Birthday of a Genius

William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623).

William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623).

This weekend, Shakespeare lovers from all over the world will descend on the playwright’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon to celebrate the Bard’s 450th birthday with performances, processions, pageants, readings, and parties. (Shakespeare was baptized April 26, 1564, and scholars have long believed he was born on April 23.) Closer to home, you can find any number of ways to commemorate the special occasion, including a quiet visit to “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times: Highlights from the Huntington Library,” where you can see some of The Huntington’s greatest treasures, including items in a Shakespeare-themed section titled “A Book of Plays by a Genius.”

Chief among The Huntington’s Shakespeare holdings is the focal point of that section, the First Folio (1623), the most reliable source for 36 of his plays. No plays in Shakespeare’s hand survived. His former partners in the King’s Men theatre company edited the comedies, tragedies, and histories according to “the true originall copies.” Half the plays—including Macbeth and Julius Caesar—had not appeared in print before and might not have been available to future generations without the First Folio.

 The First Folio anchors “A Book of Plays by a Genius” (at far right), one of 12 sections in “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times: Highlights from the Huntington Library.”

The First Folio anchors “A Book of Plays by a Genius” (at far right), one of 12 sections in “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times: Highlights from the Huntington Library.”

One play that was published prior to the First Folio is Hamlet. It appeared in print four times during Shakespeare’s lifetime, which suggests that it was a hit from the beginning. The library exhibition includes the 1611 edition as well as a facsimile of the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from the 1603 Hamlet. (The Huntington’s copy of that edition, one of two in existence, is too fragile for display.) Some scholars speculate that this abbreviated version of the tragedy was used when the company toured outside London, a reminder that plays are meant to live and breathe and that theatre adapts to circumstances. The display also includes an audio component that features an actor reading the different versions of the soliloquy.

Shakespeare’s world was turbulent and dynamic. As in other sections of “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times,” the Shakespeare cases represent a miniature exhibition in its own right.

“The idea here is to give people a sense of the world in which these key works were produced, not just have them stand in isolation,” said David Zeidberg, the Avery Director of the Library, when the Main Hall reopened in November 2013.

The display also inlcudes a listening device that features an actor reading two versions of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

The display also inlcudes a listening device that features an actor reading two versions of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

Among these other items is a copy of a 1605 speech by King James I, who spoke about the Gunpowder Plot to overthrow the monarch and Parliament. The object label next to the published speech explains that Macbeth, in which the good King Duncan is murdered, might have been a gesture of Shakespeare’s loyalty to King James.

This was also a time of exploration. Silvester Jourdain’s Discovery of the Barmudas (1610) recounts a voyage from Plymouth, England, to Jamestown, Va., that was so horrific that the crew, fearing the end was at hand, got roaring drunk. Could this be the inspiration for the scene in Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, in which Trinculo, Stefano, and Caliban imbibe “celestial liquor” to excess?

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes (1597), by John Gerard, was a widely known, extensively illustrated work that included recipes for topical remedies as well as antidotes for poison. Shakespeare’s plays mention many of the plants referenced in the work. Macbeth, distraught with the arrival of the English army opposing his own, asks his doctor for a concoction to ward off the enemy:

What rhubarb, senna or what purgative drug
Would scour these English hence?

Other works of Shakespeare’s era give added context to the Bard’s plays.

Other works of Shakespeare’s era give added context to the Bard’s plays.

In Hamlet, Ophelia, in her madness, hands out herbs. To Laertes her brother,

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.

There’s plenty of time to honor Shakespeare. The celebration has a three-year span: April 23, 2016, eerily, is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

On May 6 in the Ahmanson Room of the Brody Botanical Center, Bradin Cormack, professor of English at Princeton University, offers further illumination of Hamlet, Macbeth, and other Shakespeare plays in a free lecture at 7:30 p.m. The event is free but requires reservations:, 800-838-3006.

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

Thinking Outside the Bin


Garden educators took part in a series of agroecology workshops in the Huntington Ranch Garden in February, including a session on mesophilic and thermophilic composting. Photo by Kyra Saegusa.

Are visions of spring fertility dancing in your head but not in your garden? Could the magical process of composting bring new life to your soil and plants? Back in January and February I attended a professional development series at the Huntington Ranch and have been putting those lessons to good use. The sessions were part of a Train-the-Trainer program that brings in community leaders, educators, and professionals while using the Ranch Garden site as an agroecology resource. Participants included members from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Farmscape, The Garden School Foundation, and Master Gardeners from both the San Bernardino County and Los Angeles County programs.

You may be wondering, “What on earth is agroecology?” Well, it’s an ecosystem-based approach to gardening in which the systems that support the health of the garden are viewed as interconnected. So the soil, plants, insects, and wildlife (and people) all work together to create a mutually beneficial environment.


In a hands-on session in thermophilic composting, workshop participant Kathryn Kocarnik (with pitchfork) combines nitrogen-producing weeds and vegetable scraps with layers of carbon-rich decomposed green waste as presenter Nance Klehm (at right) offers instruction. Photo by Kyra Saegusa.

As a horticultural research intern for the Huntington Ranch, I attended one of the new workshops, “Mesophilic versus Thermophilic Composting,” which was held at the Ranch Garden site. I’m no composting neophyte, but like many of the participants, I had no idea what “mesophilic” and “thermophilic” meant in composting context. I knew that we need compost to add organic matter to poor soils and improve the living biology of the soil. But why couldn’t gardeners just buy compost at the garden store? Wasn’t it inconvenient to produce enough compost for your whole garden?

Instructor Nance Klehm would disagree. Something of a composting fanatic, Klehm is a Chicago-based horticultural consultant, ecological systems designer, and permaculture grower who works regularly in California and Arizona (Check out her website). Committed to the grassroots level (a little horticultural humor), she is working with state policy makers in Illinois to make large-scale community composting programs safe and legal. In addition to teaching the urban agroecology sessions in January, Klehm led many of the February professional development workshops, including my session. Her dynamic, scientific, integrative, and hands-on teaching style is based on a lifetime of experimenting and experience—a perfect fit for empowering urban gardeners of all levels.

During our class at the Ranch, she emphasized how important it was to make enough compost to improve the soil you already have, which means you won’t need to bring in scarce and valuable soil from other places. To support her message, Klehm showed us how to build two different compost piles: a hotter setting perfect for thermophilic bacteria and a cooler space suited for mesophilic bacteria.

The thermophilic pile was a space-friendly arrangement for amateurs. The round, above-ground pile looked like a layer cake, with alternating nitrogen and carbon layers. The nitrogen-producing materials included green weeds that we gathered and vegetable-based food scraps, while the carbon layers were Ranch green waste that had been drying and decomposing for months. Thermophilic bacteria live in temperatures from 131 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so these nitrogen and carbon layers provide a perfect environment for thermophilic bacteria to kill off pathogenic bacteria and fungi, harmful insect eggs, and coliform bacteria.

Next, we built the mesophilic pile. We dug a hole two feet deep, measuring about five feet by five feet. We used the same ingredients, just less green and food waste. An underground pile is a good fit for hot, dry Southern California: This type of pile stays cooler and moister and requires less maintenance (using a pitchfork or shovel, be sure to turn your hot pile once or twice after the temperature drops to mesothermic levels of 68–113 degrees Fahrenheit, which could take three–four weeks). Klehm explained that while mesophilic bacteria were fast decomposers, the combination of bacteria and a more diverse population of microbes creates a slower rate of decomposition. So if you’re not in a composting hurry, why not try mesophilic?

Now both of the piles need to progress to more stable lower temperatures, and then sit or “cure” for an important, final cooling-off stage. The whole composting process takes about three months for the hotter thermophilic pile and about five to six months for the cooler mesophilic pile.

There’s a saying that “compost happens,” but we gardeners can share information and simple strategies to help our home and community gardens spring to life.

The Huntington Ranch’s Urban Agroecology Intensive 2015 will be posting applications in November 2014.


Learn more about the Ranch here.

Delia Hitz is the Huntington Ranch horticultural research intern.

Give Trees a Chance


A pair of lemon-scented gums (Eucalyptus citriodora) photographed by historian Jared Farmer near the mausoleum of Henry and Arabella Huntington, 2007.

In his new book, Trees in Paradise: A California History, historian Jared Farmer recounts the first Earth Day as it played out in Southern California:

“April 1970. The Beatles announce their breakup. U.S. forces gather for the invasion of Cambodia. The world had seen better days. Chanting ‘Give Earth a Chance’—a play on John and Yoko’s refrain—U.S. students at some 1,500 schools prepare for a nationwide ‘environmental teach-in,’ better known as the first Earth Day.”

At Moorpark College, in Ventura County, 50 students laid their bodies down in front of bulldozers to protest the widening of a tree-lined road. Police were called to restore order. By the time 10 students were arraigned in juvenile court on April 22, the first Earth Day, the trees were gone.

“What had been lost?” asks Farmer. “Ancient redwoods? Historic oaks? No. They aren’t even native plants. Most of the trees in question are Australian eucalypts planted in the 19th century as ornamentals.”

So begins his chapter on the unique history of eucalyptus trees in California. In three other chapters of Trees in Paradise, Farmer covers redwoods, citruses, and palms.

Trees-in-Paradise cover

Farmer’s book is published by W. W. Norton & Co.

Farmer also used the Earth Day episode to begin the article he contributed to Huntington Frontiers back in 2007, when he was researching the book as a two-year Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. Check it out in this archived issue of the magazine or on Jared Farmer’s website. In the article, “Gone Native: California’s Love-Hate Relationship with Eucalyptus Trees,” Farmer documented the perceived health benefits of eucalypts in the 1870s; the misguided get-rich lumber schemes of the early 20th century; and the incendiary debates that have occurred since 1991, when “gasoline trees” contributed fuel to the deadly Oakland-Berkeley Hills firestorm.

This week, as you celebrate Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 25), check out Trees in Paradise or listen to the Haynes Lecture that Farmer gave here in November 2013 shortly after the release of his book. You can download that talk, “Green Screen: How Trees Made California Modern,” from iTunes U or click and listen to it here.

Trees in Paradise: A California History is published by W. W. Norton & Co. Farmer is associate professor of history at Stony Brook University. Visit his website at

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine.

A Life of Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholson with Camp Creek George.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Taylor Wins Second Pulitzer Prize


Alan Taylor. Photo by Lynn Friedman.

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

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

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

Taylor internal enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine. 


Alison Sowden at her desk.

Alison Sowden at her desk.

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

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

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

Laurie Sowd and Alison Sowden.

Laurie Sowd and Alison Sowden.

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

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

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

Laurie Sowd is Vice President for Operations at The Huntington.

Some Reassembly Required

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

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

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

But have you heard of the stomachion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Passion for Bonsai

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

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

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

Cork Oak.

Cork Oak in the Zillgitt Bonsai Court.

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

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

Flowering Manzanita.

Flowering Manzanita (seen in the 2011 show).

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

The Huntington’s Tumblr Turns One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine.

A Slice of Pi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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