A Nose for the Rose

The rose ‘Twilight Zone’ exudes a scent reminiscent of lemon and clove. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

The rose ‘Twilight Zone’ exudes a scent reminiscent of lemon and clove. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem,
For that sweet odour, which doth in it live . . .

So wrote Shakespeare four centuries ago, and many people today would agree that while the beauty of a rose is exceptional, what truly inspires us is its scent.

The Huntington’s historic Rose Garden is home to 1,400 rose cultivars, with two large beds dedicated entirely to the collection’s most fragrant roses. Cultivars like ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Julia Child’ have a spicy scent, while fruitier fragrances like those of ‘Just Joey’ and ‘George Burns’ also hang in the air.

Not that producing fragrant roses is a walk in the park for plant hybridizers.

As luck would have it, lack of fragrance is a dominant trait, showing up far more frequently than the recessive trait of fragrance, says Tom Carruth—an award-winning hybridizer of roses and the E.L. and Ruth B. Shannon Curator of the Rose Collections at The Huntington.

‘Tamora’ has a strong scent of myrrh with citrus undertones. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

‘Tamora’ has a strong scent of myrrh with citrus undertones. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

“For a rose to have a strong scent, it must inherit the fragrance gene from both of its parents,” says Carruth. In addition, perfume is genetically linked in roses to color instability, shorter vase life, and disease susceptibility, further challenging rose breeders.

That perhaps explains why some people mistakenly got the impression that roses had lost their scent. Not so, says Carruth. Most breeders of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s were striving for lasting pure colors to the detriment of fragrance. Yet a few diligent hybridizers of that time recognized the marketability of new and potently fragrant cultivars, laying the groundwork for modern garden roses of today. Gardeners have an abundant choice of beautiful and perfumed roses.

The florist trade, on the other hand, still struggles to produce plants combining beauty and fragrance. Today, florist roses are imported from distant countries—such as Ecuador, Israel, and Kenya. For these roses, long-life and lasting color are paramount.

“Greenhouse roses are bred for stable color, stem length, and shipability,” says Carruth. “Those characteristics have generally come at the expense of fragrance.”

Developed by Carruth in 2004, ‘Julia Child’ is prized for its spicy fragrance and constant yellow blooms. Celebrity chef Julia Child chose the cultivar to bear her name. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Developed by Carruth in 2004, ‘Julia Child’ is prized for its spicy fragrance and constant yellow blooms. Celebrity chef Julia Child chose the cultivar to bear her name. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Help may be on the way thanks to some recent research. Scientists at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research announced earlier this month that they have discovered the gene that causes the rose’s scent. The identification of the gene may enable both garden and florist rose hybridizers to breed fragrant roses more consistently.

In the meantime, The Huntington’s garden roses smell wonderful. Some of the garden’s most aromatic cultivars include ‘Twilight Zone’, redolent of clove and lemon; ‘Tamora’, with its strong scent of myrrh; and ‘Julia Child’, whose perfume recalls sweet licorice and spice.

“Give the newer garden roses a try,” says Carruth, “It’s time to stop and smell them again.”

Related content on Verso:
Tough Love for Roses (May 5, 2015)

Sara Schacht is an intern in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

A Window into The Huntington

Chaucerian calligraphy lends its intricate forms to the front windows of the Mapel Orientation Gallery.

Chaucerian calligraphy lends its intricate forms to the front windows of the Mapel Orientation Gallery.

Before entering the Mapel Orientation Gallery, take a moment to notice the elegant outlines floating on the front windows. These silhouettes, which greet you as you enter and bid you a pleasant day as you leave, are a snapshot of The Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections.

Portland, Ore.-based artist Katura Reynolds envisioned “…something that felt like a sort of mad tea party, Huntington-style.” True to her words, Reynolds created a playful jumble of Huntington icons—juxtaposing an otherworldly cactus with a pristine Tiffany lamp and a section from Alessandro Piccolomini’s 16th-century Star Chart, among other items—and succeeded in blending them into a coherent whole. To correctly identify the dozen objects represented in her design, pick up a laminated key to the front window art at the gallery’s information desk.

A preliminary “doodle” shows a celestial motif in the upper right-hand corner above the Mackmurdo chair. The final composition omitted the celestial motif and replaced it with quotes from Alessandro Piccolomini’s Star Chart (1540).

A preliminary “doodle” shows a celestial motif in the upper right-hand corner above the Mackmurdo chair. The final composition omitted the celestial motif and replaced it with quotes from Alessandro Piccolomini’s Star Chart (1540).

In order to create her vision, Reynolds used a stylus, graphic tablet, and Photoshop software to draw her initial doodles. The hand drawings then went through multiple revisions, virtual cleanups, and layout edits before emerging as clean illustrations with bold and flowing lines. Recreating the intricacies of quill-written text proved especially challenging. Reynolds ended up making high-resolution scans of the library materials to create a black-and-white digital copy. With certain parts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, she had to redraw the text for better contrast.

The effortless quality of the final drawings belies the challenge Reynolds faced as she struggled with scaling up images to fill each 12-foot-wide window. As an artist who specializes in science and nature drawings, Reynolds is accustomed to working on a smaller scale. To achieve the larger scale, she created an Excel spreadsheet that calculated proportions for each item; then, as if by magic, the tiny drawings started to fill up the space. “It’s the first time I’ve used a spreadsheet in an art project!” she says.

“In the original, you can see the contrast between the red, the gold, and the blue, but when it shifted to black and white, all that became just a dark blob,” explains Katura Reynolds, describing the challenge of transferring the 600-year-old illuminated manuscript to window stencils. Left: Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343–1402), The Prioress’s Tale, from the Ellesmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, England, ca. 1400–1405. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Right: detail of the prioress in the Mapel Orientation Gallery window.

“In the original, you can see the contrast between the red, the gold, and the blue, but when it shifted to black and white, all that became just a dark blob,” explains Katura Reynolds, describing the challenge of transferring the 600-year-old illuminated manuscript to window stencils. Left: Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343–1402), The Prioress’s Tale, from the Ellesmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, England, ca. 1400–1405. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Right: detail of the prioress in the Mapel Orientation Gallery window.

Despite the challenges, the completed windows manage to encompass the diverse collections at The Huntington in subtle yet unexpected ways. For instance, Reynolds placed a red-whiskered bulbul on the edge of an Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo 19th-century chair, further accentuating the chair’s soft, natural lines. Reynolds worked with gallery designer Karina White to capture a certain mood for the design. “We both wanted it to have a playful feel while acknowledging the dignity and history of the content. I think it worked out really well,” said Reynolds.

The next time you visit The Huntington, be sure to check out the Mapel Orientation Gallery’s windows; they may inspire the itinerary for your next tour of the grounds.

A red-whiskered bulbul perched on an Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo 19th-century chair playfully juxtaposes the natural realm and man-made craftsmanship, a motif often favored by the Arts and Crafts Movement.

A red-whiskered bulbul perched on an Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo 19th-century chair playfully juxtaposes the natural realm and man-made craftsmanship, a motif often favored by the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Related content on Verso:
Quirky Tours (Jul. 7, 2015)
Taking the Long View (May 19, 2015)
Let’s Get Oriented (Apr. 3, 2015)

Christine Quach is a web editor in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

(The) Magna C(h)arta

This is a detail of an illuminated leaf that comes from one of The Huntington’s 15th-century manuscript copies of the 1225 Magna Carta. The text, like the title, is in Latin, so the page is simply titled “Magna Carta.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This is a detail of an illuminated leaf that comes from one of The Huntington’s 15th-century manuscript copies of the 1225 Magna Carta. The text, like the title, is in Latin, so the page is simply titled “Magna Carta.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A popular rule of etiquette recommends avoiding two topics in polite conversation: politics and religion. I would add a third—grammar. No discussion becomes more heated than a debate over whether it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. Grammar provides the rules we use to clearly express our complex thoughts and emotions. So when we engage in a discussion about grammar, we sometimes trigger strong emotions.

Some people blatantly disregard the rules of grammar, and shame on them! But complicating the situation is the reality that these rules are constantly changing. Historians, anthropologists, and linguists know that language is culturally constructed, and that as culture changes, so too does language. Every quarter, for example, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary add new words to their online dictionary to reflect current trends in language. Those changes are then added to their printed edition. (June’s update included “crowdfund,” for instance.) Rules from an 18th-century school primer would look quite odd to readers today. While we accept that language and the way we use it must change over time, those alterations make grammar-conscientious people anxious, if not downright angry.

This detail from the frontispiece of William Dugdale’s 1655 Monasticon Anglicanum demonstrates the common spelling of “Magnae Chartae,” the plural of "Magna Charta" (with a “Ch”).  As the caption at the top of the page is in Latin, there is no “the” in front of "Magnae Chartae." The document in the king's hand reads "Magna Charta," also with a "Ch" and no "the." The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This detail from the frontispiece of William Dugdale’s 1655 Monasticon Anglicanum demonstrates the common spelling of “Magnae Chartae,” the plural of “Magna Charta” (with a “Ch”). As the caption at the top of the page is in Latin, there is no “the” in front of “Magnae Chartae.” The document in the king’s hand reads “Magna Charta,” also with a “Ch” and no “the.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington recently opened a new exhibition: “Magna Carta: Law and Legend 1215-2015.” In preparation, people from across the institution engaged in thoughtful discussions as to whether the exhibition should be called “The Magna Carta” or “Magna Carta.” “The Magna Carta” just sounded right, but “Magna Carta” (without the “The”) is correct. This is because Latin doesn’t have articles; as a result, the Latin phrase “Magna Carta” doesn’t require a “The” in front of it. It is correct, however, to say “the 1215 Magna Carta” or “the Great Charter”—the first because “1215” serves as an adjective between the article “the” and the Latin phrase, and the second because English requires an article.

The current conversation about using “the” before “Magna Carta” is just the latest in a long history of discussions about the correct pronunciation of the Latin name for the Great Charter. Up through the 19th century, people frequently wrote “Magna Charta,” adding an “h” after the “C” in “Carta.” Both “Charta” and “Carta” are correct spellings, according to Latin convention, but both versions of the word should be pronounced with a hard “k” sound: “KAHR-tuh.”

Toward the end of the 19th century, many English-speakers were mispronouncing “Charta” with a “ch” sound. Orthoepists (people who study pronunciation) took issue with this. Those in the know began preferring the spelling of “Carta” as a way of pushing casual speakers to use the correct pronunciation.

The 1795 James Gillray cartoon titled “Genius of France” shows Britannia laying Magna Charta (again with a “Ch,” and again with no article “the”) at the feet of the French Revolution. (Click the image above to see a larger version of it; the "Magna Charta" is the document lying on the ground under the spear.) Visual sources like this help scholars plot the evolution of language over time. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The 1795 James Gillray cartoon titled “Genius of France” shows Britannia laying Magna Charta (again with a “Ch,” and again with no article “the”) at the feet of the French Revolution. (Click the image above to see a larger version of it; the “Magna Charta” is the document lying on the ground under the spear.) Visual sources like this help scholars plot the evolution of language over time. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In the months that led up to the opening of the exhibition, I had the opportunity to speak with many groups about Magna Carta, its history, and its evolving meaning. The most common question I heard was this: “Why are you saying ‘Magna Carta,’ not ‘the Magna Carta’?” We are often sheepish about clarifying points that may seem obvious to others but make us feel ill-informed. I think it takes courage to ask this kind of question, and I greatly admire those who ask it. The truth is, language is slippery and the rules and conventions we cling to change over time. This question about using “the” before “Magna Carta” cuts right to the source of our insecurities.

The Huntington is a place where people come to learn, talk, and explore. Asking questions that make us uneasy is a necessary part of learning. Shifting trends in grammar certainly make us uneasy, but questions about language open up larger conversations about The Huntington’s collections and exhibitions. They encourage us to consider changes over time in new ways.

“Magna Carta: Law and Legend 1215–2015” runs through Oct. 12, 2015, in the Library’s West Hall.

Related content on Verso:
Running at Runnymede (June 9, 2015)

Vanessa Wilkie is William A. Moffett Curator of British Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington.

For the Love of Lotus

Two lotus blossoms greet the world from the Lake of Reflected Fragrance. Photo by Laurie Sowd.

Two lotus blossoms greet the world from the Lake of Reflected Fragrance. Photo by Laurie Sowd.

Recent visitors to The Huntington’s Chinese Garden—or Garden of Flowing Fragrance (Liu Fang Yuan)—may have noticed lotus flowers in bloom. The warm summer sun prompted their young leaves to emerge and float on the surface of the Lake of Reflected Fragrance. Later leaves rose above the surface, forming long stalks that became the pedestals for the prized blooms.

The sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) has long been cherished in China and elsewhere in Asia. In a recent essay on the symbolism of the lotus, Duncan Campbell, the June and Simon K.C. Li Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies and Curator of the Chinese Garden, writes: “Of enormous significance within the symbolic world of traditional China, the lotus was most intimately connected with Buddhist iconography: the flower that rises from the mud is not itself sullied. The seed pods, flowers, and buds of the lotus have been understood by many to represent the past, present, and the future.” The Chinese names for the lotus, lian or he, pun with words that mean “continuity” and “harmony,” both important aspects of traditional belief systems.

Photogenic lotuses make for great close-ups. The Love for the Lotus Pavilion is an ideal spot for grabbing a few snapshots of surrounding scenery. Photo by Christine Quach.

Photogenic lotuses make for great close-ups. The Love for the Lotus Pavilion is an ideal spot for grabbing a few snapshots of surrounding scenery. Photo by Christine Quach.

The lotus has also served as a source of inspiration for Chinese writers and philosophers. Hunanese Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) wrote that the lotus was a symbol of integrity: “Rising unsullied from the mud, bathing in the clear ripples but never with meretricious intent, wholesome within and straight without, neither spreading like a vine nor sprouting from a branch, its fragrance growing ever more pure as it spreads about, standing tall and erect, to be observed from afar but not dallied with up close.”

This excerpt comes from Zhou’s famous essay titled “On the Love of the Lotus” (Ai Lian Shuo), which inspired the name of the Chinese Garden’s Love for the Lotus Pavilion (Ai Lian Xie). Situated at the lake’s edge, the pavilion provides a perfect viewpoint for observing lotus blooms. Visitors can take it all in: the fabulous flowers, colorful carp, and blissful serenity.

Lotus flowers also bloom in the Lily Ponds, The Huntington’s oldest specialty garden, which Henry Huntington established in 1904. These plants can live a long time. One lotus purchased and planted in 1905 continues to flower each summer. Visitors can also catch a glimpse of The Huntington’s wildlife at the Lily Ponds. Koi, turtles, frogs, and ducks are just a few of the creatures that have taken up residence near the sacred lotus.

The Lily Ponds are home to a pink variety of the sacred lotus. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

The Lily Ponds are home to a pink variety of the sacred lotus. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Sara Schacht is an intern in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

The Missing Fleurs-de-lis

The carpet Astrology, as it is currently displayed in The Huntington Art Gallery. This carpet and its companion, Music, have been been exhibited on the floor of the Large Library since the Huntington mansion first opened as a museum in 1928. Photo by Kate Lain.

The carpet Astrology, as it is currently displayed in The Huntington Art Gallery. This carpet and its companion, Music, have been been exhibited on the floor of the Large Library since the Huntington mansion first opened as a museum in 1928. Photo by Kate Lain.

Next Tuesday is Bastille Day, when France celebrates the start of the French Revolution, which began with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. To mark the occasion, we highlight items in The Huntington’s European art collection that have been forever altered due to the revolution’s success.

Located in the Large Library of the Huntington Art Gallery, two carpets—Astrology and Music—are among 93 large carpets commissioned around 1665 by King Louis XIV to line the Grand Gallery of the Louvre, his Parisian palace. In 17th-century France, the world seemingly revolved around the Sun King, as Louis XIV was known, who was famous for his absolute rule as well as the lavishness of his court and lifestyle.

For 24 years, the Savonnerie Manufactory was dedicated to the task of producing carpets for the Louvre that, laid next to each other, would have extended 1,460 feet. By 1689, all but one of the carpets had been completed, but by then, the king had moved his court to the countryside in Versailles, abandoning his interior design plans for the Louvre.

Two men working at a carpet loom, from Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 31 (Paris: 1751–80). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Two men working at a carpet loom, from Denis Diderot, Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 31 (Paris: 1751–80). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“The carpets were stored in the national furniture warehouse in Paris,” says Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art at The Huntington. “They were never displayed together, as originally intended, but they were still greatly prized. When 10 were presented as diplomatic gifts, replacements were immediately woven to replace them.”

Astrology, in particular, has revolutionary ties. It is believed to have been on the floor of the meeting room of the 1789 Estates-General in Versailles. This meeting of representatives from the nobility, clergy, and common people was called in an attempt to solve a French financial crisis. After an impasse of several months, the Third Estate (the common people) declared themselves the National Assembly, or representatives of the people. Their declaration led to the French Revolution. Thus Astrology was walked upon by the first revolutionaries to protest against the absolute rule of King Louis XVI, the great-great-great-grandson of the Sun King.

The focal point of Astrology is a terrestrial globe, centered among lavish designs, scrollwork, and a wreath of oak leaves. The chain of office of the Order of the Holy Spirit—the highest order of French chivalry—encircles the globe. This symbol emphasized the Sun King’s position in the world order: his monarchy located at the center of France; France, at the center of Europe; and Europe, at the center of the world.

Detail from Astrology, showing the chain of office of the Order of the Holy Spirit encircling the globe. The royal fleurs-de-lis on the ribbon were replaced with a garland of oranges after the French Revolution. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail from Astrology, showing the chain of office of the Order of the Holy Spirit encircling the globe. The royal fleurs-de-lis on the ribbon were replaced with a garland of oranges after the French Revolution. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

While Louis XIV’s absolutism was unmatched in his day, the monarchy’s strength waned after his death, finally falling under the reign of Louis XVI. And when the monarchy fell, its symbols had to be removed.

After Louis XVI’s execution and the public sale of the royal furniture, the fleurs-de-lis that originally decorated the ribbon of the Order of the Holy Spirit on Astrology were replaced with a garland of oranges. This alteration removed all vestiges of the monarchy and feudalism from the carpet, which came to reside in the new government’s Ministry of Justice. Music also lost its fleurs-de-lis and royal monograms.

Arabella Huntington first saw the carpets in the London apartment of American financier J.P. Morgan in 1911. A lover of French decorative arts, Arabella was enamored of the carpets and purchased them after Morgan’s death in 1913. Although Morgan had large portions of the carpets cut out in order to make them fit around his fireplaces, these sections were repaired and rewoven before the carpets arrived at The Huntington.

The quality of the carpets is related to how densely they are knotted. Each square inch of Astrology (detail shown here) contains 90 to 130 knots.

The quality of the carpets is related to how densely they are knotted. Each square inch of Astrology (detail shown here) contains 90 to 130 knots.

Today, the new seams and alterations are still visible, if you look closely. They reflect the carpets’ history—a history woven into the very fibers of Astrology and Music.

You can read more about the Savonnerie carpets in Kimberley Chrisman-Campbell’s “In the Footsteps of the Sun King” on page 14 in the Spring/Summer 2006 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Related content on Verso:
Open to Interpretation (March 17, 2015)

Olivia Hummer is an intern in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Quirky Tours

The Mapel Orientation Gallery, part of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, offers a range of quirky tours—self-guided explorations of The Huntington appealing to a variety of tastes and interests. Photo by Kate Lain.

The Mapel Orientation Gallery, part of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, offers a range of quirky tours—self-guided explorations of The Huntington appealing to a variety of tastes and interests. Photo by Kate Lain.

It’s nearly impossible to experience all that The Huntington has to offer in a single day. There are acres of gardens to explore, hundreds of world-class works of art to gaze upon, and an entire library filled with rare books and manuscripts that bring history and literature to life. How do you decide where to begin your journey? Start at the Mapel Orientation Gallery, which provides a hands-on introduction to the work and legacy of Henry and Arabella Huntington. In the racks on the wall to your right, as you enter the gallery, you will find brochures for quirky, self-guided tours. These brochures offer newcomers road maps of where to go and what to see first, while providing frequent visitors with ideas for new ways to explore the grounds and collections. Choose from several themed itineraries—or select one of each—and set off on a new adventure.

Like other wealthy Americans during the Gilded Age, Arabella Huntington prized the art and design of late 18th-century France for its fine craftsmanship and association with the royal court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In the Large Drawing Room of the Huntington Art Gallery (formerly the Huntingtons' home), many decorative features, including the paneling and chimneypiece, derive from examples in the Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles. Photo by Kate Lain.

Like other wealthy Americans during the Gilded Age, Arabella Huntington prized the art and design of late 18th-century France for its fine craftsmanship and association with the royal court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In the Large Drawing Room of the Huntington Art Gallery (formerly the Huntingtons’ home), many decorative features, including the paneling and chimneypiece, derive from examples in the Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles. Photo by Kate Lain.

With their stately home and expansive collection of rare books, fine art, and botanical specimens, Henry and Arabella Huntington were the definition of a Gilded Age couple. The Huntington’s “Gilded Age” tour is perfect for visitors with similar, expensive tastes, or for those who, using a little imagination, want to travel back in time to an early 20th-century palace of luxury. Visitors will get to know the Huntington Art Gallery well, as this tour highlights the architectural design and grandeur of the Huntingtons’ former digs. An audio tour, available at the gallery entrance, provides detailed information about the history of the mansion and objects in the art collection.

If a trip around the globe sounds more appealing, then the “Wanderlust” tour may be just the ticket. This tour takes you down under to the Australian Garden, where the scent of eucalyptus fills the air. Travelers are then sent to Asia to wander among the bonsai in the Japanese Garden and the picturesque pavilions in the Chinese Garden. Both gardens feature architecture in traditional styles. Visitors may be fooled into thinking that they’ve been whisked away to the Côte d’Azur when they walk through the expansive Palm Garden. Touring the globe has never been so easy… or so cheap.

If you love sharing photos, try the "#Selfie" tour. Tag your Instagram photos #AtTheH, and we might repost or share them in the Mapel Orientation Gallery. The following #AtTheH selfies are by (clockwise, starting at top left): @roronaldy, @beelo36, @1011alcorn, @joshua_zolanski (2014 Huntington communications intern), @tinaibold, and @mollerina007.

If you love sharing photos, try the “#Selfie” tour. Tag your Instagram photos #AtTheH, and we might repost or share them in the Mapel Orientation Gallery. The following #AtTheH selfies are by (clockwise, starting at top left): @roronaldy, @beelo36, @1011alcorn, @joshua_zolanski (2014 Huntington communications intern), @tinaibold, and @mollerina007.

The Huntington loves to see visitors enjoying themselves, and that’s why the “#Selfie” tour invites you to capture yourself amid all The Huntington’s beauty and glory. You can share photos of your visit on Instagram—and be sure to tag your best shots #AtTheH so that they have a chance of being reposted by The Huntington or included on the visitor recommendations wall of the Mapel Orientation Gallery. So, go ahead, show us your best angle.

The gallery offers seven additional tours that fit any mood or interest: “I’m Into Blue,” “I Need to Chill,” “I Love the Macabre,” “I Love L.A.,” “I Love Animals,” and “I Have an Hour”—not to mention one that’s “Just for Kids.” Come and try them all, and happy trails!

You'll find the tour brochures on a wall rack to your right as you  enter the Mapel Orientation Gallery. Snap one up to get a fresh perspective on The Huntington. Photo by Kate Lain.

You’ll find the tour brochures on a wall rack to your right as you enter the Mapel Orientation Gallery. Snap one up to get a fresh perspective on The Huntington. Photo by Kate Lain.

Related content on Verso:
Taking the Long View (May 19, 2015)
Let’s Get Oriented (Apr. 3, 2015)

Sara Schacht is an intern in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Happy Birthday, USA!

Alexander Calder, Sphere and Spiral, 1975, wool, 41 x 59 in. Gift of the Berman Bloch Family. Copyright © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Alexander Calder, Sphere and Spiral, 1975, wool, 41 x 59 in. Gift of the Berman Bloch Family. Copyright © 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The year was 1976, and the country was 200 years young. The gritty film Rocky filled movie theaters and a new TV show, “The Bionic Woman,” flashed across TV screens. It was a time happily poised between the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of long gas station lines. “Let’s have a party!” the Bicentennial Commission declared.

So, celebrate, we did, with tens of thousands of commemorative events—ceremonies, speeches, tall ship parades, covered-wagon trains, and American Freedom Trains loaded with historical artifacts traversing the country. America’s living rooms were hijacked by “Bicentennial Minute” TV spots, and just about everyone got into the act with a barrage of tacky souvenirs and commercial tie-ins. Red, white, and blue bottle of 7-Up, anyone?

In the midst of all this national merry-making, what was an artist already famous for colorful and playfully kinetic sculptures to do? Alexander Calder decided that a series of flag-shaped tapestries was just the ticket.

Alexander Calder, Bicentennial Tapestries, 1975, wool, each 41 x 59 in., on display in Rothenberg Hall. Gift of the Berman Bloch family. Photo by Lisa Blackburn. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Alexander Calder, Bicentennial Tapestries, 1975, wool, each 41 x 59 in., on display in Rothenberg Hall. Gift of the Berman Bloch family. Photo by Lisa Blackburn. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A set of his limited edition series Bicentennial Tapestries was a recent gift to The Huntington and hangs in Rothenberg Hall, with titles such as Blue Spot, Sphere and Spiral, Palm Trees, and Serpent, Pear and Cheese. Each of these firecracker combinations of bold red, white, and blue (and black and yellow) shapes practically leap out at you, with more American enthusiasm than Rocky Balboa training for his big fight. And tapestries aren’t as much of a stretch for a sculptor as you might think.

“While closely related to Calder’s two-dimensional paintings, prints, and drawings, these tapestries are, in a way, quite sculptural,” said Jessica Todd Smith, chief curator of American art, during a recent visit to the installation. Look closely and you see rugged plateaus of fuzzy blue towering over tight, neat rows of uniform white stitches. “Their subtle topography gives a feeling of depth and dimension,” she said.

Maybe Calder was feeling an extra shot of exuberance in the mid-1970s, infused with a Great American Birthday spirit. Certainly others in the art world were.

Detail of Blue Spot. Variations in the texture and color of the materials used by the weavers at Pinton Frères in Aubusson, France, give the lively tapestries three dimensions. Photo by Thea M. Page. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of Blue Spot. Variations in the texture and color of the materials used by the weavers at Pinton Frères in Aubusson, France, give the lively tapestries three dimensions. Photo by Thea M. Page. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“This was a time when scholars and collectors began to consider American art more seriously, and the field began to grow,” Smith said. The Philadelphia Art Museum, among others, started creating American art divisions, distinct from other collecting areas. The Virginia Steele Scott Foundation, which would later form the basis of The Huntington’s American art collection, began purchasing American art around that time.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that the great Bicentennial bacchanal made Calder’s bold, dynamic Tapestries possible and ushered in important advances in American art collecting? It’s enough to make you want to celebrate . . . with an ice-cold Tab and a few “Charlie’s Angels” reruns.

The Bicentennial Tapestries are currently in conservation and will be reinstalled soon.

Thea M. Page is the director of marketing communications at The Huntington.

Welcoming a New President

Laura Skandera Trombley takes the helm July 1 as The Huntington’s new president, the first woman to hold the post. Photo by Meeno.

Laura Skandera Trombley takes the helm July 1 as The Huntington’s new president, the first woman to hold the post. Photo by Meeno.

As Laura Skandera Trombley steps into her office today as the new president of The Huntington, she surely must feel that her arrival is a homecoming of sorts. Trombley often visited the gardens as a child with her mother, walking among the roses and being awed by the beauty of the grounds. Years later, as a budding Mark Twain scholar, she did research in the Library’s Twain papers that would culminate in her first book, Mark Twain in the Company of Women (1994). More recently, she returned to use the collections to complete her fifth book, Mark Twain’s Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years (2010).

“The Huntington is a place I know well,” she says, “and it has been a constant part of my personal and scholarly life.”

Taking the helm as the eighth president of The Huntington, Trombley is the first woman to lead the institution. Her lifelong affinity for the place is just one of the reasons why anyone who shares her love of The Huntington should be excited about the passion she brings to the job.

Trombley chats with Pitzer College trustees, alumni, and others during a “Farewell Tour” reception in New York. Photo courtesy of Pitzer College.

Trombley chats with Pitzer College trustees, alumni, and others during a “Farewell Tour” reception in New York. Photo courtesy of Pitzer College.

She also brings a great deal of experience. Trombley comes to The Huntington after 13 years as president of Pitzer College in Claremont, where she is widely credited with dramatically improving the college’s standing in higher education. Under her leadership, the college completed three successful fundraising campaigns, raising more than $110 million and increasing Pitzer’s endowment more than 200 percent. The college’s U.S. News & World Report ranking among liberal arts colleges improved 50 percent during her tenure, moving from 70th to 35th in the nation, a feat unmatched in higher education.

At The Huntington, Trombley’s solid leadership skills, coupled with a strong vision for how to build on The Huntington’s substantial strengths, will help propel the institution into the future. She inherits from her predecessor, Steven Koblik, a robust institution with a solid financial foundation, growing collections, and a wide-ranging schedule of programmatic activities.

As an outspoken booster of the humanities in an increasingly tech-centered society, Trombley has said that one of her goals as president is to use The Huntington as a platform for advancing the conversation about the fundamental importance of humanities education. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last December, following the announcement of her appointment, Trombley remarked: “The humanities increasingly are treated as marginal to whatever the center is. My job is to make people understand that every time they appreciate a photograph or picture or question the meaning of their life or have goose bumps because of a favorite play or song or movie, that’s the humanities.”

And that job starts today. As Trombley says in her inaugural President’s Message: “The Huntington is on the move, and I am thrilled to be a part of the journey. Here we go!”

Ready for anything! Trombley (center) in helmet and climbing gear during a 2015 visit to the Pitzer Firestone Center of Restoration Ecology in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Pitzer College.

Ready for anything! Trombley (center) in helmet and climbing gear during a 2015 visit to the Pitzer Firestone Center of Restoration Ecology in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Pitzer College.

You can read more about President Trombley on The Huntington’s website.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Together, We Did This

On June 30, an era draws to a close at The Huntington as President Steve Koblik steps up to his well-deserved retirement. Before we turn the page to the next chapter in our history, Susan Turner-Lowe, vice president for communications and marketing at The Huntington, casts an eye over the life, learning, leadership, and legacy of the man who has guided this institution for nearly 14 years. What follows is an excerpt from her feature article on Koblik in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Steve Koblik, in 2009, seated in his office at The Huntington, where he has served as president since 2001. Photograph by Lisa Blackburn.

Steve Koblik, in 2009, seated in his office at The Huntington, where he has served as president since 2001. Photograph by Lisa Blackburn.

KOBLIK SET HIS SIGHTS ON THE HUNTINGTON DECADES AGO. He was born and raised in Sacramento. His father was an architect; his mother, a homemaker, had been a self-proclaimed flapper in the 1920s—fun-loving, high-spirited, bathtub gin drinking, always in search of adventure, says her only son. That could well explain his indefatigable nature. (He credits his daily naps.)

He earned his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, got his master’s at University of Stockholm, and holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern. As a graduate student, he homed in on Sweden’s role in World War II and focused his dissertation there; later, he dug into Sweden’s role in the Holocaust and wrote a highly acclaimed book on the topic: The Stones Cry Out. It was in Sweden that he met his future wife, Kerstin Olseni. They have been married 47 years and have two children and four grandchildren.

After living on and off for nine years in Sweden, he returned to Southern California to teach at Pomona. And over time, he became deeply familiar with, and a bit obsessed by, The Huntington.

Koblik and his wife, Kerstin, in Stockholm, Sweden, 1967.

Koblik and his wife, Kerstin, in Stockholm, Sweden, 1967.

“In the ’60s, I walked through the doors of the Library with bushy hair and a mustache, wearing clogs. And they took one look at me and said, ‘Steve, you’re a nice guy. But we don’t let people like you in this place.’” A bit of a bohemian by looks, he was nevertheless a serious scholar, interested in the history of Southern California and wanting to do some research on Henry Huntington himself. The closed atmosphere—one that suggested clubbiness and exclusivity—irked him. He wouldn’t let it go.

He remembers telling friends, “I’d like to be president of The Huntington one day.”

In the meantime, he won one teaching prize after another at Pomona, became dean of the faculty at Scripps, and then went on to take the helm at Reed College in Portland, Ore. He held the presidency there for nine years.

And then, by a remarkable confluence of events, The Huntington presidency opened up, and Koblik was in perfect position for the job.

Koblik with his wife, Kerstin, and their two children in 1971.

Koblik with his wife, Kerstin, and their two children in 1971.

HE MOVED FROM REED TO THE HUNTINGTON in the fall of 2001. Sept. 11, in fact, was the day of Koblik’s first board meeting. One might have seen this as a really bad omen, but Koblik saw it as a time for strength and courage, and a time to pull together in the wake of the terrorist acts. So instead of closing The Huntington for the day and sending people home, he kept the gates open and watched as visitors came by the dozens, then the hundreds—searching for solace, for comfort, for meaning.

It is the essence of the place, and something Koblik realizes deeply. It’s sometimes hard to articulate exactly what The Huntington does for people. It doesn’t cure cancer; it isn’t in the business of providing meals to the homeless; it doesn’t take in stray animals; it’s not the kind of nonprofit that pulls at one’s heartstrings the way the Red Cross does. It’s not trying to be that. And it’s not like a college or university in the conventional sense, even though it is involved in research and education. But, it does not award degrees; it has no alumni. So it can be a little challenging to articulate what brings people to The Huntington and fuels their passion and commitment to the place.

Professor Koblik in a Pomona College classroom in 1983. Photograph courtesy of Pomona College Archives.

Professor Koblik in a Pomona College classroom in 1983. Photograph courtesy of Pomona College Archives.

Koblik explains his own passion for it in this way: “The Huntington is the keeper of the flame. We collect and preserve culture, and we celebrate human achievement, and that is fundamental if you want to know who we are as a people and where we might be going.” The Huntington’s collections explain so much about how the United States came to be—warts and all—with historical, literary, and artistic documentation that speaks to the early formulations of the rule of law (think Magna Carta); the Founding Fathers, slavery and the Civil War, the mission period and Native Americans, expedition and discovery, railroads, women’s suffrage, immigration, exclusion, innovation and invention, exploitation and emancipation. And the breadth and depth of The Huntington’s collections is simply astonishing: from micro to macro. Here is a library with nine million items, and a European and American art collection that spans six centuries. And all this is set among beautiful, world-renowned botanical gardens with 15,000 species, many of them rare and endangered.

Back when Koblik was organizing The Huntington’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign, the renowned AIDS researcher David Ho said, “We give people life. You give people meaning in life.”

Koblik, in 1995, talking with students at Reed College, where he was president from 1992 to 2001. Photograph courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

Koblik, in 1995, talking with students at Reed College, where he was president from 1992 to 2001. Photograph courtesy of Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

THE AFTERNOON BEFORE KOBLIK’S FIRST DAY ON THE JOB, he walked over to the mausoleum, the gravesite of Henry and Arabella Huntington. “He wanted some quiet time there,” says Kerstin. “He had said he wanted to think deeply about what Henry Huntington might do, and how he would want the institution run.”

In some respects, Koblik’s game has been a collaboration, in part, with Henry Huntington himself—constantly thinking about what the founder’s intentions might have been and whether Koblik’s decisions and the institution’s direction have lined up with those intentions. But the collaborative spirit goes deeper and wider than that—with area institutions, disparate groups of donors, his boards, the staff. “Together,” he says, “we did this.”

You can read the full article online.

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

Writing Herself In

The Huntington’s Education staff recently formed a partnership with WriteGirl, a Los Angeles–based creative writing and mentoring organization that, according to the WriteGirl website, “launched in December 2001 to bring the skills and energy of professional women writers to teenage girls who do not otherwise have access to creative writing or mentoring programs.” Huntington reader Ayana Jamieson is the founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network, a group of scholars, artists, activists, and fans devoted to the works of science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, whose papers reside at The Huntington. Jamieson helped develop curriculum for the partnership, which included a one-day creative writing workshop at The Huntington using Butler materials. She shares a description of the day.

Using the prompt “If this goes on…,” teens from the Los Angeles–based organization WriteGirl tried their hands at writing speculative fiction. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Using the prompt “If this goes on…,” teens from the Los Angeles–based organization WriteGirl tried their hands at writing speculative fiction. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Today, June 22, is the birthday of science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006), who specialized in speculative fiction, an umbrella term for writing that includes sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and superhero stories. For Butler, there were at least three main approaches to the genre. You could tell stories that explained “what if,” “if only,” or “if this goes on.”

During a workshop recently held at The Huntington, 60 professional women writers, serving as WriteGirl mentors, introduced Butler’s approaches to a group of 75 teen girls, ranging in age from 13 to 19. The girls spent a day touring The Huntington and learning about Butler’s personal history and literary style, and then tried their hands at writing.

The Pasadena-born Butler was the first black woman to gain recognition in the field of speculative fiction and, in 1995, became the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “Genius Grant.” Writing science fiction was more than a vocation for Butler. She embraced the genre’s limitless possibilities. As a black woman, the genre afforded her the opportunity to “write herself in,” creating a world in which she could live, even if she wasn’t entirely accepted in the larger, dominant society.

Octavia E. Butler near Mt. Shuksan, in the state of Washington, 2001. Photographer unknown. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Octavia E. Butler near Mt. Shuksan, in the state of Washington, 2001. Photographer unknown. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The idea of creating a world of their own choosing resonated with the teens. “I liked the ‘if this goes on’ approach,” said one teen. “If we keep treating our world like this, we will be extinct. I would like to see people treat plants the way they are treated here in The Huntington’s gardens.”

The teens divided into 10 groups, each following a different tour of The Huntington and hearing a script their mentors read that put them in a hypothetical situation. The groups took Butler’s works as starting points. One group, for instance, was called Acorn, the name of a community in Butler’s dystopic near-future California novel, Parable of the Sower. The Acorn group visited the Huntington Art Gallery, exploring the Thornton Portrait Gallery and using scenes, poses, and facial expressions from the paintings to build characters for their writing.

The teens and their mentors discussed Butler’s novel Parable of the Talents, as well as other works. Photo by Martha Benedict.

The teens and their mentors discussed Butler’s novel Parable of the Talents, as well as other works. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Then they visited the period rooms where Henry and Arabella Huntington once lived. They wrote from different points of view, including the role of the lady of the house, but also wrote a scene about being a servant to a wealthy family. (Octavia Butler’s own mother had been a domestic worker for much of her life.)

The teens speculated about a world they could create in their minds, where there was no hunger, poverty, disease, violence, war, or inequality.

As a black girl growing up during the era of Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation, Butler knew exclusion, rejection, and restrictions only too well. As a preschooler, she began telling herself stories to counter her loneliness and boredom and started writing them down; later, as a 12-year-old, she decided she would become a science fiction writer.

Butler’s characters are complex, never fully good or fully evil. They inhabit stories that weave together themes of power, gender, sex, race, and humanity. By depicting the trials of strong and complicated characters, her stories reveal powerful truths about society.

The Butler archive, which The Huntington acquired in 2009, includes more than 35 cartons (350 boxes) of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera. Photo by Kate Lain.

The Butler archive, which The Huntington acquired in 2009, includes more than 35 cartons (350 boxes) of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera. Photo by Kate Lain.

The boundless potential that Butler tapped into through her writing has attracted a strong and dedicated following among readers and scholars from all over the world. Natalie Russell, assistant curator of literary manuscripts at The Huntington, says that Butler’s archive of papers consistently attracts a high number of inquiries from scholars and fans, making it one of the most popular literary collections at The Huntington. A similar enthusiasm infused the teen girls at the writing workshop.

One participant remarked, “Learning about Octavia’s life really made an impression on me. Her courage and dedication were so inspiring, and I realize there’s no limitation to fiction writing.”

For teen girls facing challenges that they have little control over and cannot easily manage, creating a world of their own choosing is powerful and liberating. Butler knew this and gained prominence putting that idea on paper. Sadly, she left this world too soon, dying unexpectedly in 2006 at the age of 57.

Perhaps some of the teens who visited The Huntington will carry on her legacy.

Workshop participants listened to the story of Butler’s life, including her rise from humble beginnings to become a successful writer and recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Grant.” Photo by Martha Benedict.

Workshop participants listened to the story of Butler’s life, including her rise from humble beginnings to become a successful writer and recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Grant.” Photo by Martha Benedict.

Ayana A. H. Jamieson is the founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and a reader at The Huntington.