Project Blue Boy

Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (ca. 1770) in normal light photography. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In an exciting “first” for The Huntington, visitors this fall will be able to watch and learn about the conservation treatment of Thomas Gainsborough’s iconic masterpiece The Blue Boy through a special installation in the Huntington Art Gallery that opens on September 22.

Project Blue Boy,” on view in the Thornton Portrait Gallery, will give visitors a fascinating glimpse into the technical processes carried out by senior paintings conservator Christina O’Connell as she works on the painting in public view in the gallery. (See below for a schedule of O’Connell’s gallery hours.) A special satellite conservation lab will be set up adjacent to the wall where the painting normally hangs. Surrounding displays, some interactive, will shed light on the famed painting’s history, mysteries, and artistic virtues as well as offer details about the conservation process. Tools of the conservator’s trade will be showcased, and specially trained docents will provide additional information.

Digital X-radiography shows a dog previously revealed in a 1994 X-ray. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The most popular painting at The Huntington, The Blue Boy has been on display almost continuously since it was acquired by Henry Huntington in 1921; and, for that reason, there have been few opportunities for conservation study or treatment. “The most recent conservation treatments have mainly involved adding new layers of varnish as temporary solutions to keep The Blue Boy on view as much as possible,” says O’Connell. “The original colors now appear hazy and dull, and many of the details are obscured.” There are also several areas where the paint is beginning to lift and flake, and the canvas is separating from its support lining. These issues and more will be addressed by the conservation treatment.

For the first three to four months of the exhibition, O’Connell will work several days a week in the gallery, performing such painstaking processes as paint stabilization, surface cleaning, and removal of non-original varnish and overpaint. The painting then will go off view for another three to four months for structural work on the canvas and application of varnish. Once these steps are complete, The Blue Boy will return to the gallery, where visitors can watch the final stages of the conservation process until the close of the exhibition in September 2019.

Infrared reflectography. Data collected during technical analysis of the painting last fall helped inform the conservation treatment plan. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Thornton Portrait Gallery, the room where The Blue Boy and other grand manner portraits are displayed, will be closed until Sept. 21, 2018 for the “Project Blue Boy” installation.

In-Gallery Work Schedule

Senior paintings conservator Christina O’Connell will conduct in-gallery conservation treatment on The Blue Boy on the following schedule.

First in-gallery period (Sept. 22, 2018–January 2019, estimated):
Opening day, Sept. 22, 10 a.m.–noon
Every Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.–noon and 2–4 p.m.
First Sunday of each month, 2–4 p.m.

Second in-gallery period (Summer 2019, estimated)
A similar schedule to the above will be in place.

Note that the in-gallery work schedule is subject to change; check for updates on The Huntington’s online calendar.

Conservation of The Blue Boy is funded by a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project. Additional generous support for this project is provided by the Getty Foundation, Kim and Ginger Caldwell, Friends of Heritage Preservation, and Haag-Streit USA.

You can learn more about “Project Blue Boy” on The Huntington’s website.

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

Turning Points in the Civil War

Battle of Gettysburg, repulse of Pickett’s charge by Thure de Thulstrupo (1849–1930), L. Prang & Co., Boston (Mass.), 1887. Color printed lithograph, overall 21 7/8 x 28 in. (55.56 x 71.12 cm). Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The American Civil War witnessed dramatic shifts of momentum. As armies contended for supremacy on the battlefield, their successes and failures profoundly shaped politics and civilian morale on the home fronts. For more than 150 years, those who have written about the conflict—from members of the wartime generation to recent historians—have argued about when and where the war turned decisively toward United States triumph. These debates, in turn, have sparked lively discussion in a reading public eager to identify the war’s most important events.

Candidates put forward as decisive moments include Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Forts Henry and Donelson, the battle of Shiloh, George B. McClellan’s victory at Antietam, George G. Meade’s repulse of Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, William Tecumseh Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, and George H. Thomas’s rout of the Army of Tennessee at Nashville. Titles of books such as Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War and Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam—The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War underscore a widespread affinity for turning points.

“This Reminds Me of a Little Joke,” Harper’s Weekly. New York: Harper’s Magazine Co., September 17, 1864. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Gettysburg looms largest in the public imagination as the war’s grand turning point, the “high water mark of the Confederacy” that ended any realistic hope for southern independence and pointed inexorably toward Appomattox. Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels, translated to the screen in the film Gettysburg in 1993, feeds into the notion of the battle’s importance. Shaara tips his hand in this regard early in the novel. As the armies march toward their collision in Pennsylvania, Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, seeking to galvanize his men, observes: “I think if we lose this fight the war will be over.”

Joan Waugh and Gary W. Gallagher are convening a two-day conference on September 14-15 to address “Turning Points in the Civil War.” Their roster of leading scholars in the field takes a spacious approach to the topic, considering political and social events as well as prominent military operations. The speakers will illuminate the range, and potential for disagreement, inherent in any search for historical turning points.

Richard Carwardine, David W. Blight, and J. Matthew Gallman will explore politics, with an emphasis on the bitterly contested election of 1864. Few presidential canvasses have wielded greater impact, as Republican success guaranteed continuation of the war to suppress the slaveholders’ rebellion and ended any doubts about whether emancipation would accompany Union triumph.

The Capture of Vicksburg. Harper’s Weekly. New York: Harper’s Magazine Co., 1863. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Harold Holzer, Caroline E. Janney, and Elizabeth R. Varon also take up nonmilitary subjects, extending from press coverage of the New York City draft riots of July 1863 to the decision to establish a system of national cemeteries and postwar reactions to Reconstruction legislation. Montgomery Meigs and James Longstreet, prominent generals during the war, stand at the center of the last two of those subjects.

The remaining speakers will explore military dimensions of the conflict. Ari Kelman trains his analytical lens on the West and how Native Americans figured in the expanding war. Gallagher and Stephen Cushman highlight McClellan’s 1862 campaign against Richmond that culminated in the Seven Days battles, an operation that far exceeded in importance many more famous ones. Waugh and Ronald C. White take up the battles of Vicksburg and the Wilderness, each of which resonated powerfully on both home fronts. Gallagher and Waugh bring the conference to a close with a consideration of just how Gettysburg should fit into any assessment of great turning points.

“Turning Points in the Civil War” will be the sixth conference devoted to the conflict to be held at the Huntington since 1999, with Waugh co-convening all of them and Gallagher the last five.   

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

Joan Waugh is professor of history at UCLA.

Gary W. Gallagher is John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War, emeritus, at the University of Virginia.

Abundant Harvest

Victor Gail (right) and his partner, Thomas Oxford, in 2001. Photo by Hal Nelson.

A generous bequest from Long Beach art collector Victor Gail (1929–2014) has greatly enhanced The Huntington’s American decorative arts collection while underwriting its care and interpretation. Gail’s $1.6 million gift, received this past spring, has endowed the position of the Gail-Oxford Curator of American Decorative Arts. In addition, the bequest included more than 130 works of art and funding for a handbook documenting the collection.

Gail and his life partner, Thomas Oxford, who predeceased him in 2008, spent five decades amassing one of the finest collections of early American decorative arts in Southern California. They both wanted to find a permanent home for their collection where the public could enjoy the beauty of the objects and learn from them about the nation’s past. Recognizing The Huntington’s growing commitment to American art and cultural history, the pair decided to give key pieces of their collection to the institution.

Benjamin Hill (1617–about 1670), Lantern clock, about 1650, England. Brass, steel, and rope, 
14 ¾ x 5 ¾ x 5 ¾ in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The gift includes important examples of 18th- and 19th-century American furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, and metalwork. Among the highlights are a brass lantern clock from 1650; a high chest of drawers from 1710; two 17th-century needlework designs; and a 1752 portrait by John Wollaston, an itinerant painter who worked in the North American colonies.

“We are delighted to recognize Tom and Victor’s generous gift by naming this curatorship in their honor,” said Catherine Hess, interim director of the Art Collections. “I also want to recognize the role of Hal Nelson in securing this gift. Hal’s long-standing friendship with the collectors and his stewardship of their collection strengthened their engagement with The Huntington.” Nelson served as curator of decorative arts at The Huntington from 2009 until his retirement in 2017.

High chest of drawers, about 1710, possibly New York. Walnut, yellow pine, eastern white pine, burl ash veneer, and brass, 57 ¼ x 39 x 20 ½ in.

Visitors can see a selection of objects from the Gail-Oxford Collection on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, in a gallery named for the donors.

In celebration of Victor Gail’s bequest, The Huntington has published the handbook Abundant Harvest: Selections from the Gail-Oxford Collection of American Decorative Arts at The Huntington. Written by Hal Nelson, former curator of decorative arts at The Huntington, it provides an overview of this notable collection and highlights 64 of the most significant objects.

Abundant Harvest: Selections from the Gail-Oxford Collection of American Decorative Arts at The Huntington. Written by Hal Nelson, former curator of decorative arts at The Huntington.

Abundant Harvest (144 pages, paper bound; $19.95) is available in the Huntington Store or online at

Lisa Blackburn is senior editor and special projects manager in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Sustainable Luxury

Golden Lily by John Henry Dearle (British, 1859–1932), for Morris & Co., undated. Distemper on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Have you ever wondered how design patterns are invented and how the manufacturing process of design objects works?

William Morris (1834–1896) dedicated his life to answering these questions. He founded Morris & Co. in 1861 as a response to capitalistic production methods introduced by the industrial revolution. His company created handcrafted decorative objects with the purpose of balancing sustainability and good quality, aesthetic appeal and reasonable prices, humane working conditions and mass production.

The exhibition “Sustainable Luxury: Morris & Co. Textiles and Wallpapers from The Huntington’s Art Collections,” on view in the Huntington Art Gallery’s Works on Paper Room through November 12, comprises 18 drawings, wallpapers, and textiles created by Morris and his long-time collaborator John Henry Dearle, selected from The Huntington’s holdings of Morris & Co. materials.

Among the most successful items sold by Morris & Co. were wallpapers decorated with patterns inspired by nature. In 19th-century Britain, wallpapers were the chief wall decorations for domestic interiors, but almost all were stylistically undeveloped, merely simulating the effect of fabric coverings that only the very rich could afford. In contrast, the Morris & Co. wallpaper Golden Lily, designed by Dearle, shows the originality of the firm’s designs. It features a variety of flowering plants with pink, yellow, and blue flowers, as well as green and blue foliage, on a dark-green ground covered with green dots. This type of design enriched the wall surface, giving it depth, movement, and vitality.

Seaweed by John Henry Dearle (British, 1859–1932), for Morris & Co., ca. 1900. Watercolor and graphite on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Morris & Co. revolutionized not only the design of patterns but also the making of wallpapers. After the industrial revolution, the manufacturing process in England was dominated by machines and chemicals, which enabled a faster and more efficient workflow but lowered the quality of the products. William Morris rediscovered and employed ancient techniques, such as block printing and natural dying, to achieve better designs and more sustainable products.

A considerable number of Morris & Co.’s two-dimensional designs were used for wallpapers and printed textiles as well, often employing the same woodblock. Drawings made by hand were the basis upon which all design patterns were first invented. Once the drawing was ready, the outlines of it were cut from the woodblock. For most of the wallpapers and printed textiles, this handmade printing process resulted in higher quality products than could be achieved at the time with machine-printing techniques.

Seaweed is an example of the kind of drawings used at Morris & Co. to invent a pattern design. The details of the plant and its flowers are all meticulously illustrated in the drawing. This accurate representation of the pattern on paper was essential to realize the final design.

Loddon by William Morris (British, 1834–1896), ca. 1884. Ink and wash on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Another example of a drawing used to invent a pattern design is Loddon. It was probably used to train apprentices in the printing workshops or as an aid for woodblock-cutters, providing them with greater clarity of details. The four different shapes of the flowers are represented separately and later assembled to form the pattern. Loddon shows how much attention was paid to every single step in the manufacturing process.

Woven textiles represented another important group of items produced by Morris & Co.

By early 1877, Morris established his own weaving workshop with the help of Louis Bazin, a professional silk weaver from Lyons. The textiles produced in the workshop were woven on a Jacquard loom that Bazin had brought over with him from France. (On Jacquard looms, the designs to be woven were controlled by chains of replaceable punched cards.)

Fox and Grape by John Henry Dearle (British, 1859–1932), for Morris & Co., ca. 1898.
Hand-loom jacquard woven wool. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The design of the textile Fox and Grape shows the animals facing one another at intervals along sets of interlocking ogees (pointed arches). Once the initial design on paper was completed, it was enlarged onto graph paper so that punched cards could be made for the Jacquard looms. The final product was an exquisite fabric used to furnish interiors.

Many Morris & Co. products not only sold very well but also helped establish English design internationally and shaped the taste of the English upper and middle class. You will find more of these beautiful wallpapers and textiles in the exhibition. Come see for yourself the exquisite quality of Dearle’s and Morris’s drawings and learn more about the process of creating handmade productions at Morris & Co.

Alice Klose is an art historian and the guest curator of the exhibition “Sustainable Luxury: Morris & Co. Textiles and Wallpapers from The Huntington’s Art Collections.”

Recent Lectures: April 17–August 16, 2018

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of 12 recent lectures.

Belonging on an Island: Birds, Extinction, and Evolution in Hawai‘i (August 16, 2018)
Daniel Lewis, the Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science at The Huntington, discusses his new book about the birds of Hawaii. Belonging on an Island: Birds, Extinction, and Evolution in Hawai‘i takes readers on a thousand-year journey as it explores the state’s magnificent birds, touching on topics ranging from the concept of belonging to the work of pioneering bird conservationists.


Pasadena Busch Gardens: Adolphus Busch’s Early Amusement Park (July 29, 2018)
When German brewing magnate Adolphus Busch purchased a mansion on Pasadena’s “Millionaires’ Row” in 1904, he quickly bought up some 60 additional acres stretching down to the bottom of Arroyo Seco and developed it into a lushly landscaped pearl. Busch Gardens, which opened to the public in 1906, featured terraced hillsides, waterfalls and ponds, and “fairy scenes” drawn from tales of the Brothers Grimm. Local historian Ann Scheid gives a fascinating lecture about this once-famous theme park, remnants of which can still be glimpsed around the neighborhood where it once stood.


Remembering the Reformation (May 23, 2018)
Alexandra Walsham, professor of modern history at the University of Cambridge, explores how the English Reformation was remembered, forgotten, contested, and reinvented between 1530 and 1700 and discusses the enduring legacies that these processes have left in more recent cultural memory.


Silk, Slaves and Stupas (May 20, 2018)
Author Susan Whitfield (Silk, Slaves and Stupas: Material Culture of the Silk Road) is joined by renowned theater director Peter Sellars for a fascinating conversation about the diversity of peoples and cultures that traveled the ancient trade routes of Afro-Eurasia.


The Search for Perfection in an Imperfect World (May 17, 2018)
Best-selling author Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman; The Men Who United the States) explores the origins of “precision” and the invisible role it plays, for good or for ill, in the way we live our lives. The lecture is drawn from his new book, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World.


The Frankenstein Challenge (May 10, 2018)
David Baltimore, President Emeritus and Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, discusses the challenge of globally controlling technology when potentially 200 different jurisdictions might be involved.


Reconstructing the Mindscape of a 17th-Century Korean Literati Garden: Garden of Seyeonjeong (May 8, 2018)
Art historian Katharina I-Bon Suh of the Seoul National University discusses how the Garden of Seyeonjeong’s design and layout served practical purposes but also alluded to philosophical metaphors and fantastical worlds in this East Asian Garden Lecture.


California Plants (May 6, 2018)
Author Matt Ritter, professor of botany at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, takes readers on a visual “tour” through the state’s most iconic flora in a lecture based on his new book, California Plants.


Designing with Palms (May 5, 2018)
Jason Dewees discusses how the sensory appeal of palms, along with their beautiful diversity, earn them a place in well-designed gardens.


Every Picture Tells a Story (April 25, 2018)
Richard White uses images shot by landscape photographer Jesse White to explore California’s story.


Abraham Lincoln’s Diary (April 19, 2018)
Ronald White examines Lincoln’s overlooked notes to himself, revealing new and surprising aspects of America’s greatest president.


Representations of the Garden of Solitary Delight (April 17, 2018)
Carol Brash examines four different representations of the Garden of Solitary Delight (Dule yuan), built in the 11th century by scholar-official Sima Guang.

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

Artist Mario Ybarra Jr.

Artist Mario Ybarra Jr. at work. Photo by Kate Lain.

In March 2018, The Huntington announced that it was partnering with East Los Angeles College’s Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM) for the third year of The Huntington’s /five initiative, inviting noted Los Angeles artists Carolina Caycedo and Mario Ybarra Jr. to create new work in response to The Huntington’s collections around the theme of Identity. The project will culminate in an exhibition that will be on view at The Huntington from Nov. 10, 2018 to Feb. 25, 2019. Carribean Fragoza, a freelance journalist who writes about art in Southern California, focuses in this post on Mario Ybarra Jr.

The summer day simmered. As artist Mario Ybarra Jr., his assistant Jennifer Vanegas, and I strolled through the gardens under the shade of carefully trimmed foliage, steam rose from the warm, dark earth underfoot. Sweat beaded on our faces and dampened our shirts as we walked along the well-demarcated paths, but then more briskly through the rougher back trails usually used by groundskeepers. Finally, we arrived at the Chinese Garden. Almost in unison, we slumped on a shaded bench overlooking a koi-filled pond like a trio of wilting flowers laid out to dry—an artist, his assistant, and a writer.

Ybarra (left) and Sergio Teran (right) in Teran’s print studio at Cerritos College. Photo by Kate Lain.

Despite our look of repose, or perhaps exhaustion, our true work was about to begin.

Ybarra began by acknowledging the moment. “We’re not the guy planting the trees—the brown person you’re most likely to see in places like this. But we’re cultural workers, and right now, it’s our job to sit under the trees and think deeply. That’s work, too.”

Indeed, Ybarra has been thinking extensively about the meaning of work, particularly in arts professions and for people of color. For this year’s /five residency, Ybarra and Carolina Caycedo have been taking a careful look at the labor, mainly by people of color, that built Los Angeles and the American West. The economies of culture in the arts world and the film and TV industries have played essential roles in the shaping of Greater Los Angeles, as have narratives about places and people. Hollywood, for example, has tirelessly reinforced racial stereotypes, casting Latinos primarily as maids, gardeners, and criminals. But Ybarra is looking to push beyond these limited perspectives that insist on seeing brown and black bodies almost exclusively as sources of labor rather than as intellectual or cultural producers.

Ybarra holds a printing plate etched with his self-portrait. It was inspired by small, intimate works by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) and a portrait of Dürer himself by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677) that Ybarra viewed at The Huntington. Photo by Kate Lain.

“I’m not trying to put manual labor and my labor into any kind of hierarchy. But I also don’t want to romanticize the blue collar [class], which is where I came from,” says Ybarra, whose relatives worked as longshoremen along the San Pedro and Long Beach ports near his hometown, Wilmington.

While exploring the gardens and the Library collections at The Huntington during the past few months of his residency, Ybarra has considered ancient philosophers and artists—Greek, Roman, and Chinese—and their foundational contributions to Western or Eastern thought. “Where do you think they did all of their deep thinking? Probably while strolling around beautiful gardens like this one. And that’s what we’re doing,” he says.

Ybarra inks a printing plate etched with his self-portrait. Photo by Kate Lain.

As Ybarra revisits the ancients, he is thinking about how he might reinterpret or reappropriate some of those ideas or traditions to reflect his own experience as a Chicano in Greater Los Angeles. Of all the items in The Huntington’s collections of garden plants, books and manuscripts, and works of art, it was small-scale works by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528)—and a portrait of Dürer himself by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677)—that captivated Ybarra’s attention and stimulated his imagination the most. He was fascinated by how works so small and personal could be so enduring after many centuries and still speak clearly to a viewer today.

“In contemporary art, you see a Chris Burden piece, or a Richard Serra, and they are monumental in size. They take an entire workforce to operate. Dürer’s works are small and intimate. They create a personal headspace for an exhibition. The work can have longevity, meaning, and poetry even if it’s intimate.”

Ybarra adjusts the printer. Photo by Kate Lain.

Ybarra’s turn to traditional forms of art is in sync with his recent return to the humble yet foundational art of drawing by hand (rather than producing gallery-scale installations). The process of drawing has been a way for Ybarra to reflect himself back into The Huntington’s collections. “Drawings are self-reflective. Drawing is also a way of citing the self.”

Ybarra is applying his drawing skills to another process that is entirely new to him—the creation of a series of aquatint etchings. He describes the meticulous and extensive labor of creating the etching wherein the hand drawing is only the initial point of departure. During the course of the summer, he has joined artist and professor Sergio Teran in his print studio at Cerritos College, where, under Teran’s guidance, he has learned the centuries-old process of printmaking. “The movements and gestures are in some ways ritualistic. I’m still learning what they are,” he notes.

Ybarra holds a print of his self-portrait. Photo by Kate Lain.

Select prints, as well as Ybarra’s drawings, will be on view in a November exhibition at The Huntington, alongside work by fellow /five resident artist, Carolina Caycedo.

Carribean Fragoza is a freelance journalist who writes about art in Southern California.

The Most Influential Artist You’ve Never Met

John Martin, British (1789–1854), The City of God, oil on canvas, 18 x 26 in., ca. 1850–51. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds from the Adele S. Browning Memorial Art Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth R. Bender, Mr. Stewart R. Smith and Ms. Robin A. Ferracone, and James R. Parks.

What wildly popular 19th-century painter had throngs of Londoners lining up to catch a glimpse of canvases so sensational and operatic that some swooned at the sight? His luminous, epic style was so impressive that storytellers of all stripes—from novelists Jules Verne and the Brontë sisters to filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille—betrayed his influence. Surely this great artist is a household name, right? Not exactly.

It was with upturned nose that Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830), president of the Royal Academy of Arts and the art world opinion leader of his time, derided John Martin (1789–1854) with the accusation that he was “the most popular painter of the day.” Academicians considered Martin’s work too strange, too histrionic, and too low-brow to be canonized.

“Martin’s images of fantastical, dramatic beauty certainly captured the public imagination,” said Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art and interim director of the art collections at The Huntington, “but he was never voted into the Royal Academy. Maybe that’s a byproduct of his astounding popularity. But he was absolutely crucial to the progression of Western painting tradition, influencing later generations, most directly Thomas Cole and other Hudson River School painters across the pond.”

John Martin’s paintings influenced such works as this one by the American artist John Frederick Kensett (1816–1872): Rocky Landscape, oil on canvas, 48 x 72 1/2 in., 1853. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.

Several of these—including John Frederick Kensett (1816–1872), Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), and Frederic E. Church (1826–1900)—are well represented in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

On a recent visit to the Huntington Art Gallery to see the newly acquired The City of God, painted by Martin at the height of his career, Hess described the artist’s oeuvre and his influence. Neither of us swooned at the sight of the painting, I should add, but its awe-inspiring scene of a dramatic, otherworldly landscape punctuated by tiny human figures terrifyingly dwarfed by the geography around them did bring to mind the impressive backdrops from unearthly scenes in “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars”—two films whose directors were indirectly influenced by Martin, according to Hess.

It’s not just the picture’s use of scale; it’s also the lighting that makes The City of God signature Martin. The sweeping scope of his imaginary world is dominated by a massive, dark, and jagged outcrop that blocks what at first appears to be a rosy sunset. “But it makes the viewer wonder—is the sun really the origin of this ethereal illumination?” Hess said.

John Martin’s influence can also be detected in this painting by the American artist Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904): Haystacks, oil on canvas, 28 x 54 in., ca. 1876–1882. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.

In The City of God, two little barges drift in a wide, placid harbor while, in the near distance, a valley encircled by trees invites the eye. Tiny figures perch above the scene, with a diaphanous city gleaming beyond, on high. “The total vision might be called heavenly,” said Hess, “an apt descriptor for a painting that seeks to convey a visual representation of a Christian heaven.” She added that Martin must have been thinking of a biblical verse in the Book of Revelation: “the dwelling of God is with men . . . and the city had no need of the sun . . . for the glory of God did lighten it.”

The City of God hangs in its new home among J. M. W. Turner’s Neapolitan Fisher-girls Surprised Bathing by Moonlight and The Grand Canal—works whose use of light now seem to be part of a natural progression from the “ethereal illumination” of Martin’s heaven. For a slice of that heaven, head on up to the west wing of the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery; you just might be awestruck.

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

J. G. Brown’s “Scraping a Deerskin”

John George Brown’s Scraping a Deerskin (also known as Preparing a Deer Hide), 1904, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds from the Art Collectors’ Council and the Virginia Steele Scott Acquisition fund for American Art.

In John George Brown’s Scraping a Deerskin of 1904, sunshine bathes the inside of a toolshed. The light flows from a window that frames a cheery, rural landscape. Yet inside the shed, a rather gruesome scene unfolds. An elderly but strong man trims tissue from a hide that has already been shorn of fat and soaked in water. A puddle from the wet skin glistens at his feet.

Acquired by The Huntington Art Collectors Council in 2008, the canvas currently resides in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. I was initially struck by Brown’s beautiful rendering of a stomach-churning act. The image held another surprise: the scraper is a portrait of the painter himself.

You may be thinking: Most artists depict themselves at some point—where’s the surprise? Well, Brown was hardly a country deer-hunter. Born in England, in 1831, he immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 22, settling in New York City. He first worked in glass factories while painting at night. However, he eventually became both wealthy and famous—not for images of aged, rural folk, but for sensitive (some would say sappy) illustrations of newsboys, flower-sellers, and other poor, urban youth. The melding of the serene and macabre in Scraping led me to a deeper puzzle: If Brown was a life-long city-dweller, beloved for his pictures of children—why did he portray himself, at age 73, shaving a hide in a farm shed?

The image of the man scraping the deerskin is a portrait of the painter himself. Detail of John George Brown’s Scraping a Deerskin (also known as Preparing a Deer Hide), 1904, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A little research revealed that The Huntington’s canvas was not an anomaly for the artist, but one of the first in a series of paintings, featuring the rural elderly, that he pursued from 1904 until his death. The theme clearly had personal significance. Brown was typically business-minded: he had turned his rascal youths into a formula, producing an average of 25 per year and copyrighting them for mass-consumption in magazines and as prints. His provincial seniors, on the other hand, rarely sold. Yet he continued to paint them. True, the artist was wealthy enough by 1904 that he could afford to ignore market desires. But evidence suggests that his stubbornness was more complex. He told a reporter months before his death: “When J.G. Brown is no more, those who come after me will be rummaging about this studio and they will discover scores of canvases which will show, I hope, that I was not a painter of one idea.” Brown didn’t create Scraping for his contemporaries. Nor strictly for personal pleasure. He was thinking about posterity.

While this explains the artist’s resolve, it doesn’t account for the subject matter. Experts believe Brown was motivated to depict rustic septuagenarians not only to secure his own legacy, but also out of concern for the way the U.S. was changing. The 19th century was a time of industrialization and urbanization throughout the nation. The Ashcan School (also represented in the Scott Galleries), and other American artists, captured the excitement and anxieties of modern life in their pictures. Brown, conversely, sought to preserve the figure of the hunter-farmer-craftsman, whose “self-reliant,” agrarian ways appeared to be headed for extinction.

The hammer and the leg of the workbench form a cross. This shape is echoed by the two beams supporting the hide. John George Brown’s Scraping a Deerskin (also known as Preparing a Deer Hide), 1904, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

However, the symbolism in Scraping indicates that the painter’s goal was not strictly documentary. Brown conflates the morality and mortality of Christ with both the American yeoman and his own work as an aging artist. Look, for example, at the center-right of the image, where the hammer and leg of the workbench form a cross. This shape is echoed by the two beams supporting the hide. The deerskin, in addition to evoking hunting—a mainstay of the pioneer life—is a Christian symbol of the soul’s quest for god. Besides alluding to piety and the crucifixion, Scraping insinuates the act of painting, with the hide, puddle, and smears of white on the workbench and chest recalling Brown’s own tools: canvas, oil, and pigment.

The artist’s technique further communicates his wistful mourning of what he perceived to be a more idyllic, American culture. Only the view outside the window is opaque. Inside the shed, Brown’s thin layering of paint, the subtle halo surrounding his avatar, and his noticeable reworking of the figure’s limbs (most obvious above the man’s right hand) give the picture a ghostly, diaphanous feel—as if the whole thing were a fading apparition.

Brown reworked the figure’s limbs—most obviously above the man’s right hand (the hand on the left side from the viewer’s standpoint)—giving the picture a ghostly, diaphanous feel. Detail of John George Brown’s Scraping a Deerskin (also known as Preparing a Deer Hide), 1904, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Brown evidently felt no responsibility for the disagreeable social, economic, and environmental changes that, in his opinion, were spoiling the pastoral republic—though he was an urbanite who skillfully interpreted the tastes of fellow New Yorkers, most of whom made their money through the new mechanisms of industrialization. Indeed, the artist adopted these strategies himself, increasing his sales through patenting, mass-production, and investment. In Scraping, however, Brown cast himself as a rural hunter, preserving “traditional” America in his own image—an ironic act considering he was a new arrival to the country.

Art historian Kathleen Placidi has noted that Brown was able to claim this heritage without criticism because he came from Britain, like the predecessors of most New Englanders who made up the art-viewing public of the day. She further observes that, among this public, such nostalgic images as Scraping bolstered convictions that the nation was composed of two groups: those originating from Anglo settlers and embodying “true” American values; and those newly arrived Irish, Italian, Chinese and Eastern-European immigrants—frequently blamed, at the time, for the country’s ills.

A puddle from the wet deerskin glistens at the scraper’s feet. Detail of John George Brown’s Scraping a Deerskin (also known as Preparing a Deer Hide), 1904, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Brown’s work deserves more than a passing glance—not just for its enthralling combination of the gorgeous and grisly, but for the way it continues to resonate in our own cultural and political moment.

Lily Allen is curatorial assistant of American Art at The Huntington.

Teachers Color the Summer Yellow

In the Herb Garden, docent Jane Leese instructs teachers selected for the first Huntington Voices teacher institute on how to dry herbs and create sachets. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

During their summer break, 30 selected teachers participated in the first Huntington Voices teacher institute, spending a week on site to learn from Education staff and others how to use The Huntington’s collections to strengthen their student’s voices through writing, spoken language, performance, and visual and media arts. The teachers hailed from schools located from Beaumont to Torrance and had classroom teaching experience ranging from three to 36 years.

“The purpose of the program is to mine and celebrate the diverse voices in our collections from William Shakespeare to Octavia E. Butler,” said Louise Hindle, associate director of School Partnerships and Programs at The Huntington. “We want to draw attention to the voices of men and women throughout the ages, from around the globe as well as from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Each voice has a unique story to be told. Combining curatorial expertise with access to The Huntington’s primary sources, will, we hope empower teachers and unlock their students’ potentials—by unlocking the stories of our collections.”

Joel Klein, the Molina Curator for the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, discusses volumes from the 16th to the 18th century, including The secretes of reuerende Maister Alexis of Piemount… (1558) and Natural magick (1658) while Cynthia Lake (far right), a teacher from John Muir High School, and fellow teachers take note. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Each day of the program focused on items drawn from different areas of the institution: teachers studied the quilts in the Fielding Collection on Monday, wrote poetry inspired by the Chinese Garden on Tuesday, explored the life of science fiction writer Octavia Butler on Wednesday, and performed excerpts from the works of Shakespeare on Thursday.

On Friday, the final day of the institute, teachers tuned in to the voices of early modern scientists. They began the day in the Herb Garden, where specialist gardener Kelly Fernandez led teachers on a tour and noted which plants could be used for dyes, foods, and remedies. During their time with Huntington docent Jane Leese, the teachers learned about drying herbs and had the opportunity to create sachets with a variety of dried plants. Some teachers made connections between the previous day’s work on Shakespeare and how herbs were used in Romeo and Juliet. Other teachers looked through a copy of John Gerard’s 1633 Herball to connect the herb garden tour with the teaching of science classes.

An illustration of saffron from A curious herbal, containing five hundred cuts, of the most useful plants . . . (Volume 1, plate 144), 1739, by Elizabeth Blackwell (active 1737). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

To consider more deeply how plants could be used in the classroom, teachers had the unique opportunity to explore early botanical texts with Joel Klein, the Molina Curator for the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences.

Klein discussed intersections between art, books, and botany in The Huntington’s “books of secrets.” These miscellaneous how-to compilations of technical, medical, artistic, and natural-magical knowledge had a major influence on the emergence of experimental science in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In Haaga Hall, Klein instructs teachers how to make yellow dyes and paints using saffron according to medieval and early-modern recipes. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Klein then zeroed in on a hand-colored engraving from Elizabeth Blackwell’s 1739 A curious herbal of a saffron crocus flower. “The expensive orange-red stigmas and styles of the plant produce a subtle flavor in culinary dishes as well as a vivid yellow color that has been used in dyes and pigments for millennia,” said Klein. “It was also widely used in perfumery, cosmetics, and in medicine as, for instance, a sedative and an expectorant.”

Later, Klein led the teachers to Haaga Hall, where they engaged in making varying shades of yellow dyes and paints using saffron according to medieval and early-modern recipes.

Klein demonstrates how to separate egg white from the egg yolk—noting the importance of removing the yolk membrane before including it in a mixture to make yellow dye. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Many of these recipes did not include measurements; as a result, teachers were required to experiment with different proportions of ingredients—a pinch of gum Arabic or a sprinkle of alum could alter the color’s resulting hue or fixity.

The day concluded with a brief talk on medieval manuscripts by Vanessa Wilkie, the William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History. Teachers were invited to touch a piece of parchment more than 400 years old and gain a deeper understanding of how the pages of illuminated manuscripts were created.

Thomas Castelazo (far right), a teacher from East Los Angeles Performing Arts Magnet at Torres High School, and Yvonne Oliver (second from right), a teacher from John Burroughs High School in Burbank, worked together to create different shades of yellow dye. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

When asked about the week, one teacher reflected: “This was an amazing, well-thought-out professional development experience. Each day was unique and interesting. I appreciated all of the curators and specialists who came to share their knowledge.”

Throughout the week, teachers were asked to create lesson plans for each topic. The lesson plans were put online and can be accessed by all the teachers who participated in the program. The teachers will return during the school year for a professional development day and share the outcomes of the lessons they created. One teacher noted: “So much inspiration. [This program] consistently stimulated creativity to bring back to my classes.”

Amanda Hernandez is the school partnerships manager at The Huntington.

Tracy Clark, a teacher from Torrance High School, takes notes on each shade of yellow and how it was made, and records differences in outcomes due to recipe variations. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Times of Change

Los Angeles Times building, circa 1935. P. J. Walker Construction Company Photographs, 1923–1987. 
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This month, Los Angeles Times employees decamp from their namesake building at the corner of First and Spring streets downtown. After 83 years of occupying the building, the Times is moving staff to a new home in El Segundo—leaving behind a monumental icon of the city’s Art Deco period.

The construction of the 1935 Los Angeles Times building is documented in depth at The Huntington. This chapter in the Times’ history is just a small part of the Los Angeles Times Records collection, which contains documents and objects related to the business life of the Los Angeles Times and its owners from its inception in 1881 through 2002.

Pictured from left to right: F. X. Pfaffinger, Times publisher Harry Chandler, Marian Otis Chandler (wife of Harry Chandler and daughter of Harrison Gray Otis, the paper’s first chief editor), Jacob Baum, and Norman Chandler (son of Harry and Marian Otis Chandler) posing at the laying of the cornerstone for the fourth Los Angeles Times building, April 10, 1934. Los Angeles Times Records, 1869–2002. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington is home to many such collections from the city’s business titans. The Huntington also holds the photograph collection of the P.J. Walker Construction Company, which built the 1935 Times building. Photos of reporters, photographers, press operators, and other professional staff are found in the “Dick” Whittington Studio Collection of Negatives and Photographs, a popular commercial and business photography firm of the era.

The 1935 building was the fourth home of the Los Angeles Times; a prior location was dynamited in response to the union-busting politics of the paper’s first chief editor, Harrison Gray Otis. Otis’s son-in-law, Harry Chandler, was the paper’s publisher during the construction of the 1935 building. A cornerstone made of California black granite mined near Riverside contains a time capsule with copies of the paper from the days following the 1910 bombing, along with other historic editions. The Times remained in the Chandler family until 2000.

View of “Globe Lobby,” shortly after its completion, including a portion of the Hugo Ballin mural. Los Angeles Times Records, 1869–2002. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Although the Times eventually grew to occupy five buildings on the block at First and Spring streets, the 1935 building remains the most visually identified with the paper. Featuring a giant neon clock face and “THE TIMES” spelled out in huge letters along the side of the building, it was a cutting-edge example of a modern newspaper plant at the time.

Renowned Art Deco architect Gordon B. Kaufmann visited newspapers around the country as he designed the Times building. It is recognized as one of his signature works, with colossal concrete walls that housed the massive printing presses inside.

News desks, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, 1941. “Dick” Whittington Studio Collection of Negatives and Photographs, 1924–1948. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One of the building’s most notable interior features is the Globe Lobby, designed by Kaufmann and decorated with murals by Hugo Ballin that depicted “the influence of a newspaper on humanity, and the mechanical means used to prepare a newspaper,” according to a piece entitled “A Monument to Our City,” written by Kaufmann and published in the Times in October of 1934. The centerpiece of the lobby is a massive aluminum globe that revolves slowly, depicting the worldwide reach of the paper.

In recent decades, the footprint of newspapers has decreased substantially, both due to digital technology and sharp declines in circulation. Newspapers no longer need photography studios or large tables for designing and pasting up sections by hand, and large portions of the Times complex are now unoccupied. Times staff once occupied 750,000 square feet and now will occupy 120,000 square feet in El Segundo.

Cartoonist Bruce Russell, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, 1941. “Dick” Whittington Studio Collection of Negatives and Photographs, 1924–1948. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Los Angeles Times became a tenant of the building in 2016, when then-owner Tribune Co. spun off its newspapers in a company separate from its real estate assets and sold the building to a Canadian developer. Local biotech entrepreneur and billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong purchased the Times in June, citing steep rent increases as the reason for the move.

In early July, a group of local preservationists filed paperwork to secure city monument status for three of the five buildings that make up the Times complex. What the redeveloped complex will look like is unclear. But just as it was in the 1930s, the building will be a highly visible part of grander plans for the Civic Center area of downtown. A master plan for the city’s many municipal buildings in the area is underway, with some being demolished and others renovated. The Times’s printing plant, which is visible from the 10 Freeway at Olympic Boulevard and Eighth Street, will remain in its current location.

Amy Miller is a Pasadena-based freelance writer and editor.