A Life of Adventure

Genevieve Brooks (Yurok) at Requa, Calif., ca. 1910.

Genevieve Brooks (Yurok) at Requa, Calif., ca. 1910.

As an avid collector, intrepid businesswoman, and amateur anthropologist, Grace Nicholson captured her unique experiences in photographs and journals, providing an intimate look at Indians who lived in California and the Southwest at the beginning of the 20th century. She placed Indian baskets and cultural materials in some of the nation’s most significant collections, including the Smithsonian, the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, the Field Museum in Chicago, and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection at the Autry. Her personal collection of papers and photographs came to the Huntington Library in 1968. As part of the Native American photographs cataloging project, approximately 10,000 photos that form this important collection are now fully organized and cataloged.

Born in 1877 in Philadelphia and orphaned as a teenager, Nicholson took a business course and learned to type in order to support herself. And support herself she did, setting out alone for California in 1901 at the age of 23.

Within a couple of years of arriving in Pasadena, she opened her eponymous store, which sold Indian baskets and other curios. Later, she moved the shop from Raymond Avenue to a location across from the Hotel Maryland on Los Robles Avenue, a popular tourist destination. She eventually shifted her focus to Asian art, constructing a grand Chinese-style building (completed in 1929), with a store, expansive galleries, a central Chinese garden and her personal apartment. The next iteration of her business, the Grace Nicholson Treasure House of Oriental Art, later became home to the USC Pacific Asia Museum.

“Canoe & occupants, en route, Trinity,” 1906. Grace Nicholson is in front.

“Canoe & occupants, en route, Trinity,” 1906. Grace Nicholson is in front.

As if being a single woman running her own trading business in 1904 wasn’t ambitious enough, Nicholson’s chutzpah and taste for adventure inspired long journeys to Indian villages throughout the Southwest. It was one thing to buy a basket collection wholesale from a fellow collector, but quite another to buy directly from basket weavers and other artisans, traveling by horse and buggy, canoe, train, and burro, as well as on foot, all in the quest to collect from the source. On one such adventure, Nicholson and her assistant, Mr. Carroll Hartman, navigated the Klamath River in a dugout canoe with the help of a Pomo Indian oarsman.

“We started down the river,” she wrote in her journal in 1906. “Soon we were in the rapids…. One place he said ‘bad water,’” she wrote, referring to the Pomo Indian oarsman. “Sure enough it seemed to boil. He had us get out, and we scrambled over the rocks so that he might make a go shooting the rapids, and after it was over he cried an invocation to the rock who had been there so many years.”

Nicholson with Camp Creek George.

Nicholson with the Karok man that she called Camp Creek George (at Klamath River).

Of particular interest in the Nicholson collection are six large leather-bound albums of photos that she compiled—visual memoirs of her basket-collecting trips up and down the Pacific coast. Nicholson or Hartman took most of the images. She seems to have had a naturalness and warmth with people, qualities that are reflected in many of the photographs. In one shot at a ceremonial dance site, she is seen listening to a Karok man she called Camp Creek George. And she frequently wrote herself reminders to mail photos to her subjects, which she regularly did.

Nicholson also wrote captions for the photos, often spelling out the subject’s Indian name or Anglo-attributed name, tribal affiliation, and his or her relation to others in the tribe. She was conscientious about recording names, places, materials, basket-weaving methods, and myths and legends.

Baskets for sale in Grace Nicholson’s store at 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, 1906.

Baskets for sale in Grace Nicholson’s store at 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena, 1906.

She remained a lifelong collector. In 1940, toward the end of her life, Nicholson wrote to a potential buyer of Indian artifacts—a Miss Livermore of Morristown, N.J. “May I hear from you as to what interests you? A record of over 40,000 objects—personally collected—has been full of adventures.”

The Grace Nicholson Photograph Collection is open for research to qualified researchers. You can review the finding aid on the website of the Online Archive of California.

To view some bonus images related to this post, head over to our Tumblr.

Suzanne Oatey is a project archivist in the photograph collections at The Huntington.

Alan Taylor Wins Second Pulitzer Prize


Alan Taylor. Photo by Lynn Friedman.

Congratulations to historian Alan Taylor, who has won the Pulitzer Prize in History for The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832, published by W. W. Norton & Co. Taylor is the fourth person to win two Pulitzer Prizes in History since the establishment of the award in 1917, joining the select group of Bernard Bailyn (1968 and 1987), Paul Horgan (1955 and 1976), and Margaret Leech (1942 and 1960). In 1996, Taylor won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes for William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.

The Pulitzer committee’s citation lauds Taylor’s book as “a meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.”

Taylor finished the manuscript for the book at The Huntington during the 2012–13 academic year, when he was in residence as the first Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Fellow in Early American History.

Taylor internal enemy

Taylor’s award-winning book is published by W. W. Norton & Co.

“Alan Taylor’s Pulitzer Prize is well-deserved recognition for a scholar who has throughout his career maintained the highest standards of rigorous empirical research yet never failed to communicate the significance of his findings in lucid and lively prose to an audience both within and beyond the academy,” says Steve Hindle, the W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington. “The Internal Enemy is an important book not just because it teaches us a great deal about identities, loyalties, and allegiances in revolutionary America, but also because it serves as a model of how social and cultural history can and should be researched and written. It is all the more pleasing that the Huntington Library, through Professor Taylor’s fellowship last year, is so closely associated with his success.”

At his public lecture here in 2012, the then one-time winner of a Pulitzer Prize said, “I think of being the first Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Fellow as the greatest honor that I have received in my career. I never met Joseph Pulitzer, but I met Roy Ritchie, and I greatly admire him.”

Ritchie preceded Hindle as the W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research and served in that position for 19 years. Back in 1994 he awarded a fellowship to Taylor, who spent that time wrapping up the manuscript of his first Pulitizer-winning book.

Yet another honor for Taylor has been his recent appointment as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor in History at The University of Virginia. His move to Virginia comes after 20 years at the University of California, Davis.

In a previous post on Verso, Taylor explained the title of his book. “The phrase is one the Virginians used in the early republic to describe slaves collectively and in the abstract,” said Taylor. “They had this concept that their slaves were a captive nation that was potentially dangerous to Virginia.” In his lecture from 2012, available for download on iTunes U, Taylor described a group of 3,000 slaves from Virginia and Maryland that escaped during the War of 1812 when British warships came into Chesapeake Bay. Taylor says their escape transformed the nature of the war and made it possible for the British to capture Washington and burn down the White House.

“I’m using that event as a prism through which to see the longer history of slavery in Virginia from the Revolution into the 1830s,” he said.

Past Huntington fellows to receive the Pulitzer Prize in History include Daniel Walker Howe, 2008 recipient for What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815­–1848, and James M. McPherson, 1988 winner for Battle Cry of Freedom: The Era of the Civil War. Both of those books are part of the Oxford History of the United States series published by Oxford University Press.

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine. 


Alison Sowden at her desk.

Alison Sowden at her desk.

This week we say goodbye to Alison Sowden, The Huntington’s chief financial officer for the past 24 years. She recently accepted a position to head the financial operations of the Art Institute of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute. She will do great things there as she did at The Huntington, because she’s a remarkable person of enormous talent. But we will miss her dearly.

Alison is a rare bird in the world of finance. Of course she is an incredibly serious and industrious CFO, playing a key role in turning years of deficits when she arrived into balanced budgets every year since 1994. She shepherded the growth in endowment from $66 million to its current $450 million. She was recognized for her striking accomplishments by the L.A. Business Journal, who named her CFO of the year for L.A. nonprofit organizations in 2013.

But Alison is also a wonderful weaver of narrative. (Maybe it’s her graduate degree in English, the one she thought would never land her a job.) Every staff and governing board member can quote her explanation of Huntington finances as “the three-legged stool”—endowment payout rate, gifts, and earned revenues. Though simple enough for those of us who have trouble balancing our checkbooks, the concept is illustrative enough to support our entire philosophical approach to finances. The Huntington is an organization in balance, made so in large part through Alison’s ability to make our financial challenges and vision accessible and, dare I say, fun!

Laurie Sowd and Alison Sowden.

Laurie Sowd and Alison Sowden.

Her talent is infused with an effusive positivism and joy that infects the whole institution. Her boisterous laugh can often be heard down the hallways; her sense of style is the envy of many. Whether dancing at the annual ball, leading the holiday sing-along, or chatting with a security officer, joy is the hallmark.

Alison and I have worked together for 28 years, launching our careers when we were 12, in case you’re doing the math. She is largely responsible for my career, evidencing a huge leap of faith by bringing me as a young, relatively inexperienced kid from the Getty to The Huntington to grow several newly merged departments in an institution that was striving for solidity. She supported me, trusted me, guided me, and let me blossom, as she has done for so many others. She taught me to cross-country ski, tried to convince me to love camping (perhaps her only less-than-stellar effort), and allowed me to be “auntie” to her most amazing son.

These are not the kinds of things that end up in financial audits or budget reports. And they’re not the typical measurements of success. But Alison’s colleagues know full well the ways that her talent and experience have been enlivened by her vibrant sense of humor and verbal acumen.
I’ve enjoyed a longer-term and more familial relationship with Alison than most, but everyone would agree that she is a joy. Chicago, prepare for a welcome incoming warm front.

Laurie Sowd is Vice President for Operations at The Huntington.

Some Reassembly Required

In the exhibition “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes” visitors can play with an oversized stomachion.

In the exhibition “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes” visitors can play with an oversized stomachion.

Most people know the Rubik’s Cube, that colorful handful of plastic that has fascinated and frustrated many a puzzle aficionado over the past 40 years.

But have you heard of the stomachion?

It’s a puzzle attributed to the Greek mathematician Archimedes, and it poses this question: How many different ways can you rearrange the pieces of a square that’s been cut into 14 distinct slices—and still make a square? Seven? Twenty? Going out on a limb with an even wilder guess, could it be—143?

The pieces of the stomachion can be rearranged—get this—in 17,152 ways. It’s a fascinating fact that comes out of the world of combinatorics (more on that, below).

The stomachion is said to be our earliest known mathematical puzzle, found in the astonishingly cool Archimedes Palimpsest, portions of which are now on view at The Huntington.

And if you’re looking for a great story of intrigue, come see “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes” in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery through June 8.

Here are the basics: Archimedes lived during the 3rd century B.C. in present-day Sicily; he was a mathematician, physicist, inventor, engineer, and astronomer and is considered today to be among the world’s greatest classical thinkers.

In 10th-century Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), an anonymous scribe copied Archimedes’ mathematical treatises onto parchment. Three hundred years later, a Greek Orthodox monk literally recycled the document to use the parchment for another purpose: He erased the Archimedes text, cut the pages along the center fold, rotated the leaves 90 degrees, and folded them in half. The pages were then bound with other erased manuscript leaves to create a prayer book. This recycled book is known as a palimpsest—referring to a piece of writing that has been erased or scraped off to make room for other writing. “Palimpsesting” was commonplace hundreds of years ago when parchment and paper were hard to come by.

This view of part of the Archimedes Palimpsest shows the prayer book orientation pf the manuscript pages (leaves 55v–50r). Copyright the owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest, licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Access Rights.

This view of part of the Archimedes Palimpsest shows the prayer book orientation pf the manuscript pages (leaves 55v–50r). Copyright the owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest, licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Access Rights.

Over the hundreds of years that followed, successive owners held onto the prayer book, not knowing of the Archimedes underwriting until the late 1800s. It was at that time that Archimedes scholar Johan Ludvig Heiberg saw the book in Istanbul and recognized seven treatises by Archimedes underneath the prayers; he had discovered the oldest surviving source for Archimedes’ writings. He transcribed as much of the text as was possible, and he took photographs, which turned out to be crucial to the ultimate discovery of the significance of the book.

But little is known about what happened to the palimpsest during the 20th century; after Heiberg’s discoveries, it disappeared for decades. What is known is that over these “lost years” some of the pages went missing, mold set in, and illustrations of the evangelists, forged to look medieval, had been painted on some of the pages. There is some suggestion that a book dealer may have added the illustrations to make the Palimpsest more marketable. Eventually, the book was put up for auction and sold in 1998. The buyer then turned around and handed it to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore for conservation, imaging, and transcription, a painstaking process taking the better part of 12 years.

“It was in horrible condition, having suffered a thousand years of weather, travel, and abuse,” said Will Noel, Archimedes project director and then curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum, in a 2011 news release. The text was filthy; it had been singed by fire and dripped on with wax. In fact, before imaging could begin, the manuscript had to be stabilized. It took four years alone simply to disassemble and remove adhesive from the folds, given its fragility.

“I documented everything and saved all of the tiny pieces from the book, including paint chips, parchment fragments, and thread and put them into sleeves so we knew what pages they came from,” said Abigail Quandt, the Walters Art Museum’s senior conservator of manuscripts and rare books.

Turned 90 degrees and under ultraviolet light, the Archimedes Palimpsest reveals  spiral lines of Archimedes’ original text (leaves 98v–102r). Copyright the owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest, licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Access Rights.

Turned 90 degrees and under ultraviolet light, the Archimedes Palimpsest reveals spiral lines of Archimedes’ original text (leaves 98v–102r). Copyright the owner of the Archimedes Palimpsest, licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Access Rights.

Once stabilized, the book went through a series of high-tech imaging processes to coax out the ancient text and diagrams. Teams of scientists combined different light sources—ultraviolet light, strobe, and tungsten—to get the job done. Additional imaging, using powerful synchrotron radiation at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, showed writing that had been hidden beneath religious paintings added in the 20th century.
Then came the big reveal.

The Palimpsest contained a copy of a previously unknown Archimedes work, including the stomachion. And why is it called that? It’s not clear when the puzzle got its name, but some historians believe that it was a playful descriptor, as in “this puzzle is so maddening, it’s given me a stomach ache!”

Did Archimedes create the puzzle? That’s not clear, but it is the basis for an increasingly important area of science—combinatorics, the study of assembling and reassembling a specific set of objects. Combinatorics, it turns out, is critical in modern computing and for solving all sorts of problems—from coordinating and optimizing flight schedules to managing space use on a factory floor to synchronizing traffic lights to creating new types of chemicals.

Want your own? We’ve got ’em. And have at it! Might want to make sure you’ve got some Alka-Seltzer on hand first.

The puzzle is available for purchase in The Huntington’s Gift Shop.

The puzzle is available for purchase in The Huntington’s Gift Shop.

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

A Passion for Bonsai

Dozens of bonsai specimens will be on display this weekend as the California Bonsai Society presents its 57th annual Bonsai Show at The Huntington.

Dozens of bonsai specimens will be on display this weekend as the California Bonsai Society presents its 57th annual Bonsai Show at The Huntington.

From ancient origins in China and Japan, the art of creating miniature bonsai trees has grown in popularity to become an international hobby. Today, bonsai reflects the nationalities, philosophies, and regional plants of enthusiasts worldwide. What accounts for this enduring passion that collectors, connoisseurs, and growers have for this horticultural art form? A good place to find the answer is right here at The Huntington. Dozens of world-class specimens will be on display Saturday and Sunday, March 29 and 30, when the California Bonsai Society presents its 57th annual Bonsai Show. The event takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Frances Lasker Brody Botanical Center and is included with general admission to The Huntington.

Cork Oak.

Cork Oak in the Zillgitt Bonsai Court.

In addition to being a terrific display of masterpiece trees, the Bonsai Show is a rare opportunity to talk to the men and women who have grown them. Hearing experts discuss the history and philosophy and the actual how-to of bonsai can give novices a much deeper appreciation of the art form. The passion these individuals have for bonsai is contagious.

The word bonsai literally means a tree planted in a pot. The chosen specimen can be reclaimed from nature, such as a gnarled and half-dead stump coaxed into bearing new life. Trees can also be grown from seeds or cuttings. Japanese black pine, maple, and juniper are popular choices, but nontraditional plants such as manzanita, bougainvillea, and olive are also used. Over a period of years or decades, the trees are painstakingly pruned to stimulate growth and trained with wire to shape branches and trunks. The goal is to achieve naturalistic or stylized beauty on a small scale. Given proper care, bonsai can live for hundreds of years.

Flowering Manzanita.

Flowering Manzanita (seen in the 2011 show).

Perhaps one explanation for the growing appeal of bonsai is that it’s an art form that can’t be experienced in a hurry. It may well be the perfect antidote for the fast pace of modern life.

Known as penjing in China, miniature trees can be found in Chinese scroll art, poetry, and even mythology dating as far back as the Eastern Han dynasty (25–221 A.D.). Tomb paintings from the Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.) portray attendants carrying potted trees. Buddhist monks from China introduced miniature trees to Japan sometime around the 13th century. There the art form became highly formalized, reaching its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bonsai gained worldwide exposure—and fashionable acclaim—at the Paris World Exposition in 1900. Today, bonsai is enjoyed by devotees around the world who lend their own cultural interpretations, as well as their native trees, to the enrichment of the art form.

In addition to seeing the trees on view in the show, visitors can take a short stroll across the grounds to the Japanese Garden area, where The Huntington’s own bonsai collection is showcased. Some 90 specimens are displayed in two adjoining courts in a wooded area shaded by majestic pines, oaks, and deodars, with a small creek flowing through the landscape. If you didn’t already have a passion for bonsai when you arrived, you’re almost certain to fall under its spell before you leave.

Zillgitt Court is one of two venues for the year-round display of bonsai in The Huntington’s Japanese Garden.

Zillgitt Court is one of two venues for the year-round display of bonsai in The Huntington’s Japanese Garden.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

The Huntington’s Tumblr Turns One

tumblr_1yr_versoDo you follow The Huntington on Tumblr? If you do, then you’re one of the thousands who joined since we launched our site exactly one year ago today.

If you don’t follow us, take some time today to browse through our archive.  There you’ll find some of our favorites, including animated GIFs of an extra-illustrated book, a gallery guide from a recent exhibition, and one of the koi enjoying the waters in our Japanese Garden.

Through our Tumblr, we have been engaging new audiences, connecting with other institutions in some unexpected ways, and finding exciting new ways to explore our collections.

Today is also Thursday, which means we also posted our weekly Squint on Tumblr. These posts feature snapshots of small, obscure Huntington details that catch our eye.

So please join us on Tumblr as we move into our second year—later today we’ll mark the arrival of the vernal equinox. And the posts will just keep on coming.

We also invite you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and visit our sites on Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, and iTunes U.

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine.

A Slice of Pi

If you wanted to determine the circumference of the pie from which this delectable piece was cut, you'd need to employ its homophone, π (pi). C=2πr, where r is the radius of the pie.

If you wanted to determine the circumference of the pie from which this delectable piece was cut, you’d need to employ its homophone, π (pi). C=2πr, where r is the radius of the pie.

Tomorrow we open “Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes,” an exhibition focusing on the Archimedes Palimpsest (explained, along with more information about the exhibition, here) and organized by the Walters Art Museum. Among the interests of Archimedes, who lived in the third century B.C.E., was the calculation of π (pi), that mathematical constant that is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

For basic calculations like finding the area of a circle (remember A=πr2 from math class?), we often round this figure off to 3.14.

In celebration of Pi Day—March 14, or 3/14 (get it?)—here is a far more modern approximation of the value of this constant calculated out to the number of digits that fill an average-length post on Verso. Happy Pi Day.

Whether or not Archimedes was himself a fan of pie is for the historians to debate. But this slice looks particularly delicious to the author of this post, who is also a fan of π.

Whether or not Archimedes was himself a fan of pie is for the historians to debate. But this slice looks particularly delicious to the author of this post, who is also a fan of π.


If you wanted to figure out the volume of this piece of pie, π could come in handy.

If you wanted to figure out the volume of this piece of pie, π could come in handy.

Thank you to piday.org for posting one million digits of π, from which we extracted the above excerpt.

Kate Lain is the new media developer in the office of communications at The Huntington.

Echinopsis: Queen for a Day

Echinopsis 'Frolic'. Photo by John Trager

Echinopsis ‘Frolic’. Photo by Antonio H. Miguel

The Desert Garden at The Huntington holds many delights—literally thousands of them—and it’s impossible to walk through the 10-acre landscape without feeling a little bit awe-struck. The sheer diversity of plant species—with their unusual colors, shapes, textures, and adaptations—draws visitors back again and again.

And exploring the garden in springtime can be especially delightful, particularly if you happen to catch an Echinopsis cactus in bloom. Their large, colorful flowers last only one day, but they are well worth every dazzling moment.

With flowers nearly eight inches in diameter, Echinopsis 'Flying Saucer' stops traffic when it blooms in the Desert Garden. It's one of many varieties that will be available March 13 at the Second Thursday Garden Talk and Sale. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

With flowers nearly eight inches in diameter, Echinopsis ‘Flying Saucer’ stops traffic when it blooms in the Desert Garden. It’s one of many varieties that will be available March 13 at the Second Thursday Garden Talk and Sale. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

“The first and grandest flush of flowers each season is in April, but monthly flushes can be expected through July and often later months,” says John Trager, curator of desert collections at The Huntington. “One of the remarkable features of the hybrids is the tendency of most of them to flower in synchrony, resulting in spectacular mass displays.”

Trager will give a free public talk about these show-stoppers of the succulent world on Thursday, March 13, at 2:30 p.m. The presentation will be held in the Ahmanson Room in the Frances Lasker Brody Botanical Center. A plant sale will follow in the nursery—and we can almost guarantee that you’ll want to take one of these beauties home.

The genus Echinopsis is native to South America, Trager explains—primarily Bolivia and Argentina but also parts of Peru, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay—and The Huntington’s botanical collections include many of the 130 or so naturally occurring species. But the most spectacular blooms are often produced by the hybrids, which are also well represented here. Hybridizer Robert Schick, one of the leaders in the field, introduced 128 named hybrids through The Huntington’s International Succulent Introductions program (ISI) from 1986 through 2004. The Schick hybrids are all still available online through the ISI.

“Schick expanded on the pioneering hybridizing work of Harry Johnson, whose full-color catalogs of cacti and other succulents went a long way toward stimulating interest in these plants from the 1930s to the 1970s,” says Trager. The work of other hybridizers, including Hans Britsch of Western Cactus Growers and Mark Dimmitt of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, is also represented in the collection.

Echinopsis 'Shere Khan'. Photo by John Trager

Echinopsis ‘Shere Khan’. Photo by Antonio H. Miguel

Trager says he tries to avoid playing favorites, but he admits to having a soft spot for several outstanding cultivars. “‘Flying Saucer’ is one of the best Echinopsis hybrids yet produced. It’s by Hans Britsch. Among the catalog of Schick hybrids, a few that stand out in my mind are ‘Antares’ for its symmetrical stamens and starburst stigma, ‘Frolic’ for its deep yellow tones, ‘Romance’—it’s so hot!— ‘Shere Khan’ for its colorful stamen filaments, and ‘Windigo’ for its intense coloration.”

As you might guess from his choices, Trager also appreciates the creativity behind the names Schick gives his hybrids. “Bob’s names are well thought out and often relate to both the plant’s characteristics and to interesting aspects of culture, mythology, and science.”

Echinopsis 'Antares'. Photo by John Trager

Echinopsis ‘Antares’. Photo by Antonio H. Miguel

All the varieties pictured here will be available at Thursday’s sale, along with many others.

The good news for those who are new converts to the Echinopsis fan club is that these plants are not the least bit finicky. “They’re among the easiest cacti to grow,” Trager points out. “They do well in pots, but they should be repotted regularly to promote vigorous growth and to prevent their becoming pot-bound.” He recommends a fast-draining soil mix that’s 80 percent pumice and 20 percent compost, and says that regular fertilizing and some afternoon shade will help keep them healthy and happy.

And Trager predicts you’ll be pretty happy, yourself, when your Echinopsis cactus rewards you with one of its amazing blooms.

Echinopsis 'Romance'. Photo by John Trager

Echinopsis ‘Romance’. Photo by Antonio H. Miguel

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

The Eternal and the Ever-Changing


Entrance to the Clear and Transcendent pavilion in the Chinese Garden.

On Saturday, March 8, The Huntington will unveil three new features in the Chinese Garden: the Clear and Transcendent pavilion, the Lingering Clouds Peak rock grotto, and the Waveless Boat pavilion.

“A garden is never really finished,” says Steve Koblik, president of The Huntington. “It’s added to and changed over time.” The Chinese Garden first opened to visitors in 2008, so this marks a significant milestone in its second phase of development.

Of course the passing of the seasons is also part of a garden’s perpetual renewal. Just last week, a late winter rainstorm provided an opportunity to see the garden in misty, wet weather typical of Suzhou, China, site of the scholar’s gardens that inspired our own Liu Fang Yuan, or Garden of Flowing Fragrance.


View from behind the waterfall in the Lingering Clouds Peak rock grotto.

Water plays a central role in the Lingering Clouds Peak rock grotto, which features a path underneath a waterfall. The tai hu rocks featured in the grotto are limestone imported from the Lake Tai region of China. June Li, curator of the Chinese Garden, explains that rock represents the eternal, while water represents the ever-changing.

“It is important for them to be together,” she said.


The Waveless Boat pavilion.

Inspiration for the Waveless Boat pavilion derived in part from the practice of Chinese painters, who often wrote about traveling by boat down a river to enjoy the scenery. After going back to their studios to record their trips in paintings, they would write poetic couplets inspired by the experiences, like the calligraphic panels on the Waveless Boat pavilion. And the word “Waveless,” or bubo, is often used in Chinese literature to describe a serene atmosphere, such as a boat gliding effortlessly over the water.

Designed to host performances, the open-sided Clear and Transcendent pavilion features a central screen of blond gingko wood—a striking contrast against the darker red pine of the ceiling—with panels that depict traditional Chinese musical instruments and scenes from the epic play The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu (1550–1616), the “Chinese Shakespeare.” The screen panels are also doors that open up the pavilion.

Performances in this pavilion will face two directions: either toward the Lake of Reflected Fragrance, “so music can penetrate the garden,” according to Li, or toward the wooded area to the north and the future Court of Assembled Worthies, which will seat 350 people.


Wu Man. Photo by Stephen Kahn.

One of the first performances in the Clear and Transcendent pavilion has just been announced. The Huntington is premiering its Visiting Artist Program with a five-month residency by Wu Man, Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year. A virtuosa of the pipa, which is sometimes referred to as a Chinese lute, Wu has performed with Yo-Yo Ma as part of the Silk Road Project. She has also played with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, and other international orchestras. While in residency, Wu will give lectures, play a public concert, and produce a work commissioned by The Huntington, to be performed in the Clear and Transcendent pavilion on June 18. She is also working with music students at Pasadena’s Elliot Middle School. “This program allows us to make this kind of music accessible to everyone,” said Li.

The hand-carved lattice in the Clear and Transcendent pavilion depicts a cracked-ice-and-flower pattern. In China, this signals early spring when frozen lakes melt and plum blossoms start to bloom. In San Marino, it’s a sign that it’s time to visit the Chinese Garden.

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications at The Huntington. She is a Los Angeles-based communications consultant.

“Where Solomon Northup Was a Slave”


At the lower left of this opening to John Burrud’s diary is a passage that reads, “Came across an Old Slave. He said he was well acquainted with Solomon Northup.”

A war is seldom thought of as a sightseeing opportunity. Yet for many young men, the Civil War offered a chance to see places they had only read about in books. One such book was Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave (1853), the harrowing tale of a free black New Yorker who was kidnapped, enslaved, and tortured on a plantation in Bayou Boeuf, La. The book is the inspiration of Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning movie. Academy Awards also went to Lupita Nyong’o for best supporting actress and to John Ridley for best adapted screenplay.

In 1863, as the Union forces marched through Louisiana, Bayou Boeuf became a tourist attraction of sorts. The Union soldiers, especially from New York regiments, sought out the plantation of Edwin Epps, Northup’s cruel master.

One of these New Yorkers was John Burrud (1828–1883), an officer in the 160th Regiment of the New York Infantry. The collection of letters and diaries that Burrud kept between September 1862 and August 1866 now forms part of The Huntington’s manuscript collections.


When closed, Burrud’s diary was small enough to fit into a breast pocket.

Burrud’s diary was the subject of a recent blog post by historian Adam Rothman. Says Rothman: “I had no idea when I opened it that Burrud’s diary would shed any light on Northup’s story and its legacies. In fact, I had been looking for something entirely different. History is full of surprises.” (See his post “The Horrors “12 Years a Slave” Couldn’t Tell” on the website of Al Jazeera America.)

Born in England and raised in New York, Burrud was a man of strong opinions and a clear sense of mission. He went to war to defend his “adopted country” against the Confederacy, a treasonous “empire” that had dissolved the sacred bonds of the Union to protect slavery—the “most damnable man degrading, soul killing, God dishonoring Institution that ever was permitted to exist on the face of the earth.”

Capt. Burrud’s war was nothing short of a “struggle for Human freedom.” He welcomed the Emancipation Proclamation and relished every opportunity to enforce it: “I think I can see its Death struggle and heare its Death Groans and Oh How I rejoice to see it writhe in agony!” Burrud also saw Louisiana blacks as the true American patriots, a freedom-loving people who “will lie down and have their heads cut off before they will go into slavery again.”

Yet the slavery that he encountered in Louisiana was very much alive. The horrified New Yorker saw men “come out of the woods with a heavey ring around their necks….this was as the Rebs expressed it to keep them from running away with the damd Yankeys.” Other fugitives never reached the Union lines; Burrud saw “a slave at Tibadeux jump in the Bayou and drowned Himself to get away from his Hellish Master.” Even those who had found refuge within the Union lines were in danger: “If they go outside of our lines, they will be picked up and taken off to slavery again.”


In a letter to his wife in March 1863, Burrud wrote that he had passed the Epps planation, “where Solomon Northup was a slave.”

On May 17, 1863, Burrud and his men marched through the plantation belonging to “the Reble Governor” Thomas O. Moore. As the men marched on, “Oure band struck up and the Collord girls fell in line with the Regt. and danced along the road until sun down.” This, Burrud thought, was probably “the place that Solomon Northup operated.” He found Epps’ plantation two days later and interviewed several slaves who remembered Northup. A slave “named Washington” also showed the New Yorker “their instruments of torture—the Stocks, Whip, and Paddle, and Strap.” The slaves, he stressed, “all tell a straightforward tale…. Solomon’s book is true to the letter, only it does not portray the system as bad as it is. It is not in the Power of Man to do it.”

Burrud’s outrage was rare but by no means unusual. Other Union soldiers made a point to seek out tangible evidence of slavery’s inhumanity. This sort of “war tourism” served to remind the North that slavery was a real and powerful evil that just might survive the war.


Another reminder of slavery’s inhumanity was this famous image. In 1863, a Union surgeon, horrified by the look of a Louisiana man whose back was covered with scars left by his owner’s whip, took a photograph of the man identified as Gordon. On July 4, 1863, the image appeared in Harper’s Weekly with an article titled “A Typical Negro.”

Duncan McKercher (1819–1900), an officer of the 10th Wisconsin Regiment of Infantry, captured at the battle of Chickamauga, was imprisoned at Charleston’s Workhouse, the city’s notorious jail for slaves. While waiting to be transferred to Libby Prison, he found notes from South Carolina slave owners to the workhouse’s master requesting various forms of punishment for their runaway “property.” These included gruesome torture such as pouring vinegar on the wounds left by “paddles” and “straps.” McKercher held on to the notes throughout his imprisonment at Libby prison and eventually brought them with him after he was exchanged in March 1865. These notes are also part of The Huntington’s collections.

In addition to Adam Rothman’s blog post, see Mary Niall Mitchell’s essay on the life and times of “12 Years a Slave” in the online journal Common-Place

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