Ansel Adams, William Current, and the American West

Monolith, the face of Half Dome, 1927. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 11 ¼ x 8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Monolith, the face of Half Dome, 1927. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 11 ¼ x 8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Legendary photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) produced seven limited-edition portfolios over the course of his long and storied career. He published the first portfolio in 1948 and the last in 1976, referring to the 90 photographs all told as “an excellent cross section of my work.” Thanks to a recent gift from George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne, The Huntington has acquired all seven in one fell swoop.

Each of the portfolios contains between 10 and 15 pictures selected and printed by the artist himself. There are personal favorites and iconic early career images, such as Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. Adams often referred to making Monolith as a creative epiphany, a moment when he first began to envision the finished print’s look.

Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, 1939. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ¼ x 18 3/8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, 1939. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ¼ x 18 3/8 in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

The portfolios also showcase less well-known but equally stunning works, such as Cemetery Statue and Oil Derricks, Long Beach, 1939. Adams told one interviewer that he approached the composition of these seemingly incongruous subjects as a “quasi-surrealistic thing.”

The donor, Dr. George Byrne, who sadly passed away not long after making the gift, had been a passionate amateur photographer for many years. A hiker and avid environmentalist, he purchased Portfolio III (1960) and Portfolio IV (1963) from the Sierra Club, the publisher of those particular sets. Dr. Byrne acquired other portfolios directly from Adams, the two having become acquainted when Byrne attended one of the photographer’s famed Yosemite workshops. The portfolios remained packed away in storage for decades; as a result, the photographs look fresh and new.

Moon and Clouds, Northern California, 1959. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ½ x 19 ½ in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

Moon and Clouds, Northern California, 1959. Photograph by Ansel Adams (1902–1984). Gelatin silver print, 15 ½ x 19 ½ in. © 2015 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Gift of George Melvin Byrne and Barbara S. Barrett-Byrne.

A second major gift of 420 works by William R. Current (1923-1986) should help insure the Pasadena-born artist’s rightful place on the photo-historical map. Known by a few people today for his in-depth visual investigation of the Arts & Crafts architecture of Charles and Henry Greene, Current’s career highlights included groundbreaking group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as major fellowship awards, such as a 1964 Guggenheim grant. The output of Current’s Guggenheim year—luminous black and white photographs of prehistoric Pueblo architecture—forms the donation’s core.

William R. Current (1923–1986), Mesa Verde, 1964. Gelatin silver print, 10 ½ × 10 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

William R. Current (1923–1986), Mesa Verde, 1964. Gelatin silver print, 10 ½ × 10 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

Current also explored photography’s capacity for producing serial imagery or sequences of pictures to tease out larger ideas. A skilled technician and superb printer, he served as an early mentor to Lewis Baltz (1945-2014), who went on to become one of the medium’s most important conceptual artists. In reflecting on the differences between Current and himself, Baltz told an oral historian: “Bill [Current] photographed the things—trees, rivers, the sea coast, prehistoric architecture in the Southwest—that he loved and admired and used his photography to better understand and bring himself closer to it.”

The gift, which came from the artist’s estate, forms one of the largest groups of Current’s work in an institution and includes personal correspondence and archival material as well.

With these two seminal acquisitions, The Huntington’s photography collections related to California and the American West continue to deepen and grow.

William R. Current  (1923–1986), Point Lobos, 1968. Gelatin silver print, 7 ½ × 7 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

William R. Current (1923–1986), Point Lobos, 1968. Gelatin silver print, 7 ½ × 7 ½ in. Gift of the estate of William R. Current.

In Huntington Frontiers, you can read an article by Jennifer A. Watts about two versions of Monolith by Ansel Adams and an article by Ann Scheid about William Current’s photographs, which are part of the University of Southern California’s Greene and Greene archives housed at The Huntington.

Jennifer A. Watts is curator of photography at The Huntington.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece

Aristotle’s Masterpiece provided ordinary readers access to images such as this one, which depicts the position of a baby in the womb, as well as access to practical instructions about maintaining health during pregnancy. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece provided ordinary readers access to images such as this one, which depicts the position of a baby in the womb, as well as access to practical instructions about maintaining health during pregnancy. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Aristotle’s Masterpiece was the bestselling book about sex and reproduction on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean from the late 17th to the early 20th century—but the book isn’t by Aristotle, and it’s not usually considered a masterpiece. First printed in London in 1684, it was imported to the American colonies and then became a staple of early publishing in the United States, going into hundreds of editions.

An anonymous writer compiled the book from several earlier texts. He or she borrowed the name “Aristotle” to make the work seem scientific when the book was first published. It was still for sale in London’s Soho sex shops right up into the 1930s. Primarily a late 17th-century manual on pregnancy and childbirth—an early-modern precursor to today’s perennial bestseller What To Expect When You’re Expecting—the book endorses sexual pleasure but also includes images of deformed infants, or so-called “monster babies.” This seemingly bizarre combination of contents contributed to the book’s long-lasting appeal.

By the 19th century, the Masterpiece often combined a racy appeal to male readers, as in the image on the left, with a family-oriented appeal, as in the romantic depiction on the right. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

By the 19th century, the Masterpiece often combined a racy appeal to male readers, as in the image on the left, with a family-oriented appeal, as in the romantic depiction on the right. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Mary Fissell, professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, is currently writing a cultural history of Aristotle’s Masterpiece, focusing on its production and reception in Britain and the United States. On April 22 in Rothenberg Hall, Fissell presents the George Dock Lecture in a public talk titled “A Look at America’s First Sex Manual.”

Fissell finds Aristotle’s Masterpiece intriguing because its ubiquity has made it possible for her to discover stories about readers encountering the text in the past. “I know about adolescent boys stealing their mothers’ copies, a teenage girl reading it aloud in a factory lunchroom, and working-class couples who kept it hidden in their bedroom,” she says. Such stories provide rare glimpses into the otherwise hidden world of plebeian sexuality.

“The book’s persistence suggests that there’s something about its vision of sex and making babies that remains profoundly appealing across the centuries,” Fissell says. “Part of my task has been to figure out exactly what that something is.”

These are the only known surviving examples of the woodblocks used to illustrate Aristotle’s Masterpiece. The images were carved and recarved over centuries, indicating that publishers thought them essential to the book’s appeal. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

These are the only known surviving examples of the woodblocks used to illustrate Aristotle’s Masterpiece. The images were carved and recarved over centuries, indicating that publishers thought them essential to the book’s appeal. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Her research on the subject led her to The Huntington’s collections, where she came across items in unexpected places. She was surprised and delighted to see a set of woodblocks used to produce editions of the Masterpiece. “After having spent years thinking about how this book was produced, it was really moving to actually hold a woodblock used in the north of England in the early 19th century,” Fissell says. “These kinds of cheap books aren’t often the focus of scholarly study, but I’m impressed by the skill of the artists.”

Another unexpected find at The Huntington lay in the correspondence of the 19th-century radical Richard Carlile, who printed the first birth-control pamphlet in Britain, which in turn prompted a Boston doctor, Charles Knowlton, to do the same in the United States. One of Carlile’s associates, William Holmes, described the Masterpiece in court, claiming that it wasn’t really a dirty book—even if it did have a picture of a naked woman as its frontispiece. One gains insight into just how radical the very idea of contraception was to Carlile and Holmes; their letters grant readers rare access to working-class ideas about sex and reproduction.

At times, the Masterpiece is a bit like a fly in amber, preserving Renaissance ideas into the 19th and 20th centuries. This winged figure, the text tells us, was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 1513. Such monstrous images offered readers a thrill of horror and became something of a trademark for the work. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

At times, the Masterpiece is a bit like a fly in amber, preserving Renaissance ideas into the 19th and 20th centuries. This winged figure, the text tells us, was born in Ravenna, Italy, in 1513. Such monstrous images offered readers a thrill of horror and became something of a trademark for the work. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Mary Fissell’s April 22 lecture, “A Look at America’s First Sex Manual,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Rothenberg Hall. The event is free and open to the public; no reservations required.

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

Shakespeare Takes the Stage

Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, known as the First Folio, published in London in 1623. The poem on the left is by Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's contemporary and fellow playwright. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, known as the First Folio, published in London in 1623. The poem on the left is by Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s contemporary and fellow playwright. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“All the world’s a stage,” declares Jaques in William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. While that may be true, there’s something to be said for an auditorium with a beautiful stage, state-of-the-art acoustics, raked seating, and clear sight lines.

With the opening earlier this month of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, The Huntington has gained an elegant, comfortable new space for lectures, conferences, and performances. Called Rothenberg Hall, it features the 400-seat Robert C. Ritchie Auditorium, which has exceptional acoustics and superb audiovisual capabilities.

The Huntington’s W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research, Steve Hindle, is excited to host his first conference in the new digs. “One of the characteristics of a successful conference is its capacity to encourage spontaneous interaction among scholars,” says Hindle. He’s looking forward to experiencing how the intimate feel of the new auditorium, coupled with superior acoustics, inspires thoughtful and spirited debate.

Rothenberg Hall features the 400-seat Robert C. Ritchie Auditorium. Photograph by Jamie Pham.

Rothenberg Hall features the 400-seat Robert C. Ritchie Auditorium. Photograph by Jamie Pham.

First up on the conference slate is a two-day exploration of the Bard himself. Running today and tomorrow, “Rethinking Shakespeare in the Social Depth of Politics” (April 17–18, 2015) brings together a dozen scholars to discuss the nature and significance of popular political activity in Shakespeare’s works.

“On the surface, Shakespeare seems to accept the hereditary monarchy and authoritarian doctrines of the Tudor period,” says conference convener Chris Fitter, professor of English at Rutgers University. But Fitter says that in plays such as Coriolanus and Henry VI, Part 2, Shakespeare’s interrogation of power and authority reveals a courageous sympathy with the fears and stresses of England’s underclass. Fitter cites a line in Henry VI, Part 2, in which William de la Pole, the 1st Duke of Suffolk, laments that ‘the commonwealth hath daily run to wrack,’ alluding to hyper-taxation, a bankrupting overseas war, a chronically vacillating monarchy, and nobles who literally tear up the complaints of illegally dispossessed peasants.

This page from Henry VI, Part 2, comes from The Huntington’s copy of the Second Folio, published in 1632. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This page from Henry VI, Part 2, comes from The Huntington’s copy of the Second Folio, published in 1632. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Bard is also the focus of three other events taking place at The Huntington:

On Saturday, April 18, visitors can catch scenes from some of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, set against the backdrop of the The Huntington’s stunning grounds. The Independent Shakespeare Co. will be on site for “Shakespeare in the Gardens,” a family-friendly event from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. The program will include interactive workshops and craft activities that explore Shakespeare and his world.

Then on Thursday, May 7, artists from L.A. Opera join actors from the Independent Shakespeare Co. for “Shakespeare Scenes and Sonnets: An Evening of Words and Music.” They will perform in the Huntington Art Gallery, surrounded by 18th-century Grand Manner portraits, presenting scenes, sonnets, and songs that explore connections between Shakespeare’s works and treasures from The Huntington’s collections.

On June 6 at 7 p.m., the Independent Shakespeare Co. will take the stage in Rothenberg Hall for a production of Shakespeare’s rarely performed play Pericles. The fantastic story includes shipwrecks, pirates, an abandoned baby, a long-lost wife, and a knight in rusted armor fighting for love. By turns lyrical and rough, the sprawling play was wildly popular in Renaissance England.

One of the 12 sections of the Library Main Exhibition Hall’s permanent display, “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times,” celebrates Shakespeare.

One of the 12 sections of the Library Main Exhibition Hall’s permanent display, “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times,” celebrates Shakespeare.

The Huntington holds one of the most important collections of Shakespeare’s materials in the nation, including a copy of the First Folio (1623), the most reliable source for 36 of his plays. The Huntington also has two of the four quarto editions of his Hamlet, one of which is on display alongside the First Folio in the Library’s Main Exhibition Hall.

Lovers of all things Shakespearen are in the midst of a mega-celebration of the renowned playwright’s key anniversaries. Shakespeare’s birthday will be celebrated next week, on April 23. (Shakespeare was baptized April 26, 1564, and scholars have long believed that he was born three days earlier on April 23. Ironically, he died on the same date 52 years later, in 1616.) Last April 23 was the 450th anniversary of his birth, and that date next year marks the 400th anniversary of his death.

The Huntington salutes the works of this immortal genius who “was not of an age,” as his contemporary and fellow playwright Ben Jonson wrote, “but for all time.”

Shakespeare’s Tomb, an 1874 watercolor over pencil drawing by English painter John Inchbold (1830–1888), shows the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Shakespeare’s Tomb, an 1874 watercolor over pencil drawing by English painter John Inchbold (1830–1888), shows the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Rethinking Shakespeare in the Social Depth of Politics” takes place April 17–18 in Rothenberg Hall. “Shakespeare in the Gardens” happens on Saturday, April 18, from 11 a.m to 3 p.m, and is free with admission. “Shakespeare Scenes and Sonnets: An Evening of Words and Music,” on Thursday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. costs $50 for Members and $60 for Non-Members; tickets are available online or by phone at 800-838-3006. The performance of Pericles on June 6 at 7 p.m. costs $35 for Members and $45 for Non-Members. Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com or 800-838-3006.

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

Lincoln’s Last Hours

The Assassination of President Lincoln. At Ford’s Theatre, Washington, on the night of Friday, April 14, 1865, lithograph,1865. Unidentified artist. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Assassination of President Lincoln. At Ford’s Theatre, Washington, on the night of Friday, April 14, 1865, lithograph,1865. Unidentified artist. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

On the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln as he attended a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. The president died at 7:22 a.m. the next day in a boarding house across the street from the theater, surrounded by a small group of shocked witnesses. Four years of warfare had ended less than a week before with the surrender of the Confederacy. What were people to make of this violent, incomprehensible act?

A host of printmakers immediately stepped into the fray, supplying a raft of images that offered anguished Americans ringside seats to the president’s final hours. Most depictions embellished the truth—some to an outlandish degree.

One afternoon in 2012, while deep in preparations for a then-forthcoming Civil War exhibition, I came across a large folder in a bottom-most drawer. The penciled label stated simply, “uncataloged Lincoln print,” a terse description that gave no real indication of what lay inside. One thing I’ve learned in 20-plus years of working at The Huntington: it’s always worth taking a look.

The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln, c. 1868, line and stipple engraving (artist’s proof), by John B. Bachelder (1825–1894), after a painting by Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln, c. 1868, line and stipple engraving (artist’s proof), by John B. Bachelder (1825–1894), after a painting by Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Cracking open the folder, I saw a dying president’s outsized head illuminated by a single candle flame. Mary Todd Lincoln kneels by her husband’s bedside, overwhelmed by grief. The couple’s eldest son, Robert, stands in the foreground with a handkerchief clutched to his chest. A mob of onlookers faces this way and that; altogether there are 46 mourners in a bedroom that, in reality, contained only a few people. The engraving, designed by artist and publisher John B. Bachelder (1825-1894), is enormous and intricately rendered. It’s impressive and—let’s face it—a little weird.

On hearing of Lincoln’s assassination, Bachelder, who recounted being in the nation’s capital on that sorrowful day, resolved “at once . . . to collect such materials as should be necessary for an historical picture commemorating that sad scene.” He went about the task in his characteristically ambitious style: creating a design, lining up scenic painter Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887), and contacting the estimated 55 people who had visited Lincoln that fateful night.

Bachelder persuaded many of them to pose for famed Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady in stances that Chappel would work into the final composition. It is striking that even the notoriously private Robert Lincoln consented to this bold request so soon after the tragic loss of his father.

Veterans with John B. Bachelder [standing] at the 29th Ohio Infantry Monument, Gettysburg, ca. 1887. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Veterans with John B. Bachelder [standing] at the 29th Ohio Infantry Monument, Gettysburg, ca. 1887. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A full three years elapsed before Chappel’s painting The Last Hours of Lincoln was unveiled. Testimonials overwhelmingly praised the accuracy of the people represented, glossing over the veracity of the scene itself. The representation is decidedly not visual reportage.

Ever the entrepreneur, Bachelder wasn’t through. He proposed making prints of the painting for anyone hankering to own a “genuine work of art.” The top-most category included an “artist’s proof” offered by subscription at $100 a pop. It appears that only three of the deluxe line and stipple engravings were ever produced, including the one I’d discovered. The whereabouts of the other two engravings—should they still exist—are unknown.

The mass marketing of The Last Hours of Lincoln eventually fizzled, along with the demand for scenes of Lincoln’s death. Indeed, Bachelder himself soon moved on, directing his prodigious energies toward Gettysburg, efforts that would insure the battlefield’s legacy as the war’s most sacred space. He spent 30 years gathering soldiers’ battle recollections, writing a congressionally funded eight-volume history, and supervising the placement of monuments on the battlefield.

In 1908, on the eve of centennial celebrations for Lincoln’s birth, a muddy reproduction of The Last Hours of Lincoln surfaced briefly. Someone named “M. David” produced an exceedingly poor print, but—hallelujah!—included a key that identified all of the people immortalized in this mythic deathbed scene.

Key to The Last Hours of Lincoln. Based on a key published in 1908 by M. David. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Key to The Last Hours of Lincoln. Based on a key published in 1908 by M. David. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Last Hours of Lincoln appeared in The Huntington’s exhibition “A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War,” which ran from Oct. 13, 2012, to Jan. 14, 2013. It also appears—with the key—in the recently released Huntington Library Press book of the same title by Jennifer A. Watts. The book is available for purchase at the Huntington Store.

Through the Huntington Digital Library, you can listen to a rare audio recording of an eyewitness, Joseph H. Hazleton (1855-1936), recounting Lincoln’s assassination. You will find the articles “Lincoln’s Body, in Life and Death” and “Lincoln’s Last Breath” in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Related content on Verso:
The Union Forever (March 31, 2015)
Lincoln’s Signature Accomplishments (Jan. 30, 2015)
Remembering Gettysburg (Nov. 19, 2014)

Jennifer A. Watts is curator of photographs for The Huntington.

Sir Isaac Newton, Alchemist?

In a demonstration conducted at The Huntington, William R. Newman produced a bright red metallic “tree” made of silica that grew and branched as his lecture proceeded. Detail from a photograph by William R. Newman.

In a demonstration conducted at The Huntington, William R. Newman produced a bright red metallic “tree” made of silica that grew and branched as his lecture proceeded. Detail from a photograph by William R. Newman.

Is it possible that the English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest theorists in the history of science, practiced alchemy? That a giant of the scientific revolution shared a dream common among charlatans of his age—to turn lead into gold?

William R. Newman, professor of history and philosophy of science at Indiana University and the Eleanor Searle Visiting Professor in the History of Science at Caltech and The Huntington, answered these questions with a resounding yes during “Why Did Isaac Newton Believe in Alchemy?”—a Dibner Lecture held recently at The Huntington. (You can listen to the lecture on iTunesU.) He not only explained why Newton performed alchemical experiments and produced numerous manuscripts on the subject, but also intrigued the audience with live demonstrations of what appeared to be the growth of minerals and transmutation of metals.

In the 21st century, the idea that Newton practiced alchemy seems surprising. If you want some quick reminders of his milestone contributions to the sciences, stroll through the Library’s permanent exhibition “Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World.” Newton revolutionized astronomy through his Principia Mathematica, which provided mathematical models of the workings of the universe; he also simplified telescope design to make the observation of celestial bodies easier and less expensive. His discoveries form the basis of the modern theory of light and color, and his Opticks explained how light was composed of a spectrum of different colors that could be separated and recombined.

First edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles), 1687. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

First edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles), 1687. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Newton, however, was also a man of his time (1642-1727). Some of his scientific contemporaries—most notably Robert Boyle, one of the fathers of modern chemistry—explored ideas such as the Philosopher’s Stone (also called the Sorcerer’s Stone, which readers of Harry Potter will recall from the first title in the series). The stone was a substance said to be capable of turning lead into gold, rejuvenating the aging, and even bestowing immortality.

So many eminent minds pursued alchemy, according to Newman, because there was evidence that minerals could “grow” beneath the earth as well as in a flask. Saltpeter, alum, and vitriol were all known to replenish their supply after being collected by miners. Newman, working in a lab at Indiana University, duplicated the Tree of Diana, beloved by alchemists, in which an amalgam of silver and mercury in a solution of nitric acid forms silver crystals. Newman did a similar experiment at The Huntington, using less dangerous materials, to produce a bright red metallic “tree” made of silica that grew and branched as the lecture proceeded.

Illustration of Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope in An Account of a New Kind of Telescope, invented by Mr. Isaac Newton, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, 1672. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Illustration of Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope in An Account of a New Kind of Telescope, invented by Mr. Isaac Newton, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, 1672. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Public demonstrations of alchemical transmutations became popular in the 17th century, and many detailed eyewitness accounts still exist. One of the most spectacular was held at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I: a silver medallion one foot in diameter was dipped into a mysterious solution and emerged partly golden. In the 1930s, an analysis of the medallion, which resides in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, revealed that it was really an alloy of silver and gold. It’s now known that the mysterious solution used in the demonstration was concentrated nitric acid, which had eaten away at the silver to reveal the gold underneath—a process that today is called depletion gilding.

Unfortunately, despite their efforts, alchemists never succeeded in proving the principles of alchemy. “All my stories are sad,” concluded Newman.

Yet Newton never gave up his dream of metallic transmutation, even during the latter part of his life when he was in charge of The Royal Mint. Newman sees this quest not as “isolated madness but the idée fixe of the age of gold.” After all, a large, well-established literature of alchemy, coupled with demonstrations witnessed by the princes of Europe and other worthies, provided Newton and his contemporaries with a lifetime of encouragement.

This is a detail of an English alchemical scroll from the 16th century that provides a pictorial synopsis of alchemical philosophy, depicting the successive processes—through the White Stone, the Red Stone, and the Elixir Vitae—in the production of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This is a detail of an English alchemical scroll from the 16th century that provides a pictorial synopsis of alchemical philosophy, depicting the successive processes—through the White Stone, the Red Stone, and the Elixir Vitae—in the production of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Newton’s Lost Copy of Mede, Revealed
Newton’s Death Mask

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

All the Tea in China (and Japan)

Side-handled teapots used in China for the sencha tea ceremony became popular in Japan. This earthenware teapot (ca. 1860) from The Huntington’s collection was made by Japanese Buddhist nun Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791–1875), a renowned poet, painter, calligrapher, and potter.

Side-handled teapots used in China for the sencha tea ceremony became popular in Japan. This earthenware teapot (ca. 1860) from The Huntington’s collection was made by Japanese Buddhist nun Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791–1875), a renowned poet, painter, calligrapher, and potter.

People who appreciate green tea for its antioxidant properties don’t know the half of it. In a recent Huntington lecture, “Searching for the Spirit of the Sages: The Japanese Tea Ceremony for Sencha” (which you can listen to on iTunes U), scholar Patricia J. Graham shared a poem by Tang dynasty poet Lu Tong that rhapsodizes about the beneficial effects of successive bowls of tea.

“ . . . With bowl number six, I commune with immortal spirits.
Bowl number seven, I can barely get down. I only feel pure wind blowing, swishing beneath my arms . . .”

Among China’s intellectual elite, ever since the 8th century, tea possessed an exalted status as a beverage that facilitated spiritual enlightenment. In particular, the sencha form of green tea, made from whole leaves steeped in boiling water, was the tea of choice for Chinese literati. Sencha eventually made its way to Japan, though its road to popularity wasn’t an easy one. According to Graham, political turmoil between the two countries discouraged the Japanese from learning about Chinese culture, including how they prepared tea.

Both sencha (above) and powdered matcha tea come from the same tea plant, Camellia senensis.

Both sencha (above) and powdered matcha tea come from the same tea plant, Camellia senensis.

At the time, a highly ritualistic chanoyu tea ceremony using another form of tea—powdered green matcha tea—reigned supreme in Japan, especially among the military elite. Exposure to sencha began in the 1600s, through the monks of the Obaku school of Zen Buddhism. Those who disliked the shogun rulers identified with the Obaku monks and their simpler sencha ceremony.

Sencha’s popularity was solidified in the 1700s, thanks to an eccentric, charismatic former monk named Baisao. Known as “the old tea seller,” Baisao peddled sencha on the streets of Kyoto as a way to attain spiritual enlightenment. Baisao called sencha an “elixir to change your very marrow,” urging people to drink the tea because “who knows, you may reach sagehood yourselves.”

Baisao did more than just convince people to drink sencha. His choice of more modest utensils for preparing tea permeated popular culture. When he died, his followers decided that proper sencha utensils should look like his, not the rare and expensive ones used for chanoyu. Chief among these was the unglazed, side-handled teakettle. Items associated with sencha gave rise to an entire craft industry in Japan.

A drawing of the Tamagawa (Jade Stream) Tea Garden, a sencha teamaster’s garden, from Landscape Gardening in Japan, 1893, by Josiah Conder (1852–1920). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A drawing of the Tamagawa (Jade Stream) Tea Garden, a sencha teamaster’s garden, from Landscape Gardening in Japan, 1893, by Josiah Conder (1852–1920). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The shift to sencha got another boost in 1802 with the publication of a guide in Japanese on how to prepare this form of tea. In the same period, tea ceremonies held by the intellectual class started featuring Chinese art objects—bronzes, cabinets, fans, paintings, scrolls, and baskets with flower arrangements—further encouraging an acceptance of Chinese customs. By the early 1800s, sencha had eclipsed chanoyu in popularity, and with it came a heightened appreciation of Chinese culture.

When asked by an audience member about the caffeine level of sencha, Graham recounted that while studying in Japan, she was drinking tea all day and had trouble sleeping. “Really good green tea makes you feel really alert,” she said.

She quoted Japanese author Natsume Soseki, who in her novel The Three-Cornered Room wrote: “. . . I would say that it is better to go without sleep than without tea.”

This botanical print of tea appears as the frontispiece for The Natural History of the Tea-tree, 1799, by John Coakley Lettsom, M.D. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This botanical print of tea appears as the frontispiece for The Natural History of the Tea-tree, 1799, by John Coakley Lettsom, M.D. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can appreciate the practice of the more formal chanoyu ceremony by taking a tour of The Huntington’s Japanese ceremonial teahouse—Seifu-an (the Arbor of Pure Breeze). Informal, docent-led tours are offered between 12:30 and 4 p.m. on the second Monday of each month.

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

Let’s Get Oriented

The new Mapel Orientation Gallery offers historic and behind-the-scenes information on The Huntington, as well as a variety of imaginative things to see, hear, and smell.

The new Mapel Orientation Gallery offers historic and behind-the-scenes information on The Huntington, as well as a variety of imaginative things to see, hear, and smell.

Did you know that the Huntington property was once home to the first commercial avocado orchard in Southern California? That in 1910, Henry Huntington’s network of trolley cars, the Pacific Electric “Red Cars,” stretched over 1,300 miles across Los Angeles? That in Huntington’s day, the temple bell in the Japanese Garden rang each afternoon to signal the arrival of the newspaper?

These intriguing tidbits, and many more, are awaiting you at the new Mapel Orientation Gallery, part of the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center that is opening Saturday, April 4. The space is the brainchild of Karina White, senior gallery designer at The Huntington. White helped create the smart, engaging permanent exhibitions in The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory, the Library Main Hall, and the Dibner Hall of the History of Science. And now she’s done it again!

Instagram shots snapped by visitors and tagged #AtTheH may show up on this wall, along with handwritten tips.

Instagram shots snapped by visitors and tagged #AtTheH may show up on this wall, along with handwritten tips.

In three sections occupying more than 2,000 square feet of former bookstore space, a series of displays welcome Huntington visitors. Here you can gain a quick sense of what there is to see and do; learn fascinating background on founder Henry Huntington, his family, and his times; and enjoy a delicious primer on The Huntington’s collections, and understand how they’re being used in research and education.

Walk through the doors, and it’s a veritable feast for the senses. Projected on either side of the doorway are silent, poetic films by Los Angeles–area artists Rick Bahto, Charlotte Pryce, and Steve Roden. Each took a camera in hand to explore objects from our collections and spaces that you can see during your visit. Their short films run in a loop—and the results are mesmerizing. Even if you think you know a good deal about Huntington history, take 10 minutes to watch our new movie on the subject; it’s a treasure trove of information and spectacular visuals, cooked up by talented, young L.A. filmmaker Cosmo Segurson.

Take a peek at work going on at The Huntington. Or lift a headphone to hear a collage of sounds, from staff members talking about their favorite objects in the collections, to the sounds of footsteps in the galleries.

Take a peek at work going on at The Huntington. Or lift a headphone to hear a collage of sounds, from staff members talking about their favorite objects in the collections, to the sounds of footsteps in the galleries.

Speaking of senses, don’t miss our “scent bar.” Pick up a wooden bowl and take a big whiff. Scents of wild sage, roses, or orange blossoms bring you back to the fragrances in the air a century ago.

And if you’ve never seen a Red Car, you’re in for a treat: we pulled out The Huntington’s very own model, asked our conservators to spiff it up, and put it on display. Those of us who contend with regular tie-ups on the freeways are likely to look on its demise with some regret.

On one wall of the gallery, we provide visitors with a glimpse into what our researchers, educators, conservators, and curators are doing. More than 400 people work at The Huntington, and you can hear their voices, too—in short audio pieces where staff members give their own take on this magical place.

Get the scoop on how Henry Edwards Huntington married his late uncle’s wife, Arabella Duval Huntington, creating a formidable power couple.

Get the scoop on how Henry Edwards Huntington married his late uncle’s wife, Arabella Duval Huntington, creating a formidable power couple.

If you’re wondering where to start your visit, then why not try one of our “quirky tours”? As in the “I Need to Chill Out” tour, or the “I Love the Macabre” tour, or “The Wanderlust” tour. They may lead you in very unexpected directions.

Before you leave, take a minute to read visitor recommendations on what to see and do, or jot down some of your own. And if you’re the kind of person who favors the visual, you’ll also find a rotating selection of visitors’ Instagram shots, curated by Huntington staff. So if you’re here, and you’re on Instagram, tag your best photo with #AtTheH for a chance to be featured on this wall. We love seeing what catches your eye!

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

The Union Forever

President Lincoln visiting the former residence of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, in Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865. Wood engraving from a sketch by Joseph Becker. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 29, 1865. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

President Lincoln visiting the former residence of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, in Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865. Wood engraving from a sketch by Joseph Becker. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 29, 1865. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

With the arrival of April, we begin the final countdown of Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorations. In short order, we will mark the 150th anniversaries of Appomattox (April 9), the shooting of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre (April 14), and the death of the president (April 15).

But don’t let April 4 go by without commemorating one of the most remarkable days of Lincoln’s presidency, his safe stroll through a conquered Richmond with his 12-year-old son Tad at his side. After Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday, journalists would look back at Lincoln’s triumphal but humble march through the Confederate capital as the Union savior’s Palm Sunday: Lincoln entered Richmond just as Jesus had entered Jerusalem, praised and jostled by the poorest residents (the black slaves in Lincoln’s case) and destined soon for martyrdom. Lincoln ended the walk in Union Army headquarters, where he sat down quietly to drink a glass of water in a building that, just the day before, had been the Confederate White House of Jefferson Davis. Only after his assassination on April 14 would journalists and historians marvel at how Lincoln had tempted fate by risking his life in the heart of an embittered Dixie.

President Lincoln riding through Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865. Wood engraving from a sketch by Joseph Becker. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 22, 1865. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

President Lincoln riding through Richmond, Virginia, on April 4, 1865. Wood engraving from a sketch by Joseph Becker. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 22, 1865. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Historian Richard Wightman Fox, author of the new book Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History (W. W. Norton & Co., 2015), wonders why such a dramatic moment has become a mere footnote to most Americans.

“Until the early 20th century, the Richmond walk was an iconic episode in Lincoln’s life, but it’s largely unknown today,” said Fox, professor of history at the University of Southern California.

Fox will talk about his book on April 23 in Rothenberg Hall—part of the new Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center—in a public lecture titled “What We’ve Forgotten about Lincoln’s Body, and What We’ve Never Known.”

In his book Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History, cultural historian Richard Wightman Fox explains how Lincoln’s body fascinated Americans throughout his life and even after his death.

In his book Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History, cultural historian Richard Wightman Fox explains how Lincoln’s body fascinated Americans throughout his life and even after his death.

It’s fitting that Fox will be among the first lecturers to inaugurate the new facility, which opens on April 4, 2015. Six years ago, on April 3, 2009, Fox delivered a memorable talk in the old facility, Friends’ Hall. That presentation, “Striding Toward Assassination,” focused on the Richmond walk and took place late in the afternoon of the first full day of a Civil War conference that marked the bicentennial year of Lincoln’s birth: “A Lincoln for the 21st Century.”

Fox drew attention to two additional anniversaries during his talk. First, he discussed the circumstances surrounding the Richmond walk, which, in 2009—Fox couldn’t help noting—had occurred seven score and four years ago. Lincoln’s respite in the Confederate White House had taken on apocryphal dimensions over the years, and Fox recounted his quest to find contemporary accounts of the episode.

Fox finished with a story about a speech that had taken place the night before the Richmond walk, at a Chicago rally celebrating the Confederate evacuation of Richmond, in which the speaker, Edwin Channing Larned, told the cheering crowd that he “fancied Lincoln sitting in Davis’ armchair in Richmond telling stories.”

As Fox came to the conclusion of his talk, it was well past 5 p.m. in San Marino, or 7 p.m. in Chicago—that is, it was the anniversary, down to the minute, of the Chicago gathering of 1865.

Inspired by this coincidence of timing, Fox asked the audience to join him in a rendition of “Battle Cry of Freedom,” one of the popular war songs belted out by the crowd in Chicago exactly 194 years earlier. With a photocopy of the lyrics as printed at the start of James McPherson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book Battle Cry of Freedom, Fox cleared his throat and began singing what now seems like a final coda to the old Friends’ Hall:

We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And although they may be poor, not a man shall be a slave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Then a chorus of historians and audience members joined in—James McPherson among them:

The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitors, up with the stars;
While we rally round the flag, boys, we rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad Lincoln looking at a photograph album in photographer Mathew Brady’s gallery, Washington, D.C., Feb. 9, 1864. Photograph by Anthony Berger. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad Lincoln looking at a photograph album in photographer Mathew Brady’s gallery, Washington, D.C., Feb. 9, 1864. Photograph by Anthony Berger. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can commemorate the anniversary of the Richmond walk on April 4 by strolling through the newly opened Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center on your way to the Library West Hall to view the exhibition “The U.S. Constitution and the End of American Slavery,” which remains open until April 20. Richard Fox’s lecture on April 23 in Rothenberg Hall is free and open to the public; register online or call 800-838-3006.

Matt Stevens is the former editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine. He is now managing editor at the USC Rossier School of Education.

A California Garden

The San Gabriel Mountains form a backdrop to the Celebration Garden, with the new Mapel Orientation Gallery on the left and new café on the right.

The San Gabriel Mountains form a backdrop to the Celebration Garden, with the new Mapel Orientation Gallery on the left and new café on the right.

When the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center opens on April 4, 2015, Scott Kleinrock hopes the first things visitors notice are the gardens. As garden design and landscape construction coordinator, Kleinrock has created garden spaces that complement the new buildings, which include an orientation gallery, a state-of-the-art auditorium, an elegant café, and four new classrooms, among other structures. The gardens have even taken on some of the roles normally reserved for indoor areas.

“These new spaces do everything a garden should do: they’re beautiful, they provide shelter, they’re comfortable places to talk with people, and gorgeous things will happen in them throughout the year,” says Kleinrock. A main goal of the project was to use California natives and dry-climate plants.

Kleinrock relished the idea of showcasing the broad range of drought-tolerant plants that can thrive in Southern California—from native plants you might see hiking in the nearby San Gabriel mountains to unusual specimens from far-off areas that share a Mediterranean climate, such as parts of Australia, South Africa, and southern Europe.

Cyclists and visitors on foot arrive in an area shaded by a dozen California pepper trees.

Cyclists and visitors on foot arrive in an area shaded by a dozen California pepper trees.

Visitors now arrive from the parking lot under soft, dappled shade provided by more than a dozen large California pepper trees (Schinus molle) and then enter a courtyard seating area sheltered by four stately podocarpus trees (mature Podocarpus gracilior, relocated from elsewhere on the property). A long allée of fruitless olives (Olea europea ‘Wilsonii’) leads to the Education and Visitor Center’s formal entrance.

On either side of the allée are “hedge rooms” that enclose benches and tables, delineated by dwarf myrtle (Myrtus communis ‘Compacta’) that will eventually grow to be about three feet tall, lending the hedge rooms a sense of intimacy. Kleinrock hopes to see a cross-section of people congregate here—research scholars, school groups, families, and other visitors.

Over time, oak trees like the newly planted Pasadena oak (Quercus engelmannii) and Cork oak (Quercus suber, a European native) will reach their full, majestic size and help temper even the most extreme summer heat. (Pasadena oaks grow to 30 feet or more and cork oaks grow twice as tall.)

Almost all of the new buildings have a corresponding outdoor space, and they line a central garden area with “hedge rooms” furnished with benches.

Almost all of the new buildings have a corresponding outdoor space, and they line a central garden area with “hedge rooms” furnished with benches.

Understory plants add a burst of year-round color—as well as wacky shapes. It’s hard to be more dramatic than the showy Australian native Grevillea ‘Moonlight’, with its bright white blooms or Grevillea ‘Purple Haze’, with long spikes of purple flowers. Native plants from the American southwest also add vibrant hues to the garden’s palette, such as Hesperaloe parviflora, a desert plant with intense, red flowers that hummingbirds find irresistible.

The Rose Hills Foundation Garden Court, a glass-domed area, is one spot where a little water goes a long way. A fretted rooftop and huge fans drop the temperature a few degrees, creating a microclimate that supports lush, exotic plants. Here you’ll find palm trees shading Tasmanian tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and, climbing the court’s columns, the flowering Cup of Gold Vine (Solandra maxima) and Easter Lily Vine (Beaumontia grandiflora).

At the end of the olive-lined allée, the garden transitions to the historic core of The Huntington property. Where stairs once led down towards the Library to the right and the Desert Garden to the left, a Celebration Garden now greets visitors with a gentle slope lined with terraced flowered beds and a shallow stream of recirculated water that empties into a rectangular pool.

At last count, the new plantings numbered close to 50,000, covering an area of 6.5 acres.

At last count, the new plantings numbered close to 50,000, covering an area of 6.5 acres.

“Water should be conserved, but it’s also something to be celebrated,” says Kleinrock. “On a hot summer day, in a dry climate, the effect of a small amount of water can be incredible.”

Throughout the Celebration Garden, flowers bloom in a riot of colors. You’ll find the intense blues of Canary Island lavender (Lavandula canariensis) and Otto Quast Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast’), as well as a rainbow of yarrow, penstemon, kangaroo paw, aeonium, and California poppy. Meanwhile, cheerful, elegant Lemon Queen lavender cotton (Santolina neapolitana ‘Lemon Queen’) demonstrates how at home a Mediterranean native plant can be in California.

Standing at the bottom of the Celebration Garden, visitors should take a moment to turn around and look back. On a clear day, the San Gabriel Mountains provide a fitting backdrop to The Huntington’s new California garden.

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

 

Rauschenberg and Los Angeles

Robert Rauschenberg’s Global Loft (Spread), 1979, left, was acquired in 2012 as a gift in memory of Robert Shapazian. It is now joined by 15 of the artist’s photographs of Los Angeles, on loan from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Photo by John Sullivan.

Robert Rauschenberg’s Global Loft (Spread), 1979, left, was acquired in 2012 as a gift in memory of Robert Shapazian. It is now joined by 15 of the artist’s photographs of Los Angeles, on loan from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Photo by John Sullivan.

Since 2012, The Huntington has displayed Global Loft (Spread), 1979, a mesmerizing work by groundbreaking 20th-century artist Robert Rauschenberg, combining acrylic paint, pieces of fabric, three glue brushes, and a series of photographs on three conjoined wood panels. Visitors can now contemplate that piece alongside 15 of the artist’s photographs depicting Los Angeles in 1981 from his “Photos In + Out City Limits” series. The photographs are on loan from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art until June 2, 2015.

Photography was central to Robert Rauschenberg’s work as an artist. He frequently used photographic images, both ones made by him and others, in his painting and printmaking. He also considered photographs as works of art in their own right. Early in his career, he had expressed the desire to photograph the entire United States. In that spirit, he later turned his camera lens on several cities, including Los Angeles. In a book about the “Photos In + Out City Limits” project, Rauschenberg explained that his purpose was not to totally document, moralize, or editorialize the cities he was photographing. Instead, he said the photographs were “a collection of selected provocative facts (at least to me) that are the results of my happening to be there.”

Los Angeles, 1981, from “Photos In + Out City Limits”. Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

Los Angeles, 1981, from “Photos In + Out City Limits”. Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

Rauschenberg’s images combine the familiarity of a resident with the fresh perspective of an observant visitor. Rather than looking to the architecture of freeway overpasses or focusing on obvious L.A. landmarks, he took the point of view of the pedestrian on side streets, in parking lots, and by the beach. Some of these images express the visual cacophony of the city. Others are quiet and serene. Most of them capture surprising juxtapositions that express the artist’s playful sense of humor and illuminate his fascination with reflections, shadows, popular culture, and the intersection of the man-made world with the natural environment.

A volleyball net frames and seemingly catches two sailboats. A painted wave appears to crash into a parked car. Flats of live plants sit next to faux bois. The Queen Mary ocean liner appears to be parked next to a recreational vehicle and a van adorned with a painting of a cowboy lassoing a steer. These fleeting moments, so carefully framed, stand in for the larger city, a place that clearly amuses him.

Los Angeles, 1981, from “Photos In + Out City Limits”. Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

Los Angeles, 1981, from “Photos In + Out City Limits”. Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

Rauschenberg wrote that he used photography to resolve a personal conflict between curiosity and shyness. He thought of the camera as giving him permission to walk into every shadow or watch while any light changed. He wrote: “Mine is the need to be where things will never be the same again, discovering a kind of archaeology in time only, forcing one to see whatever the light or the darkness touches, and care.” He may have hid behind his lens to mediate his interactions with the world, but the results are squarely part of his artistic practice, demonstrating the visual acuity and wit that pervade all his work.

The Huntington holds a particular affection for Robert Rauschenberg, rooted in a well-documented account of how he decided to become an artist. Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Rauschenberg spent his adult life primarily in New York and Florida. While serving in the United States Navy from 1944–1945, he was stationed in San Diego. On a day off, he made his way north to The Huntington. Standing in front of the large 18th-century British portraits that hang in the Huntington Art Gallery, he had the stunning realization that he could become an artist.

Los Angeles, 1981, from “Photos In + Out City Limits”. Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

Los Angeles, 1981, from “Photos In + Out City Limits”. Art © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, N.Y.

The Huntington would like to thank the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation for so generously lending these photographs and supporting the installation. The 89 photographs that were part of “Photos In + Out City Limits: Los Angeles” were exhibited at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery in the early 1980s. The cities Rauschenberg photographed included Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Captiva, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; Ft. Myers, Florida; Los Angeles, California; and New York, New York.

Related content on Verso:
From Gainsborough to Rauschenberg
Something to Celebrate

Jessica Todd Smith is Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art for The Huntington.