Telling Their Stories

In a classroom at Rockdale Visual and Performing Arts Magnet, an elementary school in Eagle Rock, an image of science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler appears surrounded by her quotes and student drawings of creatures inspired by her work. Photo by Kate Lain.

As acting president of The Huntington, I am having the great pleasure of immersing myself in the wide-ranging activities that take place in this extraordinary institution. Our exhibitions program is chief among them, as it showcases both our research and educational missions.

Curators work for months on the planning of an exhibition, and, depending on its complexity, dozens of other staff members jump in—from conservators to graphic designers to lighting specialists. Once every object is placed in its case or mounted on the wall, the labels affixed, the banners hung, and the lights flipped on, it all somehow appears effortless. That’s part of the magic. But there is often much more to an exhibition than meets the eye.

The Huntington’s educators developed a curriculum based on the life and legacy of Butler, involving creative writing for Rockdale’s fifth and sixth graders. Students created illustrated journals in which they described a day on an alien planet. Photo by Kate Lain.

I am particularly excited by what our Education staff has been doing with “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories,” a Library exhibition on the renowned science fiction writer Octavia Butler, whose papers reside at The Huntington. In partnership with Rockdale Visual and Performing Arts Magnet, an elementary school in nearby Eagle Rock, our educators developed a “deep learning” curriculum based on the life and legacy of Butler, involving creative writing for the fifth and sixth graders and a Butler-inspired art project for the entire school—all 300-plus students.

This was a pilot project and a labor of love. Huntington staff spent many weeks developing curricula for the classroom and professional development materials for teachers. The idea was to use Butler’s work as a platform from which to inspire students to imagine their very own alien world, and, through art and writing, to describe a day in the life there. The curriculum was designed to meet fifth and sixth grade Common Core state standards in English language arts. By encouraging students to dig deep into their own creative imaginations, we hoped to transform their learning experience and demonstrate measurable improvement in their writing skills.

Children in Pam Chirichigno’s fifth-grade class at Rockdale learned how to make prints of their alien worlds by etching a design onto a sheet of styrofoam. Here, Denise Eichenauer applies ink to a roller. Photo by Kate Lain.

Fifth and sixth graders spent time learning about Butler and her writing process by reading samples of her published work along with her motivational notes and drafts. Her process guided their own as they emulated how she went about her work: keeping journals, drawing sketches, and conducting detailed research. In a sense, Butler became their mentor. Their imaginations caught fire.

Across all grade levels, students were encouraged to conjure their own creatures through art. And conjure they did! When the Butler exhibition opened in April, 19 works of art by Rockdale students were on display in the gallery alongside Butler’s own work. Many students came with their families to see the artwork they had produced. (You can see all 313 of the student artworks on Flickr.)

Nicanor Taylor, another student in Pam Chirichigno’s fifth-grade class, focuses on getting just enough ink onto the roller. Behind him are examples of prints by other students. Photo by Kate Lain.

In a follow-up survey of the fifth and sixth graders, students expressed how much they enjoyed unleashing their imaginations to create new worlds populated with alien inhabitants. Ninety-seven percent—that’s right, 97—said they now enjoy creative writing more than they did before.

Rockdale’s principal, Desiree De Bond Vargas, called the pilot project “dynamic and transformative” and an “amazing learning and growing experience for everyone.” Her teachers have reported enthusiastically that they envision using the teaching materials again and again. Said Vargas: “Butler certainly made the right decision in bequeathing all of her life’s writings, memoirs, journals, and documents to The Huntington.” We couldn’t agree more.

We can’t help but think how satisfied Butler would be to know that her stories are enabling young school children to tell theirs. The exhibition continues through Aug. 7. Please stop by and see what Octavia E. Butler, and these remarkably creative students, have to say.

Ava Valencia, a student in Elson Wong’s third-grade class at Rockdale, created this work of art. It’s on view in the “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories” exhibition at The Huntington through Aug. 7. Photo by Kate Lain.

Related content on Verso:
Telling Her Stories (April 6, 2017)
Mentoring in the Afterlife (June 10, 2016)
Celebrating Octavia Butler (Jan. 27, 2016)
Writing Herself In (June 22, 2015)

You can learn more about the Octavia E. Butler collection here.

Steve Hindle is acting president and W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington.

Fictive Histories and Historical Fictions

Detail from Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall, winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize. Photo by Kate Lain.

The last decade has seen a surge of interest in historical fiction. Led by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies—novels that chronicle the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell (1485–1540) in the court of King Henry VIII—these stories have dominated bestseller charts and shortlists for literary prizes. Meanwhile, public appetite for their adaptations on stage and screen continues to grow.

Many historians and literary scholars welcome this trend, contending that historical fiction gives readers new ways of understanding historical experience and encourages them to engage with history in more critical ways. Others argue that, in an era of fake news, we should keep facts separate from fiction.

A conference I’m convening at The Huntington takes the recent popularity of the historical novel as a starting point to explore relationships between various calibrations and understandings of history and fiction. Titled “Fictive Histories/Historical Fictions,” it takes place on May 12 and 13 in Rothenberg Hall.

The conference delves into the connection between history and fiction from many different angles. We will look at the boundaries that might exist between them, and in what ways they overlap, considering the intrinsic ethical and political implications. We will also examine whether the recent success of historical fiction can be viewed as a new development, or rather, should be seen as a return to (or inflection of) an older literary tradition.

A display of several items from the Hilary Mantel Papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Another angle will be to study whether this success poses any danger to academic history and literary historicism. Or might it rather offer opportunities to bring critical and creative approaches together to develop new lines of thought and practice? Finally, we will look at how creative and critical manifestations of history respond to cultural and political imperatives of the 21st century.

The papers of Hilary Mantel, who has been at the forefront of the renaissance of historical fiction, are housed at The Huntington, which began acquiring her papers in 2001 and continues to receive additional material. The collection contains more than 1,300 items, including literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and ephemera. Reflecting these strengths of The Huntington’s collections, the focus of the conference will be the interplay between fictional histories and historical fiction written in or about Britain—and Mantel’s writing in particular. This topic will be embedded and addressed within wider international, methodological, and generic contexts.

The creative-critical focus of the conference will be replicated in its line-up of speakers and in the forms of their presentations: historians and literary scholars will speak alongside novelists. (Indeed, many of our speakers perform more than one of these roles simultaneously and will reflect on that experience). The first day will focus on calibrating new understandings of the relationship between the creative and the critical, and the second will focus in a more granular fashion on the ways in which historical fiction, past and present, frames and articulates these relationships.

Prize-winning historical novelist Hilary Mantel. Photo © Els Zweerink.

Hilary Mantel, whose work inspired the conference, will be delivering two plenary sessions over the course of three days. On Thursday, May 11, at 7:30 p.m., she will deliver the Ridge Lecture, “I Met A Man Who Wasn’t There,” in Rothenberg Hall. (The lecture is already sold out, but you may watch it in real time on Livestream.)

As she works to the conclusion of the Cromwell trilogy that began with Wolf Hall, Mantel will describe her 10-year effort to pin to the page her compelling and elusive subject. On Saturday, May 13, at 4:15 p.m., she will reflect further on her own work and the themes of the conference in a conversation with Mary Robertson, a Tudor historian and former curator of British manuscripts at The Huntington, to whom Mantel dedicated Wolf Hall. (This event is restricted to conference attendees.)

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

In conjunction with the conference, The Huntington is displaying two items of special interest for readers of historical fiction in the East Foyer of the Library’s Main Exhibition Hall through Monday, May 8. One page of Hilary Mantel’s notes for Wolf Hall is on view. (Another page of notes may be viewed nearby in the “Library Today” gallery.) Also on display is a first edition of The Scottish Chiefs (1810)by Jane Porter, a best-selling British novelist of the early 19th century. The Scottish Chiefs, which tells of the exploits of William Wallace (1270–1305), a leader of the Wars of Scottish Independence, is one of the earliest examples of the historical novel. The Huntington holds the archive of Jane Porter’s papers.

Sophie Coulombeau is lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff University.

Born and Raised in Hawai‘i

Nathaniel Bright Emerson (1839–1915). Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One of the greatest joys for historians doing archival research is the opportunity to become lost in someone else’s world. I had this experience during my recent fellowship at The Huntington as I delved into the papers of Nathaniel Bright Emerson (1839–1915), a physician, ethnologist, and author of several books on Hawaiian mythology.

I’d suspected Emerson would be a figure of interest in my research into the religious dimensions of American empire building in the Pacific Ocean in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What I didn’t anticipate was how the richness of his personal papers would draw me in. As I got to know Emerson, I saw a complex figure emerge whose published works did not appear to fully represent the thoughts of the man himself. This complexity suggested something broader about the uncertainties of American engagement with the Pacific in this period.

Emerson was born in Waialua on the Hawaiian island of Oahu to Ursula Emerson and the Reverend John S. Emerson, who arrived from the United States as missionaries in 1832. Educated first at Punahou, the school for mission children in Honolulu, Nathaniel then studied at Williams College in Massachusetts, served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and trained as a medic at Harvard and in New York. He returned to Hawai‘i in 1878, ultimately taking up the presidency of the Hawaiian Board of Health.

Title page of Emerson’s book Unwritten Literature of Hawaii: The Sacred Songs of the Hula, published by the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnology in 1909. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Despite his medical expertise, Emerson’s greatest passion was for the Hawaiian past, and he pursued this interest with vigor from the end of his tenure at the Board of Health in 1890 until his death. In particular, he was a keen collector of Hawaiian folklore, asserting the need to gather and commit to paper fragments of oral tradition before the onslaught of “civilization” transformed Hawai‘i beyond recognition. Emerson published three major works on the subject of Hawaiian tradition, beginning with a translation of Hawaiian historian David Malo’s work in 1898, released under the title Hawaiian Antiquities. Next came Unwritten Literature of Hawaii: The Sacred Songs of the Hula in 1909, followed by Pele and Hiiaka: A Myth from Hawaii shortly before his death in 1915.

Through his ethnological studies of the Hawaiian people, Emerson was able to enhance his reputation as a man of science. In particular, Unwritten Literature of Hawaii was picked up and published by the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution, leading one reviewer in the New York Daily Tribune to proclaim that Emerson’s conclusions were “asserted on the authority of Uncle Sam himself.” Emerson’s books suggested that he was dispassionately to add to the sum of the world’s knowledge about indigenous peoples. But what struck me as I pored over his unpublished essays, literary work, and correspondence was that in private he appeared to understand Hawaiian tradition in rather more poetic terms.

Detail of an article about Emerson’s book Unwritten Literature of Hawaii in the New York Daily Tribune, Sunday, Jan. 23, 1910. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I got the sense that Emerson felt somewhat alienated from modern American life and was looking for an outlet through which he might express his sense of connection to the natural beauty of the land of his birth. He disdained urban life, prudish and inflexible moral codes, and the ignorance of Americans regarding Hawai‘i, even claiming that “I have been ready at times to exclaim with Wordsworth: ‘Great God! I’d rather be a pagan.’” He meanwhile celebrated Hawaiian tales as being “saturated with the salt air of the Great Ocean,” “redolent of perfumed mountains and rustling palms,” and “reminiscent of the glory and awe of volcanic mysteries.” Emerson’s private ambition to be a short-story writer failed to bear fruit, but he identified in Hawaiian tradition a source for the words which he could not find. He styled himself as mediator between Hawaiians’ responses to the landscape around them and the written word.

Given Emerson’s obvious romanticism, it is interesting that his conclusions should end up being accepted as scientifically authoritative. His insistence on the primarily poetic, literary nature of Hawaiian tradition obscured insights into the ways in which Hawaiians understood their island world. For them, traditional accounts were profoundly connected to the narration of Hawaiian history and had ongoing resonance in contemporary politics and society.

By denying the relevance of Hawaiian lore as a historical source, Emerson partook in the efforts of his fellow mission children and grandchildren to undermine the indigenous population and to lay their own claims to dominance. This position would become most visibly expressed by the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and the annexation of the islands to the United States in 1898.

Emerson and other mission descendants also shared an uncertain identity, caught between Hawaiian birth and American “civilization.” The fact that these architects of American empire in Hawai‘i experienced such uncertainties suggests to me that the foundations of American empire in the Pacific were often shaky. In the end, it made me wonder if we should understand American imperialism as something other than all-powerful or inevitable.

A page of Emerson’s unpublished and undated essay “General Remarks on Translation.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Tom Smith is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cambridge and a 2016–17 Arts and Humanities Research Council–Huntington Fellow.

Evelyn Waugh as Reader, Writer, Collector

Evelyn Waugh, pictured here around 1950, loved books as literature and beautiful objects. Photographic print from the Evelyn Waugh Papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Early in his life, the celebrated British writer Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966) thought he’d make furniture for a living; he also studied art. While he ultimately abandoned those paths, his desire to make beautiful things never ceased. Loren and Frances Rothschild’s 2013 gift of their Evelyn Waugh collection made The Huntington the home of many of those beautiful objects. Waugh’s books are works of art beyond the quality of the sentences they contain. He devoted tremendous effort to polish his prose, but he also took great care with the production of finely bound autograph manuscripts and gift editions of his books.

During Waugh’s lifetime, and even in the years following his death, it was easy for his personality to eclipse the importance and pleasure of his writing. That began to change with the remarkable television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited in 1981, when a consensus emerged, acknowledging the elegant craft on display in virtually every bit of work he created without denying the frequently prickly nature of his behavior.

Naomi Milthorpe, a presenter at the Waugh conference, has been studying Waugh’s juvenilia at The Huntington, including “Heath Mount BC 55,” a humorous depiction of Heath Mount School in Hampstead, England, as it might have appeared in ancient times. Waugh attended the school from the age of 10 to 14. Illustration by Waugh and Hooper, 1916, Evelyn Waugh Papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Waugh’s appreciation for the book as object and as literary art is the inspiration behind the conference “Evelyn Waugh: Reader, Writer, Collector,” taking place on May 5 and 6 in Rothenberg Hall. The Rothschilds’ gift—which includes 250 rare books and reference books and 135 letters and manuscripts by the author—is the catalyst for the conference, a collaboration between The Huntington, the Evelyn Waugh Society, and the UK-based Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project.

Members of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project are working with Oxford University Press to produce a 43-volume scholarly edition of all Waugh’s works, with the first volumes scheduled to appear in the months following the conference. Many of the project’s editors are also members of The Evelyn Waugh Society, which was established in 2008 and produces Evelyn Waugh Studies, a peer-reviewed quarterly journal.

Duff Cooper bookplate pasted inside the autograph draft of Waugh’s travelogue Ninety-Two Days, Evelyn Waugh Papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Both groups have lost no time in exploring The Huntington’s new holdings: Naomi Milthorpe, a 2015–16 short-term Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow at The Huntington, has already incorporated her findings into a book, Evelyn Waugh’s Satire: Texts and Contexts, while Douglas Lane Patey, Sophia Smith Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, has been studying the manuscript of Waugh’s Ninety-Two Days for his new edition of the travelogue. Both will be presenting at our conference, along with leading Waugh biographers, archivists, and editors.

Together, we will be exploring the concept of editing as an act of collection (gathering materials and collating across continents) and investigating what Waugh’s own collections of fine books and paintings can tell us about his life and work. The participation of archivists and one speaker who was present when the first of Waugh’s possessions made it to the United States will encourage us to reflect on the role institutions play in maintaining, interpreting, and promoting collections.

Waugh’s popularity continues to rise, both as a subject of study and as a first-class literary writer and entertainer. The Waugh Society and the Complete Works project members are thrilled to partner with The Huntington as we celebrate the Rothschilds’ gift and the access it gives scholars to Evelyn Waugh’s world.

Books from the Evelyn Waugh Papers, with Waugh’s autograph manuscript of his travelogue Ninety-Two Days at bottom right. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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

In conjunction with the conference, The Huntington will display, in the East Foyer of the Library’s Main Exhibition Hall, two items from the Rothschilds’ gift to the Library.  The autograph manuscript of Ninety-two Days, with its slipcase, will be on view. This is Waugh’s 1933 account of his travel to Guyana and Brazil. Also on display will be the corrected typescript of Waugh’s first novel, Decline and Fall (1928), a satire of the honor codes of the British gentleman, the culture of Oxford, and the foibles of upper-class society.

Chip Long, associate professor of International and European Studies at Portland State University, is editing a new edition of Waugh’s Life of Right Reverend Ronald Knox (1959) and is chairman of the Evelyn Waugh Society. Barbara Cooke is research associate for the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project at the University of Leicester and is co-editing Waugh’s autobiography, A Little Learning (1964).

Five Lessons Learned in the California Garden

The striking blues, pinks, and purples of the Australian native Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’ at the center of the allée often stops visitors in their tracks. While not a California native, it does well in this climate. Photo by Kate Lain.

As you stroll through the Frances and Sidney Brody California Garden, you may find it hard to believe that, just a few years ago, the same space was used primarily as a walkway and parking lot.

The new garden opened in 2015 as part of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center (EVC). Today, fruitless olives, several varieties of oaks, and a selection of native and other drought-tolerant plants greet visitors with a stunning display of colors, textures, and fragrances.

But like plants in most (if not all) new gardens, some didn’t perform as expected. We asked Seth Baker, head gardener of the EVC, to share the top five lessons he has learned while taking care of the new plants.

Clumping grasses, like this Slender Veldt Grass (Pennisetum spathiolatum) near the 1919 café, grow quickly, make a dramatic impact, and are inexpensive, according to Seth Baker, head EVC gardener at The Huntington. Photo by Kate Lain.

1. Be flexible
“We selected a wide range of plants to see what would acclimate. What you see are the things that have done well.” For instance, Baker loved the bright white blooms of coastal yarrow (Achillea millefolium ‘Sonoma Coast’), but without coastal winds moving through the plant, it developed powdery mildew. The plants had to be removed. On the other hand, a variety of coastal buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens) with beautiful reddish-pink flowers grew splendidly. “We’ve planted more of that one,” he says.

2. Pay attention to the soil (and then keep foot traffic away)
When the EVC was under construction, roughly 20 acre feet of topsoil was removed to avoid its becoming compacted by heavy machinery. After construction was done, the topsoil was returned. The plants grew extremely well in the loose soil, in many cases reaching mature size after a single season. But in one area where people created a shortcut by passing through a hedge of toyon, the plants on either side are stunted. “Roots grow more easily and live longer in soil that’s not compacted,” says Baker.

Finding the right amount of water to get native sages started can be tricky, especially in summer. This Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii) is one of the more forgiving species, tolerating some regular watering. Photo by Kate Lain.

3. Tweak the water schedule
The California Garden opened in the month of April, not long before the onslaught of summer heat. To establish the plants, the gardeners gave them abundant water. But many native plants are notoriously fickle and don’t like their roots to become wet in summer. Quite a few native plants succumbed to root rot. Then the garden crew cut back on water too dramatically, and other specimens whose roots couldn’t withstand the long periods of intense heat were lost. After a period of trial and error, Baker and his team hit upon a successful schedule for natives: water briefly for three days in a row, then wait two weeks. (Now that the plants are established, he’s extended that waiting period to three weeks.) Each planting area has unique conditions, so take time to figure out what works well in your garden.

4. Three cheers for grasses
Baker has been impressed by the performance of clumping grasses. They’re inexpensive, tolerant of different soil and moisture conditions, and make a big impact quickly while you wait for slow growers to fill in. He especially likes the field of Festuca mairei between the Celebration Garden and the Huntington Art Gallery (technically just outside of the California Garden), and deergrass (Muhlenbergia) peppered throughout the garden. Other well performing grasses include Carex divulsa (around the California pepper trees at the entrance) and Lomandra longifolia ‘Breeze’ (in the Stroll Garden and in pots along the allée of the California Garden).

The California Garden functions as a sort of idea lab, providing a space for experimenting with differing combinations of plant color, texture, and height. Seen here are bright yellow Hartweg’s Sundrops (Calylophus hartwegii), Silver Spurge (Euphorbia rigida), and the upright, blue-green Sea Squill (Urginea maritima), which will produce tall stalks of white blooms in late summer. Photo by Kate Lain.

5. Common plants are common for a reason
After losing quite a few of the more unusual plants, Baker has newfound respect for unique varieties of common plants. A case in point: he’s had great success with Roman Beauty rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Roman Beauty’) and Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas ‘Wings of Night’). He achieved the swells of green leaves and purple flowers he was after—no mildew, root rot, or dieback in sight.

His overarching advice: Be willing to adapt your design. “Gardening is not like choosing tile for your kitchen. When you put in a garden, you’re not done,” he says. “It’s a process.” Gardens evolve over time, letting you know what works and what needs tweaking. For Baker, the ever-changing nature of a garden is also one of its most appealing characteristics. “Each day brings surprises,” he says.

Related content on Verso:
Top Ten Water-Wise Plants (April 18, 2016)
If Not Lawn, Then What? (October 6, 2015)
A California Garden (March 27, 2015)

Thinking of adding a few new selections to your garden this spring? Why not explore the 43rd Annual Plant Sale, taking place April 28–30, 2017? On offer will be a wide range of drought-resistant plants, vegetable seedlings, herbs, fruit trees, unusual cacti and succulents, and much more. The sale is open to Members only on Friday, April 28, from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. All Huntington visitors can shop at the sale on Saturday, April 29, from 1–5 p.m. and on Sunday, April 30, from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

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

Preserving the Signs of Censorship

Kristi Westberg, the Dibner Book Conservator at The Huntington, works to preserve a copy of Primum mobile (Prime Mover), an astronomy book by the Austrian humanist and astronomer Erasmus Oswald Schreckenfuchs (1511–1579). Photo by Kate Lain.

Five hundred years before government officials in some countries got in the business of censoring Instagram feeds or Twitter accounts, the Roman Catholic Church was using ink to black out text that it considered dangerous. Censors went through books, including scientific texts, and crossed off portions that defied Church doctrine. One such book is The Huntington’s copy of Primum mobile (Prime Mover), an astronomy book by the Austrian humanist and astronomer Erasmus Oswald Schreckenfuchs (1511–1579).

This copy of Primum mobile was typeset by hand, printed on high-quality rag paper, and bound in parchment. Despite being 450 years old, it barely shows its age. The title page displays an illustration of an armillary sphere—an ancient astronomical device that reproduces a model of the celestial sphere—with the Earth at its center, but there are several brown ink spots that mar the image. When you turn the page, it becomes evident that the book’s censor, blacking out some offending text, applied iron gall ink, a compound made of iron salts and tannic acids.

The book’s censor, blacking out some offending text on the back of the title page, applied iron gall ink, a compound made of iron salts and tannic acids. Photo by Kate Lain.

Iron gall ink is more permanent than carbon ink, and over time, its intense blue-black color fades to brown. Under certain conditions, including high humidity, iron gall ink can corrode and damage the paper beneath it. Several of the blacked-out areas of this volume showed signs of corrosion, and the most dramatically damaged areas had small holes and text losses where the censor applied ink more heavily.

As a book conservator, my challenge was to repair the fragile areas of the obscured text without adding additional moisture that could accelerate the chemical reactions causing the holes. The solution? Solvent set tissue. This type of repair tissue is perfectly suited to such a problem. It is very lightweight but strong thanks to its long fibers, and with a little preparation, it can be adhered to weak areas of the text with ethanol, a solvent that evaporates quickly.

Solvent set tissue is made by applying a special adhesive on a piece of thin polyester, dropping a lightweight piece of Japanese paper on top, and then waiting for it to dry. Photo by Kate Lain.

Solvent set tissue is made by applying a special adhesive on a piece of thin polyester, dropping a lightweight piece of Japanese paper on top, and then waiting for it to dry. In this case, I used Klucel G, a flexible adhesive that can be dried and reactivated with water or ethanol. (Head to Tumblr to see how solvent set tissue is made.)

I then cut a small piece of the coated tissue to the shape of the hole, extending it a little beyond the degraded paper to the more stable and flexible unmarked page. I brushed Ethanol on a black tile to insure even application of the solvent and to help me see the nearly transparent repair piece. Next, I dropped the repair piece on top of the brushed-out Ethanol to reactivate the adhesive.

Westberg brushes Ethanol on a black tile to insure even application of the solvent and to help her see the nearly transparent repair piece. Photo by Kate Lain.

Using a pair of fine tweezers, I lifted the repair tissue off the tile, placed it on the degraded part of the text, and tamped it down with a soft brush. To ensure the newly repaired area remained flat and completely dry, I placed a piece of smooth, porous fabric called Hollytex on top of it, along with a dry blotter and a light weight. I repeated this process on several parts of the page to provide support to the fragile areas.

Using a pair of fine tweezers, Westberg places the repair tissue on the degraded part of the page and tamps it down with a soft brush. Photo by Kate Lain.

After several hours of carefully cutting and placing repairs, I was pleased with the stability of the degraded areas. While these repairs might seem small, they are important to the overall preservation of this rare copy of Prime Mover. The censored areas have become an integral part of the volume, so repairing the weaknesses and text losses help to make it safe for use by researchers. I don’t support censorship, but I do support preserving evidence of the practice.

A close-up of Westberg’s repair work on the title page of Primum mobile. Photo by Kate Lain.

The American Library Association’s Preservation Week runs from April 23–29. For more information, visit their Preservation Week website.

Kristi Westberg is the Dibner Book Conservator at The Huntington.

Big Bonsai? Not Really

Kyoto-based landscape designer Takuhiro Yamada (far right) and his pruning crew, from left to right: Kaori Ashida, Tomohiko Kawamura, Yusuke Nakabayashi, and Shigeki Masuda. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

For Kyoto-based landscape designer Takuhiro Yamada, the tea garden he designed in The Huntington’s Japanese Garden is a work in progress. Each year, he returns to check on its development and chooses a few areas where he can help infuse the plants, shrubs, and trees with a design aesthetic that harks back to Japan—or, more specifically, to Kyoto.

In the long growing season of Southern California, quite a bit of growth occurs in a year. What struck Yamada when he returned earlier this year was that the leaves and branches on many of the pine trees had become so dense and thick that they started resembling big bonsai.

During his annual pruning visit to The Huntington’s Japanese Garden, Yamada noticed that the branches of the black pine (Pinus thunbergii) near the teahouse were looking too much like a big bonsai. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

He looks at a black pine (Pinus thunbergii) near the teahouse, for instance. “The top part is open the way I like it but the bottom has too many small branches clustered together,” says the designer. To him, the shape reads too much like a bonsai, which by definition has a compact form. By contrast, a landscape tree needs to have a nice, open shape.

A tree’s contours also contribute to a visitor’s mood, says Robert Hori, The Huntington’s gardens cultural curator. “If a tree is too tightly cropped, you’ll feel tension,” he says. “By opening up a tree and letting more air circulate, it gives it a more relaxed feel, encouraging the visitor to relax, too.”

Yamada walks to the Zillgitt bonsai court and points to another black pine planted in the center. This tree also has a compact shape. In this case, though, it works, he says. Its location in the bonsai court makes it okay for its style to imitate the small trees in pots.

The compact form of this black pine didn’t bother Yamada because of its location in the Zillgitt bonsai court. Photo by Kate Lain.

Descending a few steps further into the Japanese Garden, he assesses other trees. He walks up to a black pine that he’s been pruning for about five years. “I’ve been thinning this one to create lightness and airiness,” he said. When he thinks about its shape, he imagines the branches as different levels of a terrace. At the same time, the overall feel must be a relaxed, soft form, not flat or rigid.

Pine trees benefit from pruning two or three times a year—once in winter as Yamada does, but at least once in spring to early summer when the upright buds at the branch tips, called candles, form. Selectively pruning the candles is another way to nudge the tree in the right direction.

The Japanese landscape designer does what he can with once-a-year pruning. Standing back, he appraises its form. “It’s on the way,” he’ll allow.

Yamada has been pruning this black pine for about five years. It doesn’t quite have the softness he’s after, but it’s “on the way.” Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

Yamada has also been making his mark elsewhere in the Japanese Garden. Last year, he noticed that the azaleas on the upper banks of the garden were looking very manicured. “I advised the landscape crew to leave them more natural and take off only the pieces of the plant that were really sticking out,” he says.

He evaluates the azaleas now and appreciates their rolling, mounding appearance. They look better, he says, more in keeping with a style that you’d see in Kyoto’s famous gardens, such as Ginkaku-Ji or Ryoan-Ji.

Installing a Japanese garden correctly is crucial, says Yamada, but so is maintaining it. Knowing that, he happily returns each year, gently pruning and shaping the plants in keeping with the centuries-old traditions of his hometown of Kyoto.

Related content on Verso:
LISTEN>> Japanese Tea Ceremony (June 3, 2016)
Pruning, Kyoto-style (March 14, 2016)
Worth the Wait (Aug. 7, 2015)

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

Recent Lectures: Feb. 23–April 12, 2017

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of 10 recent lectures.

Potosí, Silver, and the Coming of the Modern World (April 12, 2017)
John Demos, Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University and the Ritchie Distinguished Fellow at The Huntington, presents an account of Potosí, the great South American silver mine and boomtown that galvanized imperial Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, fueled the rise of capitalism, destroyed native peoples and cultures en masse, and changed history—for good or ill? This talk is part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Unraveling the Mysteries of Exploding Stars (April 3, 2017)
Tony Piro, the George Ellery Hale Distinguished Scholar in Theoretical Astrophysics at the Carnegie Observatories, discusses how scientists are combining observations with theoretical modeling to unravel the mysteries of supernovae. This talk is part of the Carnegie Astronomy Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

A Recipe is More than a Recipe (March 29, 2017)
Long before recipes were shared on the internet, they were passed among friends and compiled into community cookbooks published as charity fundraisers. Drawing on The Huntington’s Anne M. Cranston cookbook collection, food writer Patric Kuh discusses what these shared recipes can tell us, not just about food and community but about the changes that shaped the way Americans cook. Kuh is the author of Finding the Flavors We Lost: From Bread to Bourbon, How Artisans Reclaimed American Food.

 

Framing a New Elegance: The World of George T. Marsh and His Japanese House (March 28, 2017)
Originally conceived by art dealer George T. Marsh as an exotic setting in which to sell curiosities, the building that in 1912 became The Huntington’s Japanese House is a beautiful remnant of a transformational moment in design history. Art historian Hannah Sigur puts Marsh and his house in context, discussing the factors that helped make Japanese aesthetics the basis of good taste at the turn of the 20th century. This talk is part of the East Asian Garden Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Excavating the Book (March 20, 2017)
Stephen Orgel, J. E. Reynolds Professor in Humanities at Stanford University, discusses books and their marketing throughout history, emphasizing the ways in which books are embedded in history, and how literary interpretation is at least partly a form of archaeology. This talk is part of the Zamorano Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Kate Sessions: A Legacy of Botanical Bounty (March 19, 2017)
Landscape historian Nancy Carol Carter examines the horticultural legacy of Kate Sessions (1857–1940), the pioneering nursery owner and garden designer who left an indelible mark on the Southern California landscape. Best known for her work in San Diego, Sessions is credited with introducing and popularizing many of the beloved tree species in the region. The lecture is presented in collaboration with the California Garden and Landscape History Society.

 

The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics (March 15, 2017)
Mae Ngai, Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and professor of history at Columbia University, discusses the role of Chinese miners in the 19th-century gold rushes of California, Australia, and South Africa, and the rise of anti-Chinese politics in the West. This talk is part of the Cheng Foundation Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Remarkable New Discoveries from Hummingbird Rescue (March 5, 2017)
Hummingbird rehabilitator Terry Masear presents a lecture about nature’s tiny “flying jewels” and the work of the dedicated volunteers of the Los Angeles Hummingbird Rescue. Since its inception in 2007, the group has rehabilitated and released back into the wild 10,000 orphaned or injured birds. This talk is part of the Southern California Gardener Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

A Satire of the Three Estates: Renaissance Scotland’s Best Kept Secret? (March 1, 2017)
Greg Walker, Regius Professor of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, discusses Sir David Lyndsay’s remarkable play, A Satire of the Three Estates, probably the most dramatically and politically radical piece of theater produced in 16th-century Britain. This talk is part of the Crotty Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Founder’s Day Lecture (Feb. 23, 2017)
David Zeidberg looks back on some of the many highlights of his career in the annual Founder’s Day lecture.

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

Transcription Challenge for Civil War Telegrams

On the “Decoding the Civil War” website, a citizen archivist transcribes the first line of an encoded telegram.

In June 2016, The Huntington launched a crowdsourcing project called “Decoding the Civil War” to transcribe and decipher a collection of 15,922 U.S. Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. This extraordinarily rare collection, acquired by The Huntington in 2012, is a near-complete archive of the papers of Thomas T. Eckert (1825–1910), the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln.

Funded in part by a two-year federal grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the project involves a partnership between The Huntington, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and Zooniverse, the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research.

Thus far, the project has enlisted more than 3,900 volunteers—known as “citizen archivists”—who have transcribed roughly half of the handwritten telegrams. But there is still much more work to be done. As a result, The Huntington and its partners have issued a challenge: double the rate of transcriptions per day over the next two weeks.

Encoded telegram from President Lincoln to General Weitzel, April 12, 1865, from a ledger of the United States Military Telegraph, War Department, Jan. 21, 1864–Dec. 7, 1865. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Our volunteers have been doing yeoman’s service to collectively turn out roughly 200 pages of transcriptions per day,” says Mario Einaudi, Kemble Digital Projects Librarian at The Huntington. “However, we have fallen behind where we had hoped to be at this stage of our project. So, we are asking both new and current volunteers to help us transcribe 10 telegram ledgers—a total of nearly 600 pages of telegrams—between April 17 and May 1. This will help us achieve our goal of having the greater part of the ledgers transcribed by June 2017.”

People interested in participating in the transcription challenge can go to the project’s Zooniverse website, “Decoding the Civil War,” take a brief tutorial that explains the process for transcribing a telegram, and find further information on the project. If participants are interested in joining discussions on particular telegrams, then they will need to create a user name and password by registering with Zooniverse.

“The canard is often repeated that libraries and archives are dead. Or, if not dead, then they are simply morgues for outdated material,” says Einaudi. “Our partners and volunteers have demonstrated that active collaboration, research, and discovery are still vital. Working together, we can meet this challenge!”

Decoded telegram from General Darius N. Couch to General George G. Meade, 3:10 p.m., Harrisburg, Pa., July 1, 1863. The last four words, great battle very soon, were added by the telegraph operator and presage the Battle of Gettysburg. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can start transcribing telegrams now at the “Decoding the Civil War” website.

Related content on Verso:
Decoding the Civil War (June 21, 2016)

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

Do Not Open

Phonograph record of actor Joseph H. Hazelton reminiscing about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The recording was made in 1933 at Freeman Lang’s studios in Hollywood, California. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington Library is a vast treasure box, replete with more than nine million items, including rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and maps. In addition, the Library houses a variety of oddities—such as a set of false teeth, an Oscar statuette, and a collection of vintage light bulbs. For someone like Aric Allen, our staff video producer, a random chat with a curator can turn into a delightful process of discovery. That’s what happened when he learned about a mysterious box in the Library’s vault with a warning on it: “Do Not Open.”

The curator in question was Jenny Watts, The Huntington’s curator of photography and visual culture, who became aware of the box some years ago while researching a major photography exhibition on death and dying in the U.S. Civil War. Inside the box, and off limits, was the only known copy of a large, fragile disc on which was recorded the voice of the actor Joseph H. Hazelton (1855–1936), an eyewitness to the Lincoln assassination when he was just a boy. (While the record itself is much too fragile to spin on any turntable, the Hazelton audio is available online at the Huntington Digital Library.)

In Aric Allen’s video, the Hazelton recording is prepared for its close-up by Jessamy Gloor, a conservator at The Huntington.

In his video, Allen pieces together the curious story of the recording, Hazelton’s eyewitness account, and the value of such a historic artifact (especially curious, given that Hazelton’s recollection of the assassination was riddled with inaccuracies). In fact, the story seems particularly timely, providing a tiny window into how so-called eyewitness accounts can turn into “alternative facts.”

Timely, too, because this weekend marks the 152nd anniversary of Lincoln’s death, which occurred on April 15, 1865.

You can learn about highlights in the Library’s collections related to the U.S. Civil War on The Huntington’s website.

Related content on Verso:
Lincoln’s Last Hours (April 14, 2015)

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

Aric Allen is video producer in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.