier papers is a shot of him and his teenaged daughter Toniann in a two-seater supersonic Starfighter, complete with a decal on the fuselage that reads: “FREE WORLD DEFENDER.” The photographer caught father and daughter on the tarmac during a promotional tour from California to Washington, D.C., in May of 1963. Between promotional stops, Toniann switched seats with her dad and cranked the plane up to Mach 2 over the Mojave Desert, a feat that got her labeled “America’s fastest teenager” by Parade magazine. I’ve seen photos elsewhere of LeVier that show him with his test-pilot face on, all attitude and aviator shades. In The Huntington’s photo, however, he’s smiling broadly, a father proud of his kid, all of 19 at the time, decked out in a custom-tailored flight suit.

Serendipity is not usually acknowledged as part of the scholarly process, but it happens occasionally, and in this case, made me feel that my research on the aerospace industry was on track. I was waiting to pick up my own daughter from Los Angeles International Airport. Killing time, I stopped off in nearby Westchester. As I walked back to my car along Sepulveda Boulevard, I looked down and realized that I was following the Flight Path Museum’s Walk of Fame. And there it was—I had parked right next to the star belonging to test pilot Tony LeVier.

Detail of the back cover of Hangar Flying, Issue 1 (July 1985). Anthony LeVier Papers, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of the back cover of Hangar Flying, Issue 1 (July 1985). Anthony LeVier Papers, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can read more about The Huntington’s aerospace collections in the Spring/Summer 2010 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Related content on Verso:
Down to Earth (Aug. 8, 2012)
On the Calculus of Hanging Ten (Jan. 5, 2012)
How the West Won Me Over (Dec. 15, 2011)
Over the Moon (Nov. 21, 2011)
Beyond the Numbers (Oct. 19, 2011)
Blue Skies that Launched an Industry (July 8, 2011)

Peter Lunenfeld is the 2015-16 Dana and David Dornsife Fellow at The Huntington, a professor of Design Media Arts at UCLA, and a member of the UCLA Digital Humanities and Urban Humanities faculties. His recent books include The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading (MIT Press, winner of the 2013 Dorothy Lee Prize) and Digital_Humanities (MIT Press, co-authors, Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp). 

What Good is History?

Pulitzer Prize–winning historians Elizabeth Fenn and Alan Taylor looking at items from The Huntington’s collections that informed their award-winning books. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Pulitzer Prize–winning historians Elizabeth Fenn and Alan Taylor looking at items from The Huntington’s collections that informed their award-winning books. Photo by Martha Benedict.

How important is historical literacy in today’s world, where popular culture focuses on the here and now and the milestone events in our nation’s past often get short shrift?

Two Pulitzer Prize-winning historians recently weighed in on that question, during a scholarly forum at The Huntington titled “On the Importance of Historical Literacy: What Good is History?” The forum was the first event in the “On the Road with California Humanities” series—part of a national celebration of the centennial of the Pulitzer Prize.

Elizabeth Fenn spoke passionately about the importance of the humanities: “It has to do with the human spirit. It’s not just a job skill; it’s a life skill.” Alan Taylor zeroed in on what an appreciation of the past provides: “History gives us depth perception in time.” The conversation, guided by William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, was sponsored by California Humanities, an independent non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. (You can download the discussion here or listen to it on iTunes U.)

Karl Bodmer (1809–1893), “The Interior of the Hut of a Mandan Chief,” from Travels in the interior of North America, 1832–34, by Maximilian, Prinz von Wied (1782–1867). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Karl Bodmer (1809–1893), “The Interior of the Hut of a Mandan Chief,” from Travels in the interior of North America, 1832–34, by Maximilian, Prinz von Wied (1782–1867). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Fenn and Taylor have won a total of three Pulitzer Prizes. Fenn, the Walter and Lucienne Driskill Professor of Western American History and chair of the history department at the University of Colorado, Boulder, won a Pulitzer in 2015 for her book Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People, a book describing a Native American tribe of North Dakota. Taylor, the Thomas Jefferson Chair in American History at the University of Virginia, nabbed the prize twice: in 1996 for his book William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion of the Frontier of the Early American Empire and again in 2014 for The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.

Both historians used The Huntington’s collections extensively to research their winning volumes. Before the event, they joined Deverell and others to view some of the objects they had studied. Items on display related to Fenn’s research were visually stunning: large, colorful illustrations by the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer (1809–1893) of scenes from Mandan life on the northern Great Plains, including a view inside a chief’s hut and a vivid depiction of a Mandan bison dance.

Karl Bodmer (1809–1893), “Bison-Dance of the Mandan,” from Travels in the interior of North America, 1832–34, by Maximilian, Prinz von Wied (1782–1867). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Karl Bodmer (1809–1893), “Bison-Dance of the Mandan,” from Travels in the interior of North America, 1832–34, by Maximilian, Prinz von Wied (1782–1867). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The manuscripts that Taylor used for his book on slavery, The Internal Enemy, packed an emotional punch. A page in the Joseph C. Cabell account book from The Huntington’s Robert Alonzo Brock collection revealed a list of slaves’ names with dollar amounts next to each of them—a stark reminder that these individuals were treated as commodities.

Both Fenn and Taylor believe strongly in raising awareness about the importance of such historical collections as those housed at The Huntington. “Taking the archive to the public is the missionary work,” said Fenn. With advocates as accomplished and eloquent as Fenn and Taylor, there is little doubt that history matters.

A page in the Joseph C. Cabell account book from The Huntington’s Robert Alonzo Brock collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A page in the Joseph C. Cabell account book from The Huntington’s Robert Alonzo Brock collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Alan Taylor Wins Second Pulitzer Prize (April 15, 2014)
Thinking About that Other Civil War (Oct. 2, 2012)

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

Top 10 Water-Wise Plants

About 60 percent of the offerings at the Spring Plant Sale (April 22–23 for members; April 24 for the public) will be water-wise selections. Photo by Martha Benedict.

About 60 percent of the offerings at the Spring Plant Sale (April 22–23 for members; April 24 for the public) will be water-wise selections. Photo by Martha Benedict.

You’ve heard the dire news about California’s drought. And you’ve been thinking about swapping out your lawn for water-wise plants. But if you’re used to traditional grass and ornamental plants, where do you begin?

Enter Scott Kleinrock, The Huntington’s landscape design and planning coordinator, who helped design the Frances and Sidney Brody California Garden. He’s been experimenting with a broad range of California native and other drought-tolerant plants and suggests 10 interesting, attractive, and easy-to-care-for selections that grow well in inland areas of Southern California.

As an added plus, all 10 picks will be available at The Huntington’s Spring Plant Sale, which takes place Fri. and Sat., April 22–23, for members and Sun., April 24, for the public.

“More and more people are asking for water-wise plants,” says Louise Guerin, The Huntington’s manager of plant production and sales. Guerin has also noticed a larger turnout for garden talks featuring these plants. To keep up with demand, about 60 percent of the offerings this year will be drought tolerant, she says.

Sphaeralcea ambigua, desert mallow, thrives in extremely hot, dry areas, such as this concrete planter near the bus drop-off area. Shown here is the variety with apricot-colored blooms. Photo by Kate Lain.

Sphaeralcea ambigua, desert mallow, thrives in extremely hot, dry areas, such as this concrete planter near the bus drop-off area. Shown here is the variety with apricot-colored blooms. Photo by Kate Lain.

Here are Kleinrock’s recommendations:

1. Muhlenbergia rigens, deer grass: This California native is a large bunch grass that’s extremely easy to grow. You can find it in many areas around the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center. “Deer grass could be the backbone of almost any native garden,” says Kleinrock. “It’s tough as nails, grows to full size in just one season, and holds the dried stalks all year. Birds love it for the seeds.” A larger yard could have a group or line of them; a small garden might have just one—backlit to show off its striking silhouette.

2. Sphaeralcea ambigua, desert mallow: Another California native, the desert mallow has light green leaves and a profusion of cheerful apricot-colored flowers. (The ‘Louis Hamilton’ cultivar has blush-red blooms.) You can see the mallow growing in concrete beds between the asphalt and the sidewalk in the school bus drop-off area. It’s an incredibly hot spot and one that hastened the demise of a previous plant. But not the desert mallow—it thrives in the heat and keeps pumping out flowers.

Looking for something that will grow on a hillside with poor soil? Eriogonum fasciculctum, California buckwheat, may be the ticket. Photo by Kate Lain.

Looking for something that will grow on a hillside with poor soil? Eriogonum fasciculctum, California buckwheat, may be the ticket. Photo by Kate Lain.

3. Asclepias fascicularis, narrow leaf milkweed: For anyone alarmed by the dwindling number of monarch butterflies, this is a must-have. Adult monarchs lay their eggs on its slender leaves because they contain substances that monarch caterpillars need to protect themselves as they change into butterflies. Sadly, development has greatly reduced their habitat. “The instant we put these plants in, the monarchs descended on them,” says Kleinrock. The native milkweed, with its bunches of small pinkish-white flowers, is the best way to support monarchs; other selections will also be on offer.

4. Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat. Native gardeners love buckwheat for its lush green foliage and small puffy white flowers that turn pink over time and then rust-colored—adding visual interest in the garden and making a dramatic addition to dried flower arrangements. Beneficial insects and birds are drawn to buckwheat, making this a great habitat plant. A tough small- to medium-sized bush, it grows well even in embankments with poor soil to about four to five feet wide and tall; other selections are also available, including groundcover varieties.

5. Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’: This large and hardy sage has deep purple flowers and an intoxicating fragrance. Of the native sages, clevelandii cultivars are some of the easiest to grow. A challenge with plants native to Southern California is that they’re adapted to dry climates. On a really hot day, a novice gardener may be tempted to water them—increasing the risk of soil disease. ‘Winifred Gillman’ will tolerate a bit of extra water. Many other native sages are equally deserving of placement in the garden.

The fragrance of the tough and beautiful Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ can infuse an entire garden. Photo by Kate Lain.

The fragrance of the tough and beautiful Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’ can infuse an entire garden. Photo by Kate Lain.

6. Heteromeles arbutifolia, toyon: Native shrubs have the reputation of being wild and scruffy. Not this one. It has a clean form with serrated, dark green, leathery leaves, white flowers that bloom in summer, and abundant bunches of red berries in winter. It is one of the few things you can plant around the edges or even underneath a coast live oak (Quercus agrifola). You can see this plant used as a hedge in the stroll garden surrounding the bright red Alexander Calder sculpture near The Huntington’s entrance.

7. Encelia californica, coast sunflower: Kleinrock considers this a great pioneer plant. It grows quickly, producing a lush green shrub covered with medium-sized yellow flowers. Their sunny color looks good against many of the blue and purple flowers of other natives, and the plant gives you instant size and bloom. On the downside, it often lasts only three to five years. But by then, slower growers—such as manzanitas or oaks—will have started to grow in.

8. Punica granatum, pomegranate: Native to Iran, the pomegranate can grow in most places with a mild winter. But to grow the best fruit, most varieties need a hot, dry climate—just what we have in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys. The plant sale will feature some of the best varieties grown in the Ranch Garden, evaluated for their exceptional taste and performance. You can eat the fruit straight out of the shell or sprinkle the seeds on salads and stews. Or you can cut the fruit in half and use a press juicer to extract the vitamin-rich, deep red liquid.

Want some quick color while waiting for slow-growing shrubs to become established? Encelia californica, coast sunflower, grows quickly and produces big bunches of bright yellow flowers. Photo by Kate Lain.

Want some quick color while waiting for slow-growing shrubs to become established? Encelia californica, coast sunflower, grows quickly and produces big bunches of bright yellow flowers. Photo by Kate Lain.

9. Ficus carica, fig: Native to the Middle East and Western Asia, fig trees are another exceptional fruit producer suited to this area. Before he grew figs, Kleinrock thought they were just okay. He became passionate about them once he realized he could produce such high-quality fruit right at home. “You’ll never find a really ripe fig in stores or even at a farmers’ market,” he says. “Figs are extremely fragile, and that last bit of ripeness makes all the difference.” The plant sale will feature varieties of figs best suited to Southern California growing conditions.

10. Chilopsis linearis, desert willow: Many native California trees become quite large. This is a wonderful choice if you’re looking for a smaller deciduous tree, say for a patio area where you want sun in winter and dappled shade in summer. Native to desert areas of California and Arizona, it produces tubular pink-to-purple flowers that hummingbirds love. And because it grows in seasonal washes, it can take a bit of extra water, even in summer.

In addition to native, drought-tolerant plants, the spring plant sale will feature a unique selection of roses (some propagated from The Huntington’s rare collection), other ornamental plants, vegetables, herbs, and much more. Collectors may want to snatch up seedlings of Fouquieria columnaris, a wacky tree with a spiny trunk native to Baja California, or a seedling of Amorphophallus titanum (a.k.a. the Corpse Flower) to care for lovingly in their backyard greenhouse in the hope that it will bloom.

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

Related content on Verso:
If Not Lawn, Then What? (Oct. 6, 2015)
It’s All About the Soil (June 2, 2015)
A California Garden (March 27, 2015)

The Fabricated American Desert

Everything and the Kitchen Sink, Noah Purifoy. Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture. Joshua Tree, Calif. Image by permission of the Noah Purifoy Foundation. Photo by Lyle Massey. In the last decade of his life, the artist Noah Purifoy used the desert as his canvas, creating a sculpture garden populated with complex constructions erected out of junk and detritus.

Everything and the Kitchen Sink, Noah Purifoy. Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture. Joshua Tree, Calif. Image by permission of the Noah Purifoy Foundation. Photo by Lyle Massey. In the last decade of his life, the artist Noah Purifoy used the desert as his canvas, creating a sculpture garden populated with complex constructions erected out of junk and detritus.

Humans have negotiated the desert for millennia, finding in it equal measures of sustenance, terror, beauty—and, above all, a dwelling place. To explore issues of human intervention in and on the American desert, my colleague James Nisbet and I have organized a conference at The Huntington titled “The Fabricated American Desert: Modern and Anti-Modern.” Supported by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, the conference will take place April 15–16 in Rothenberg Hall.

The southwestern desert has long served as an allegorical landscape for a peculiar view of America. Implicated in the myths of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion, the desert has also been a place that signified America’s folklore inheritance of rugged individualism and glorified isolationism. As an austere, even radical environment—embodying remarkably harsh conditions and immense scale—the desert frames narratives of aesthetics, space, and habitation in stark, unforgiving terms that emphasize duration, timelessness, and the dwarfing of human perspectives.

Sand skiing, Palm Springs, Calif., Riverside County, undated. The Eugene Swarzwald Pictorial California and the Pacific Collection of Photographs. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sand skiing, Palm Springs, Calif., Riverside County, undated. The Eugene Swarzwald Pictorial California and the Pacific Collection of Photographs. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

At various points in U.S. history, the southwestern desert has attracted artistic and architectural movements that give visual and embodied form to these extremes. These include utopian architectural projects, such as Arcosanti and Taliesin West, as well as dystopian and alternative spaces of impermanent habitation, such as Slab City and Burning Man. The desert has also been a site for reimagining landscape and space in cultural production, as evidenced by elite mid-20th-century desert architecture in Palm Springs, land art installations, desert test sites, and junk sculpture.

The conference will deal with emerging research that explores relationships between the American desert, modernism, and man-made structures. In particular, it will address how the desert has figured as a ghost image and symbolic landscape of both modernist and anti-modernist spatial forms in the second half of the 20th century.

Airform structures, exterior, Loyola University, approximately 1941, The Maynard L. Parker Negatives, Photographs, and Other Material. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Airform structures, exterior, Loyola University, approximately 1941, The Maynard L. Parker Negatives, Photographs, and Other Material. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In correlation with the conference, Jessica Ziegenfuss, who is pursuing her doctorate in visual studies at University of California, Irvine, has curated and designed a fascinating online exhibition of images from The Huntington’s photography collections under the title A Desert Guidebook.

In her description of the exhibition, Zeigenfuss writes that the photographs show the landscape “as an ambiguous setting of achievement, innovation, and leisure as well as ruin and abandonment.”

“Taking uncertainty as its main theme, my exhibition explores the unexpected trappings of the desert landscape in the format of a critical guidebook. I hope that visitors glimpse the majestic, haunting, and oftentimes quirky aspects of the desert, all caught by intrepid 19th- and 20th-century photographers,” Zeigenfuss writes.

As the photographs make clear, the desert is as much a part of our productive past as it is of our constructive destiny.

Thomas Davis residence, outdoor living space, Palm Springs, Calif., approximately December 1956. The Maynard L. Parker Negatives, Photographs, and Other Material. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Thomas Davis residence, outdoor living space, Palm Springs, Calif., approximately December 1956. The Maynard L. Parker Negatives, Photographs, and Other Material. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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

You can view the online exhibition A Desert Guidebook here.

Lyle Massey is associate professor of art history at University of California, Irvine.

Bee’s-Eye Views

Matilija poppy (Romney coulter). Photo by David Leaser.

Matilija poppy (Romney coulter). Photo by David Leaser.

While traveling in the Amazon region of Ecuador, award-winning photographer David Leaser had an epiphany. What if he could use a computer to help him capture images of the tiniest flowers on the rainforest floor and blow them up to dazzling effect in large format prints? Leaser will be showing the stunning results, along with newer works he’s produced of California’s wildflowers and other native plants, at a talk he’ll give at The Huntington on April 14. Titled “Exploring the Beauty of California’s Native Flora,” the discussion will also include insights into the technology he used to produce these highly detailed images. Here are excerpts from a conversation with Leaser about what inspires him, his techniques, and his hope that his images of flowers will prompt a renewed appreciation of nature.

Q: Tell me about your connection to The Huntington and the importance of the painting Chimborazo, 1864, by the American artist Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900).

A: I’ve always been an admirer of Church. I remember spending a few hours at The Huntington wandering through the 2006 exhibition “Treasures from Olana: Landscapes by Frederic Edwin Church” and being mesmerized by his photorealistic imagery. The techniques in Chimborazo and in Church’s The Heart of the Andes, 1859, (at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) inspired the landscape work I created early on.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Photo by David Leaser.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Photo by David Leaser.

Q: Is it true you decided to visit Ecuador as a result of seeing the Church show? How much did that trip influence your photography career?

A: As a result of seeing “Treasures from Olana,” I became enthralled with the story of Church’s explorations through South America. I decided to try to recreate Church’s work in photographs, so I booked a flight to Ecuador to explore the places Church had visited a century ago. While in the Amazon, I started to focus on the tiny flowers on the rainforest floor. I had a moment like the elephant in Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, when he discovers an entire planet in a speck of dust. I could see complete ecosystems in these flowers—tiny insects and lizards that blend in and are hardly noticed. A few days later, I was sitting in a café in the capital city of Quito, when I had an epiphany. I thought, lots of people are photographing beautiful landscapes, but what about the tiniest of flowers that are overlooked and even stepped on? Maybe I should try to elevate them so they can be enjoyed and appreciated.

 Five spot (Nemophila maculate). Photo by David Leaser.

Five spot (Nemophila maculate). Photo by David Leaser.

Q: You use a method for manipulating photographs called a focus-stacking technique. Can you explain what this is?

A: It would have been impossible to create this type of work even 10 years ago, because traditional macro photography has a very shallow depth of field. Focus stacking allows you to produce images with more detail than you would think possible. Focus stacking is like an MRI, where you robotically move the camera or the lens closer and closer to the subject, taking dozens of photographs along the way. The images are then stacked together, revealing just the areas which are in focus on each layer of the stack.

Q: Can you describe the process?

A: I use specialized software to control the camera. I tether my camera to a computer with a cable, and the software takes the photographs. Depending on the subject, I may set the software to take 100 photographs, each one moving deeper and deeper into the flower. After I have the raw images, I use different software to layer the images together. If the flower moves even slightly, the images do not align, and I have to start over. That’s what’s challenging. Flowers naturally move toward the light—so I take my photographs in a dark studio. After the images are stacked together, I create a composite and then spend many hours going through the image, pixel by pixel, to make sure the composite is perfect. I don’t need to embellish the images because, when shot so closely, the flowers reveal incredibly vivid details.

California wild rose (Rosa californica). Photo by David Leaser.

California wild rose (Rosa californica). Photo by David Leaser.

Q: What’s unique about the result?

A: You get a bee’s-eye view of nature that you cannot achieve with traditional photography. With this technique, photographers can rival the work of painters, who can craft a perfectly focused image. Many of my subjects are the size of your thumbnail. When I enlarge them to four feet across, you are enveloped in nature in a way you couldn’t have been even a few years ago.

Q: Do your techniques have relevance for the amateur photographer? If so, which ones?

A: Most of the technology I use is surprisingly very affordable. The software is no more expensive than a nice dinner out. The learning curve was steep for me and took years—nobody had done this with botanical subjects. I’m looking forward to sharing my tricks and techniques at the talk. Hopefully, they will speed up the time it takes for others to get good results. The real art happens when you develop your own personal style and vision. But you need to have a bit of patience. I have been frustrated many times by flowers that will simply not sit still for their close-ups.

California’s native iris (Iris douglasiuna). Photo by David Leaser.

California’s native iris (Iris douglasiuna). Photo by David Leaser.

Q: Do you think your photographs serve any other purpose beyond being beautiful?

A: I do. I have always been interested in nature, but the work changed me. Now I see common freeway daisies as works of art, and I stop and look more closely at the tiniest things. I’m trying to elevate these botanical subjects to pop-star status. I hope viewers will gain a heightened appreciation for nature in a similar way.

“Exploring the Beauty of California’s Native Flora” takes place on Thurs., April 14, at 2:30 p.m in the Ahmanson Room of the Brody Botanical Center. It’s free with admission. Reception to follow.

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

Spirit Boys

Master of the Die, after Raphael, Putti Playing, engraving, 1532, 18.7 x 28.3 cm. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Master of the Die, after Raphael, Putti Playing, engraving, 1532, 18.7 x 28.3 cm. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Wander through any major collection of European art, and you will find them in abundance. Travel to England, Germany, France, Spain, or Italy, and chances are that one will catch your eye. A winged head of curly hair with apple cheeks, sculpted in relief, emerges from the corner of a church interior. A plump, undeveloped limb tumbles over the edge of a war monument. What exactly are those little infant beings that adorn architecture, populate paintings, and swarm over heart-shaped chocolate boxes every February 14th? This is the subject of the exhibition “Spirit Boys: Infant Gods and Putti on Paper,” on view in the Works on Paper Room at the Huntington Art Gallery until July 25.

We call them cherubs, or Cupid, but their precise identity is more complex. In literary terms Cupid and cherubs originate from separate traditions. When it comes to their visual representations, however, they have evolved into subcategories of a wider class of human form. The Italian word putto means “boy” (or putti in the plural) and is used to describe the variety of naked children, almost always male, that proliferate in art.

Henry Fuseli, Venus and Cupid, pen and ink over pencil, ca. 1800, 21.6 x 27.3 cm. Gilbert Davis Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Henry Fuseli, Venus and Cupid, pen and ink over pencil, ca. 1800, 21.6 x 27.3 cm. Gilbert Davis Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Whether cast as a Christian angel or embroiled in a pagan emblem, the figure is a spiritual being that traverses divine and earthly realms. It might be a demon, a genius, or a personification of the wind. Often it is purely decorative with no precise function. The putto is hybrid and unfixed, a synthesis of sacred and profane, high and low, ancient and modern.

Inspired by the demonic infants sprawling across ancient Roman sarcophagi, Florentine Renaissance artists employed the putto as an ornamental framing device that could animate an artwork. Putti soon took center stage, as in Putti Playing, an engraving executed by the 16th-century printmaker known as “Master of the Die” after a work by Raphael. The print reproduces an unrealized design for tapestries in the Vatican’s Sala di Constantino. The bodies of these boys, eight in total, are adult in their muscularity. They enact an allegorical scene symbolizing the power of love.

Alfred Edward Chalon, Infant Bacchus, watercolor, ca. 1850, 21.1 x 18.4 cm. (59.55.201). Gilbert Davis Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Alfred Edward Chalon, Infant Bacchus, watercolor, ca. 1850, 21.1 x 18.4 cm. (59.55.201). Gilbert Davis Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

By the 17th century, putti were everywhere. It was around this time that it became standard for angels, specifically cherubim, to appear with this same form. As the figure became a staple of painting and sculpture, it took on a younger, chubbier appearance. Flemish sculptor Francois Duquesnoy was instrumental in establishing the shift and nurturing the popularity of the putto during the Baroque period and beyond. In keeping with the appetite for Venetian painting that marked the age, he emulated the plump babies by Titian, creating a rounder, softer type of form. The Huntington is home to a bronze statue by Duquesnoy, Mercury and Cupid (1629-1630), in which a wingless infant figure at the base of the statue gazes up at the lean messenger god.

In the 18th century, the putto was implicated in the renewed interest surrounding the art of antiquity. With the excavations of the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, artists had a fresh vision of the classical world that challenged the extravagance of Baroque taste. A drawing by the Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli (1741–1825), Venus and Cupid, reverts to the more mature putto drawn by Raphael and Michelangelo, old masters who were viewed, during the period, as mediators between ancients and moderns. The inclusion of pubic hair, however, goes against the grain of the classical ideal.

Unknown artist, Angel Brand (advertisement for oranges), colored lithograph, 1900, 25.08 x 27.62 cm. Jay T. Last Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Unknown artist, Angel Brand (advertisement for oranges), colored lithograph, 1900, 25.08 x 27.62 cm. Jay T. Last Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Cupid was not the only god that could appear in infant form. Bacchus, god of wine and ecstatic visions, is another god that frequently appears in the guise of a putto or young child. Artists of the 19th century felt increased pressure to create works based on visible reality, something that would only increase with the invention of photography. The blond boy who appears in the Swiss painter Alfred Edward Chalon’s Infant Bacchus looks more like the portrait of a Victorian toddler than an ancient deity.

The early 20th century marked the official decline of visual classicism. Antiquity no longer possessed an overarching authority. Classical forms lived on in advertising, as indicated by our culture’s enduring fixation on images of ideal beauty. A turn-of-the-20th-century lithograph advertises “Angel Brand” oranges grown in Southern California. Little boys orbit a giant fruit, their association with European art infusing the commodity with Old-World glamor.

These figures have more of an affinity with the fleshier Baroque putto than his slimmer counterpart. It is this more corpulent form that remains visible in the postmodern iconography of Valentine’s Day.

Cora Gilroy-Ware is a 2015–16 Fellow in the Caltech-Huntington Program for the Study of Materialities, Texts, and Images.

Into the Fold

One of The Huntington’s partner schools is Esteban E. Torres High School in East Los Angeles. Last month, students from their Engineering and Technology Academy visited The Huntington as part of a yearlong program exploring the ancient Japanese art form of origami. Torres students toured The Huntington’s Japanese Garden to learn about Asian garden aesthetics and then visited the historic Japanese House, where they learned how to fold a kimono. As part of the program, Manan Arya, a Ph.D. candidate in aerospace engineering at Caltech, went to Torres to give students lessons in the scientific principles behind origami.

Students at one of The Huntington’s partner schools, Esteban E. Torres High School in East Los Angeles, are taking part in a program exploring the Japanese art form of origami. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Students at one of The Huntington’s partner schools, Esteban E. Torres High School in East Los Angeles, are taking part in a program exploring the Japanese art form of origami. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Manan Arya was about to demonstrate how origami folding techniques could be used with materials other than paper. He held up a lightweight, foot-long cylinder made from glass fibers. Two different substances were in the matrix binding the fibers together. “See these yellow regions,” said Arya, “they contain a resin epoxy and are very stiff, like the material used to make a boat or a custom car. And these white regions contain a soft silicone, so you can do this,” he said.

Arya deftly folded the cylinder into a small, square packet. Then he threw the packet in the air. As soon he loosened his grip, the packet returned to its original shape, and the cylinder floated back into his hands.

“Oh! Wow,” exclaimed the students.

Manan Arya, a Caltech graduate student, designs and tests methods for packaging and deploying large, thin structures for spacecraft. Arya taught engineering students at Esteban E. Torres High School some of the origami folding techniques that inspire his work. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Manan Arya, a Caltech graduate student, designs and tests methods for packaging and deploying large, thin structures for spacecraft. Arya taught engineering students at Esteban E. Torres High School some of the origami folding techniques that inspire his work. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Arya smiled. He hoped that teaching the teens about the scientific concepts behind origami would show them how engineering can help resolve real-life technology challenges. At Caltech, Arya uses origami-inspired techniques to design and test methods to package photovoltaic arrays, solar sails, and sunshields that can be deployed into space. (Origami folds are also used in the design of medical devices, such as tiny collapsible heart stents that can be threaded into a blood vessel and then opened up to restore blood flow.)

In two previous lessons, students learned to call a crease at the top of a piece of paper a mountain and one at the bottom, a valley. They studied a pattern with a single vertex and then moved on to the beech-leaf pattern, with four vertices all in a line.

For the current lesson, they were brainstorming on how they could apply the mechanics and physics of paper origami and use them on thicker materials. With paper, the creases occurred at precise points, with all the axes on the same plane. But if you could zoom in on the paper, you’d realize that making such a hard crease caused the fibers at the top of a fold to pull apart and those at the bottom to compress.

Students attached wooden tiles with cloth tape to create a Miura-Ori model, an example of which is seen in the foreground. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Students attached wooden tiles with cloth tape to create a Miura-Ori model, an example of which is seen in the foreground. Photo by Martha Benedict.

“I can’t do that with metal, I can’t do that with carbon fibers, or wood,” said Arya. “So how do we start thinking about folding thicker things without stretching or compressing them?”

“A hinge?” proposed one student.

“Right,” said Arya. “I use a hinge, like a door hinge. But we need to accommodate for using thicker materials. If I want a mountain over here, I put a hinge on the top, and if I want a valley, I put a hinge on the bottom. This is called the axis-shift method, because you shift the axis of these hinges from the middle where they are on paper, to the top or the bottom.”

The students listened with rapt attention.

Then Arya told them that they were going to use the axis-shift method to create a Miura-Ori model, like the one that was circulating around the classroom. Miura refers to Japanese astrophysicist Koryo Miura, who invented the technique; ori means a fold. The Miura-Ori method is a way of folding a flat surface into a smaller area. The model Arya brought to class was made from thick wooden tiles. Students took turns holding the model, gazing in amazement as the tiles elegantly closed in on themselves and opened back up.

Origami techniques can be used with wood or with composite materials, like this cylinder made from glass fibers, mixed with a stiff resin epoxy in the yellow areas and a soft silicone in the white regions. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Origami techniques can be used with wood or with composite materials, like this cylinder made from glass fibers, mixed with a stiff resin epoxy in the yellow areas and a soft silicone in the white regions. Photo by Martha Benedict.

The teens reached into a cardboard box and took out four wooden pieces. Each tile was made from two pieces that had been cut by laser into a trapezoid shape and glued on top of one another. Arya demonstrated how to position the tiles and where to use cloth tape to attach some of the sides as a sort of membrane hinge. He went around the room, checking on their progress.

“You got it,” he said to one group of students. Another teen had set his Star Wars: The Force Awakens cap next to his model. “Kylo Ren has it,” quipped Arya, referring to the movie’s sable-clad bad guy.

Once they were finished, Arya had the students bring their creations to a table where they attached them all into a single model—a replica of the Miura-Ori being passed around. Looks of pride and satisfaction washed over their faces.

This spiral pattern comes from a family of fold patterns called flashers. It allows a certain distance between each fold, accommodating the thickness of the material. Nature uses similar spiral patterns in sunflowers and snail shells. Photo by Martha Benedict.

This spiral pattern comes from a family of fold patterns called flashers. It allows a certain distance between each fold, accommodating the thickness of the material. Nature uses similar spiral patterns in sunflowers and snail shells. Photo by Martha Benedict.

The bell rang and the students left for the next period. For some, the impact of what they had learned extended beyond the classroom.

Sophomore Kenneth Morales had all but given up on school. He originally wanted to study math and physics, but found that even his advanced placement classes bored him. “I decided not to attend college, not even to apply,” said Morales.

The origami class changed things. Arya had shown him how engineering could transform a simple art form like origami into a technique for exploring the farthest reaches of our universe. Yes, it involved math, but it was also a creative process that helped to resolve real-life challenges.

“This class was cool,” said Morales.

Now he’s decided he’ll apply to college after all.

Torres students including Kenneth Morales (right) work with Robert Hori (left), The Huntington’s gardens cultural curator and program director, to fold a kimono inside the Japanese House. Torres engineering teacher Lindsay Weitzel, in black, looks on. Photo by Marissa Kucheck.

Torres students including Kenneth Morales (right) work with Robert Hori (left), The Huntington’s gardens cultural curator and program director, to fold a kimono inside the Japanese House. Torres engineering teacher Lindsay Weitzel, in black, looks on. Photo by Marissa Kucheck.

The yearlong exploration of origami is being made possible by a generous gift from Frank and Toshie Mosher. Other activities related to origami are planned for later in the year.

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

Gratitude

Laurie Sowd, vice president for operations, has been at The Huntington for 24 years. Photo by Jim Folsom.

Laurie Sowd, vice president for operations, has been at The Huntington for 24 years. Photo by Jim Folsom.

The first time I walked into the office of Laurie Sowd, The Huntington’s vice president for operations, I thought I was in the wrong place. This was the person in charge of multimillion dollar construction activities, security, information technology, facilities—big, complicated megaprojects with lots of moving parts? What I found behind the desk was someone who looked, uh, maybe 15. Possibly 17. Freshly scrubbed, with a rosy complexion, bright eyes, and a ready smile. “Wait,” I said. “You’re Laurie? You look young enough to be my kid!” (Full disclosure: We’re two months apart in age.)

And with that, a friendship was born, and I must say, one of the deepest friendships I’ve ever known. This is a woman who picked me up off the floor after a failed relationship, and then again after a scary diagnosis, who swears—when we have traveled together on occasion—that she NEVER hears my snoring, and who always has my back. She possesses a fierce intellect and an insatiable curiosity about the world and the people who inhabit it, as well as a caring nature that seems boundless and ever abundant.

Laurie Sowd during a press tour at the site of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, which opened on April 4, 2015. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Laurie Sowd during a press tour at the site of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, which opened on April 4, 2015. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Laurie has this remarkable yin-yang vibe. She has firmly and steadily guided some 20 construction projects in her 20-plus years at The Huntington, the culmination of which was the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, which opened last April. On time and on budget, every single project—the botanical conservatory, the Children’s Garden, the Chinese Garden, the American art galleries expansions, the renovation of the Huntington Art Gallery, and many more.

“We came to call her ‘Little Big Boss,’” says David Zeidberg, the Avery Director of the Library, who worked alongside Sowd on several Huntington projects.

She is one of those rare staff leaders who is completely ambidextrous in all that they do: she’s great with people, fantastic with numbers, highly organized, and can see the big picture, but she’s also fully capable of getting into the weeds to sort through niggling details.

Laurie Sowd (kneeling, far left) with the security group at The Huntington in 2016. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Laurie Sowd (kneeling, far left) with the security group at The Huntington in 2016. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Longtime communications colleague Lisa Blackburn said to me once, “You realize that Laurie has transformed this place—that this will go down in Huntington history as the Sowd era,” when a whip-smart woman with unlimited imagination and energy shaped the Huntington of the late 20th and early 21st century. Pretty damn impressive for what historically had been a very male-dominated place. So much of Laurie’s success, says Zeidberg, “is because of her ability to convene people around a common goal, get them excited about it, and get them actually working on it, and then at the end of the day, to have results to show.”

And now it comes to this: Laurie is leaving The Huntington after 24 years because of a wonderful new opportunity at the California Science Center—to become senior vice president of operations there and lead the extraordinarily exciting and ambitious project of building a new home for the space shuttle Endeavour. Double the staff, double the budget. A big step up. Well deserved! This is the type of thing you wish for a colleague and friend—a big opportunity for more growth and impact. And so we’re all delighted. But seriously bummed.

Laurie Sowd in the Celebration Garden of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center in 2016. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Laurie Sowd in the Celebration Garden of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center in 2016. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

In the best of circumstances, you learn from the work you do and the people you do it with. And I think most of us are grateful when that happens. What I perhaps didn’t realize was the extent to which that can also play out on a personal level—that a colleague can also teach you about love and trust and loyalty, about what it means to be vulnerable and honest and empathetic. This is the kind of messy, murky stuff experts say not to get involved in at the workplace: don’t mix the personal with the professional. But how much poorer I would be had I not let Laurie help me up when she extended her hand!

She’s transformed this place, and something else, too. Our hearts.

Susan Turner-Lowe is vice president for communications and marketing at The Huntington.