A Magic Brew?

Henry Fuseli’s The Three Witches, recently acquired by The Huntington, is currently on view on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery.

Henry Fuseli’s The Three Witches, recently acquired by The Huntington, is currently on view on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery.

It’s as if Henry Fuseli (1741–1825), the Anglo-Swiss artist who created the recently acquired painting The Three Witches (1782), had concocted a magic brew to ensure his canvas would eventually end up among The Huntington’s treasure trove of artworks. Recipe: Take a picture that would be at home in The Huntington’s rich holdings of late 18th and early 19th century British painting, add a handful of connections to William Blake, Joshua Reynolds and other artists well represented in the collections, sprinkle in a thematic element tying the work to The Huntington’s Shakespeare materials, stir well and…poof, The Three Witches.

The dramatic and mysterious oil painting, portraying the three witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is a fine example of Fuseli’s artistry as a master of light and shadow who favored the supernatural. The work had been in private hands until being purchased by The Huntington. It is currently on view in the Huntington Art Gallery, after several months of in-house conservation treatment.

One of the Huntington Library’s most prized possessions is this first folio edition of William Shakespeare plays published in 1623.

One of the Huntington Library’s most prized possessions is this first folio edition of William Shakespeare plays published in 1623.

The painting will complement two related installations, “Wrestling with Demons: Fantasy and Horror in European Prints and Drawings from The Huntington’s Art Collections” (Works on Paper Room of the Huntington Art Gallery, open now through Dec. 15, 2014) and “Eccentric Visions: Drawings by Henry Fuseli, William Blake, and Their Contemporaries” (second floor of Huntington Art Gallery, opening Nov. 22, 2014–March 16, 2015).

Here are some of the far-reaching associations connecting the work to The Huntington’s collections:

British painting: The Three Witches will be in good company alongside titans of late 18th and early 19th-century British painting housed in the Huntington Art Gallery. Fuseli is one of the most celebrated, notorious and inventive artists of the period. “Given the fame of The Huntington’s collection of 18th-century British painting, it may come as a surprise that we did not already have a painting by Henry Fuseli,” said Kevin Salatino, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Collections at The Huntington. “Finally we do.”

Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1783-1784), portraying the Welsh actress who became famous for her role as Lady Macbeth. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sir Joshua Reynolds painted Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1783-1784), portraying the Welsh actress who became famous for her role as Lady Macbeth. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

William Shakespeare: The painting depicts a pivotal moment in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth (act 1, scene 3) when the protagonist encounters the demonic trio who foretell his fate, “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” Fuseli clearly followed the playwright’s description when painting the witches’ mannish features: “… you should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so.” Visitors can view The Huntington’s first folio edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays, including Macbeth, in the Library’s permanent installation, “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times.”

William Blake: Fuseli befriended and supported the English poet, artist and printmaker, who embraced his mentor’s visionary and eccentric style as well as his love of the obscure. The Huntington’s Blake works include his illuminated manuscript of the Book of Genesis among many other treasures.

William Blake shared Fuseli’s passion for fantastic, supernatural themes, like this c. 1806 pen and watercolor Satan, Sin, and Death: Satan Comes to the Gates of Hell. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

William Blake shared Fuseli’s passion for fantastic, supernatural themes, like this c. 1806 pen and watercolor Satan, Sin, and Death: Satan Comes to the Gates of Hell. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sir Joshua Reynolds: Fuseli moved to London in his 20s where he caught the attention of painter Joshua Reynolds, the artist behind The Huntington’s Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse among other works in the collection. Reynolds praised Fuseli’s artistic talents, predicting that with study, Fuseli would become “the greatest painter of the age.” On Reynolds’ advice, Fuseli made an art pilgrimage to Italy in the 1770s, where he studied the works of the great masters, especially Michelangelo and changed his name from his Swiss-born name Füssli, to the more Italian-sounding Fuseli.

A student of Fuseli’s, John Constable went on to paint his monumental View on the Stour near Dedham (1822), on view in the Huntington Art Gallery. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A student of Fuseli’s, John Constable went on to paint his monumental View on the Stour near Dedham (1822), on view in the Huntington Art Gallery. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

John Constable: In 1790, Fuseli was elected to the Royal Academy, later becoming Professor of Painting and then Keeper. Among his students in his long career was John Constable, represented at The Huntington with the monumental View on the Stour near Dedham.

Fuseli’s finest works rarely come up for sale and The Huntington had long waited for such an opportunity. This Halloween is a time to celebrate a certain trio of enchantresses. All hail three witches…

Diana W. Thompson is a freelance writer based in South Pasadena, Calif., and a regular contributor to Huntington Frontiers magazine.

Two Singular Men, One Berlin

Don Bachardy in 1991, posing in front of his portrait of novelist Christopher Isherwood (1983). Photo by Marilyn Sanders, reproduced by permission. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Don Bachardy in 1991, posing in front of his portrait of novelist Christopher Isherwood (1983). Photo by Marilyn Sanders, reproduced by permission. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

When critically acclaimed portrait artist Don Bachardy (b. 1934) visited Berlin earlier this month to explore the city where his late partner, novelist Christopher Isherwood (1904–1986), lived from 1929 to 1933, the trip was likely bittersweet. Berlin offered Isherwood the freedom to live his life as an openly gay man when doing so wasn’t possible in his native England. It also provided the material for one of his best-known works, Goodbye to Berlin, a semiautobiographical account of his time in pre-Nazi Germany. Yet the two men never toured the northern German city together, and Bachardy surely felt his beloved’s absence.

Bachardy went to Berlin to celebrate Isherwood’s life and legacy during a series of events coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the writer’s most celebrated novel, A Single Man, which recounts a day in the life of a lecturer at a Los Angeles university whose long-time partner has died. It was also the 75th anniversary of Goodbye to Berlin, which was later adapted into the play I Am a Camera and the award-winning musical Cabaret. New German editions of both works are also being issued this month. The events in Berlin included a reception at the U.S. Embassy, and a celebration of Bachardy’s 80th birthday and what would have been Isherwood’s 110th birthday.

A passport photo (ca. 1929) from around the time Isherwood first travelled to Berlin. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A passport photo (ca. 1929) from around the time Isherwood first travelled to Berlin. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington holds several drafts of A Single Man among its archive of Isherwood materials that comprises diaries, photographs, audio and videotapes, as well as letters from W. H. Auden, Truman Capote, E. M. Forster, and others. The Huntington acquired the material from Bachardy in 1999 along with 50 of his own works—drawings and paintings depicting the couple’s friends from literary and cinematic circles, including Julie Harris, Aldous Huxley, Anaïs Nin and Dorothy Parker. These portraits were displayed in The Huntington’s 2005 exhibition “Celebrities, Friends, and Strangers: Portraits by Don Bachardy.”

“Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy are internationally recognized in their fields, and The Huntington is honored to hold significant collections of their work.  The two collections form superb research resources, and we expect scholars to take advantage of them for many years to come,” said Sue Hodson, The Huntington’s curator of literary manuscripts.

Bachardy’s sketch of author and poet Dorothy Parker (1962). Copyright reserved. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Bachardy’s sketch of author and poet Dorothy Parker (1962). Copyright reserved. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Important items selected from the Isherwood archive appeared in a major exhibition held at The Huntington in 2004 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the writer’s birth, “Christopher Isherwood: A Writer and His World.” These materials were also the basis for a major biography, Peter Parker’s 2004 Isherwood: A Life. More recently, the archive helped produce The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy (2013), edited by Katherine Bucknell, and Liberation: Diaries, Vol. 3: 1970–1983 (2012), the last in a series of Isherwood’s diaries, also edited by Bucknell. A new volume of essays, The American Isherwood, edited by James Berg and Chris Freeman, drawing on these same materials and containing an essay by Hodson, will be published in December by University of Minnesota Press.

The Huntington joins in the celebration of these two singular men and their remarkable legacy of art and literature.

Diana W. Thompson is a freelance writer based in South Pasadena, Calif., and a regular contributor to Huntington Frontiers magazine.

Drought-Tolerant Delights

The profusely flowering Leucophyllum langmaniae 'Lynn's Legacy' is one of many drought-tolerant plants that will be available at the Fall Plant Sale, Oct. 24–26. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

The profusely flowering Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’ is one of many drought-tolerant plants that will be available at the Fall Plant Sale, Oct. 24–26. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

If you’re a garden lover in Southern California, there’s probably one thing on your mind as the fall planting season gets underway: drought. Finding ways to cut back on watering in the garden has become a high priority for everyone in the region. (Learn what The Huntington is doing to conserve water here.) One unexpected benefit is that many home gardeners are growing California natives and drought-tolerant species for the first time. These plants are transforming the residential landscape in beautiful ways.

At this weekend’s Fall Plant Sale at The Huntington, which gets under way Friday, Oct. 24, shoppers will have a wide selection of water-wise options to choose from, among other offerings. Sale manager Louise Guerin reports that we’re featuring many more natives and dry-climate plants this year because of the growing demand. And there’s lots of diversity within those categories, from gorgeous flowering shrubs and trees to grass-like sedges. The range of options might surprise people.

Take Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Lynn’s Legacy’ for example—one of Guerin’s favorites. A native southwestern shrub, it features mounds of silvery green foliage and profuse, long-lasting blooms in a delicate shade of lavender. It may be hard to believe that such a lush-looking plant requires only minimal irrigation, but it’s true. Other attractive specimens in the same genus are L. zygophyllum ‘Cimarron’ and L. frutescens ‘Heavenly Cloud’, which will also be available.

Southwestern native Tecoma 'Sunrise' is a tall shrub that blazes with summer color. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Southwestern native Tecoma ‘Sunrise’ is a tall shrub that blazes with summer color. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

California natives such as Arctostaphylos and Ceanothus will be prominently featured in the sale for those looking for true “local color.” But Guerin points out there are also excellent water-wise choices from other parts of the world with climates similar to our own, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Central and South America. The graceful shrub Grevillea ‘Moonlight’, an Australian native with spidery, ivory-colored flowers, is just one of many examples.

We asked several other members of the Botanical staff to share some of their personal picks at the sale. Tim Thibault, curator of woody plants, is an expert on trees and large shrubs. One of his favorites is Tecoma ‘Sunrise’, a flowering shrub that can grow to about 8 feet in height, bearing summer flowers in a rich gold hue. Another of Thibault’s favorites is X Chitalpa tashkentensis ‘Pink Dawn’, an intergenetic hybrid (a cross between different genera) involving the local desert species Chilopsis linearis, or desert willow. This small tree offers a broad leaf canopy and a long flowering season of showy pink blooms.

A favorite with cactus lovers, Weberbauerocereus johnsonii has brilliant yellow spines that are particularly beautiful when backlit by the sun. Photo by John Trager.

A favorite with cactus lovers, Weberbauerocereus johnsonii has brilliant yellow spines that are particularly beautiful when backlit by the sun. Photo by John Trager.

John Trager, curator of the Desert Collections, cares for thousands of dry-climate succulents, quite a few of which will be represented at the sale—from agaves and aloes that make a bold statement in the landscape to flowering hoyas and epiphytic cacti that are ideal for hanging baskets. One of his more unusual choices is Urginea maritima, or sea squill, a bulb that sends up tall spears of white flowers. And for cactus lovers, he singles out for special mention the Weberbauerocereus johnsonii. It’s among the most brilliant of all yellow-spined cacti and is particularly beautiful when backlit by the sun.

Plant conservation specialist Sean Lahmeyer gives high marks to a drought-adapted species from New South Wales, Australia: Acacia stenophylla, the shoestring acacia. It’s a spectacular landscape tree with a weeping, airy canopy that provides filtered sunlight to plants below, preventing sunburn. And if you like parrots, there’s a bonus: The seeds will attract them to your garden.

Nursery assistant Alicia Ruvalcaba, checking out the inventory in the plant sale area, pointed out an assortment of ornamental low-water grasses and sedges that can be used as accent plantings, borders, or as lawn substitutes. Among the standouts is the feathery dwarf red fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Eaton Canyon’. She also mentioned a favorite tree from last year’s sale, Cassia bicapsularis ‘Buttercream’, back again this year by popular demand. Several rows of cassias in 2-gallon pots were waiting in the nursery area, covered with masses of buds that looked ready to burst into buttery-yellow bloom just in time for the sale.

A wide selection of ornamental grasses and sedges, like this feathery Pennesetum setaceum 'Eaton Canyon', are versatile players in the water-wise garden. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

A wide selection of ornamental grasses and sedges, like this feathery Pennesetum setaceum ‘Eaton Canyon’, are versatile players in the water-wise garden. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

And if sale-goers need any water-wise landscape inspiration, they need look no further than the Huntington parking lot. Drought-tolerant plants are a key element of the new entry gardens for the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, which opens next year. Scott Kleinrock, The Huntington’s landscape design and planning coordinator for the project, has combined to stunning effect such flowering perennials as the California native Salvia clevelandii ‘Winnifred Gilman’, the South American Verbena bonariensis, and the South African Leonotis leonurus (lion’s tail), accenting them with soft mounds of bunch-grasses and sedges, including Muhlenbergia rigens (deer grass), Carex divulsa, and Leymus condensatus ‘Canyon Prince’. Limited quantities of each will be available.

The Fall Plant Sale will be held in the Botanical nursery area and is open free to Members and to Non-Members with general admission. Hours are from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24, and from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 25 and 26. Shoppers are encouraged to bring a wagon or cart to carry their purchases.

You can see more photos of plants we’ll be featuring at the Fall Plant Sale on Flickr.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

Two American Photographers at Home

This post is co-published with the Getty Iris.


Paul Caponigro (b. 1932), Tralee Bay, County Kerry, Ireland, 1977, gelatin silver print, 9 5/8 × 13 1/4 in. © Paul Caponigro



Paul Caponigro (b. 1932), Tralee Bay, County Kerry, Ireland, 1977, gelatin silver print, 9 5/8 × 13 1/4 in. © Paul Caponigro


It may come as no surprise to you, savvy reader, that the years spent preparing for a major exhibition are fraught with considerable challenges and no small amount of pain. An elusive loan, an uncooperative colleague, an intransigent donor, an unanticipated expense are only a few of the obstacles strewn along the curatorial path. In most cases, the outcome is worth all the trouble. There is deep satisfaction in bringing new or long-forgotten work to light.

As an example, photographer Minor White (1908–1976) was a giant in the field, but he is known today by only a relative few. The breathtaking retrospective now finishing its run at the Getty—which also includes work by White’s former students Paul Caponigro and Carl Chiarenza—introduces the artist to a generation that has never owned a film-loaded camera or printed a picture by hand. White’s deep dedication to his craft and luminous photographs inspire anew.

Exhibitions can also offer the singular pleasure of getting to know a living artist in a meaningful way. Such has been my recent good fortune with not just one legendary photographer, but two. Preparations for “Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland,” an exhibition co-organized by the Yale Center for British Art and The Huntington (where it opens November 8) began in 2009. Over the past five years, Yale curator Scott Wilcox and I have made at least one annual trip to visit Bruce and Paul at their respective homes.

Yale curator Scott Wilcox (background) with Bruce Davidson at Davidson's home in New York City, 2010.

Yale curator Scott Wilcox (background) with Bruce Davidson at Davidson’s home in New York City, 2010.

Now in their eighties, Bruce Davidson and Paul Caponigro are exact contemporaries whose paths had crossed but never converged. Each man blazed a distinct trail within the medium. Bruce was a photojournalist whose celebrated projects have ranged from teenage gang members to the Civil Rights movement, to Spanish Harlem and beyond. Paul’s illustrious career produced a ravishing body of black-and-white photography centered on the natural world.

While the temperamental and stylistic differences between the two are stark, the similarities proved, for me, all the more profound. As boys, they struggled in school and felt personally at sea.  Each got a first camera at age ten. More sophisticated cameras came as a rites of passage when they turned thirteen: Paul for his Catholic confirmation and Bruce as a bar mitzvah gift. They remembered photography, even then, as holding out the promise of a happier life.

Bruce Davidson, Wales, 1965, gelatin silver print, 8 3/8 × 12 1/2 in.,Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Henry S. Hacker, Yale BA 1965, B2009.13.20. © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Bruce Davidson, Wales, 1965, gelatin silver print, 8 3/8 × 12 1/2 in.,Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Henry S. Hacker, Yale BA 1965, B2009.13.20. © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Both men got swept up in the Korean War’s compulsory draft. The Army sent Paul to San Francisco in 1953, where he met Ansel Adams and his West Coast crowd. The group included the aforementioned Minor White, who invited Paul to visit him in Rochester, New York, where he was relocating to teach. In the years that followed, White became Caponigro’s mentor, teacher, colleague, and friend.

The military was equally pivotal in setting Bruce’s artistic course, sending him in 1956 to Paris, where he met famed street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. That important introduction ultimately opened the door for Bruce to join the elite Magnum agency, the photographers’ cooperative that Cartier-Bresson helped found.

Beginning in the 1960s, Davidson and Caponigro were deeply influenced by periods of creative exploration in the British Isles. It was this temporal and regional overlap that generated the idea for pairing the two in an exhibition.

Me with Paul Caponigro at his home in Maine, February 2014.

Me with Paul Caponigro at his home in Maine, February 2014.

Early on, Scott Wilcox and I discovered—somewhat incredulously—that despite award-winning, six-decades-long careers, Bruce and Paul had never met. But perhaps this was not as strange as it first seemed. For forty years, Bruce has lived in a comfortable, rambling apartment in New York City, where he has thrived amid the urban scene. Paul favored the wide-open spaces of the Southwest before finally settling more than a decade ago in a snug Maine cabin surrounded by trees. The two finally came face-to-face in mutual admiration at the Yale opening in June of this year.

There is something intimate and lovely about getting to know someone in the context of a home surrounded by a lifetime of things. The experience with these two accomplished artists over a period of years has far outweighed any of the predictable bumps in the road. It became the most satisfying part of the project by far. On the eve of the Huntington opening, I can honestly say (and I’ll speak for Scott here as well): Bruce and Paul, what a joy and a privilege it has been.

Scott Wilcox (center) with Paul Caponigro (left) and Bruce Davidson (right) as they meet for the first time at the opening of "Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro, Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland" at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, June 2014.

Scott Wilcox (center) with Paul Caponigro (left) and Bruce Davidson (right) as they meet for the first time at the opening of “Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro, Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland” at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, June 2014.

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

Which Witch?

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), The Three Witches or The Weird Sisters, ca. 1782, oil on canvas, 24 ¾ x 30 ¼ in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds from The George R. and Patricia Geary Johnson British Art Acquisition Fund.

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), The Three Witches or The Weird Sisters, ca. 1782, oil on canvas, 24 ¾ x 30 ¼ in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Purchased with funds from The George R. and Patricia Geary Johnson British Art Acquisition Fund.

The Huntington’s recently acquired The Three Witches or The Weird Sisters, painted by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) in about 1782, goes on view tomorrow in the Huntington Art Gallery. It’s one of three full-size color versions that the artist made. The others are at the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. All three paintings depict the trio of witches from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth who foretell his fate.

Looking for a wicked good time? Compare The Huntington’s version of Fuseli’s Three Witches (above) with the two other versions below. Scholars believe The Huntington’s is a study for the two that followed. Which witch is your favorite?

The Kunsthaus Zürich’s Witches (1783):

Henry Fuseli, The Three Witches, 1783, oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 36 in. The Kunsthaus Zürich.

Henry Fuseli, The Three Witches, 1783, oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 36 in. The Kunsthaus Zürich.

And the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Witches (ca. 1783):

Henry Fuseli, 'Macbeth', Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters, ca. 1783, oil on canvas, 29 1/2  x 35 ½ in. Royal Shakespeare Company Collection.

Henry Fuseli, ‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters, ca. 1783, oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 35 ½ in. Royal Shakespeare Company Collection.

Why do you think Fuseli made the changes he did? He re-cast and re-costumed the characters for one thing. But there’s more. Look closely at the upper left corner of the Kunsthaus Zürich painting. What is that winged-skull-demon thing haunting the upper left?! (It’s also in the Royal Shakespeare Company version, but just harder to see.) Hint: It’s on the movie poster for the 1991 thriller “Silence of the Lambs.” Well, it’s a Death’s-head Hawkmoth, a real insect with markings uncannily similar to a human skull. As an element of the painting, it serves as a portentous symbol of the fate awaiting Macbeth.

Death’s-head Hawkmoth (Image from Wikimedia Commons. Acherontia atropos MHNT by Didier Descouens. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Death’s-head Hawkmoth (Image from Wikimedia Commons. Acherontia atropos MHNT by Didier Descouens. File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Thankfully, we don’t have any Death’s-head Hawkmoths in North America. Happy Halloween!

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

A Legacy in Silver

Hudson Roysher at work in his studio in this undated photo.

Hudson Roysher at work in his studio in this undated photo.

“I ask myself: ‘Will this thing last for at least 100 years?’” Hudson Roysher told the Los Angeles Times in 1967. “My work has to be of the best quality that I am capable of at the time.” Roysher, a renowned silversmith whose work is displayed in The Huntington’s Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, died in 1993, leaving behind a legacy of exquisite craftsmanship—from Buffalo to Syracuse to Los Angeles. Much of his work was created expressly for churches: chalices and candelabras, for instance. In fact, the only existing collection of Roysher’s secular silver now resides at The Huntington, and it is sublime. Said Harold B. “Hal” Nelson, The Huntington’s curator of American decorative arts, “These pieces, along with his papers, embody his lifelong association with The Huntington.”

The silver was a gift from Roysher’s children, Martin Roysher and Allison Wittenberg. It came to the institution in 2012 along with his archives, a treasure trove of material documenting his extraordinary life and career.

A born natural, Roysher was largely a self-taught silversmith who began honing his craft as a teenager and took first prize in the annual Cleveland Art Museum show of 1934 at the age of 23. In the 1940s, Roysher’s architecturally sophisticated and contemporary secular works were sold at Gump’s, the famed San Francisco luxury retailer, while his ecclesiastical works were commissioned by numerous Southern California churches from the 1950s through the 1970s. He led the metals program at California State University, Los Angeles, for several decades and became chairman of the art department in 1971, thus influencing generations of silversmiths through his teaching, writings, and workshops.

Hudson Roysher, Decanter Set, ca. 1948, silver and Sumatra cane. On view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

Hudson Roysher, Decanter Set, ca. 1948, silver and Sumatra cane. On view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

“The relationship between Hudson Roysher and The Huntington goes back many years,” said Nelson. “While completing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Southern California, he spent time researching and writing his master’s thesis here. Furthermore, his wife, Alli, was an art teacher in Pasadena and brought her students to The Huntington on field trips. She later became a docent at the nearby Gamble House and served as one of the first consultants to The Huntington’s special gallery of early 20th-century Pasadena architects Charles and Henry Greene.”

In a few years, Nelson plans to curate an exhibition at The Huntington of Roysher’s work. In the meantime, to get a sense of Roysher’s prowess, make your way over to the American art galleries; on display in the room with the Edward Weston photographs is a spectacular decanter set (pictured above), crafted from silver and rattan. Fans of Roysher were continually astonished by what he was able to do with metal: he was an alchemist extraordinaire. He is said to have once remarked, “Looking at a piece of silver is like looking into a pool of clear water. There is a depth to it that other metals do not have.” Surely one could say that about the artist himself.

Bonnie Taylor is assistant director for donor engagement at The Huntington.

Picturing a Bloom

There were cameras, cameras everywhere for the big bloom.

There were cameras, cameras everywhere for the big bloom.

It bloomed, it smelled weird, and then, within hours, the much-anticipated show was over. And while the excitement surrounding the bloom may have passed, the images of it remain, some already superseded by other images we’ve taken since, some still waiting to be looked at, and some continuing to circulate.

The flowering of an Amorphophallus titanum (a.k.a. titan arum, “Corpse Flower,” or, around here, “Stinky”) is a pretty amazing and beautiful process to witness, and the recent occurrence here at The Huntington (our fifth bloom since 1999) was no exception. Swarms of people flocked in to catch a glimpse (or a whiff) of this crazy plant. And the large majority brought cameras. Smartphones, DSLRs, handheld video cameras, point-and-shoots, you name it. Everywhere. Including mine.

Instagrammers captured a range of views of the plant, the excitement, and themselves. Photos clockwise from top left were snapped and shared with The Huntington by @airontee, @amleon13, @rachelbitan, and @maeva_yunive.

Instagrammers captured a range of views of the plant, the excitement, and themselves. Photos clockwise from top left were snapped and shared with The Huntington by @airontee, @amleon13, @rachelbitan, and @maeva_yunive.

But why? Why this impulse to photo-document? Why the need to “capture”? And what were we even capturing anyway while we were snapping? The “moment” (what does that even mean)? The plant itself? Hardly. Proof to our friends and ourselves that we were there? Some sort of visual souvenir that we hope will help trigger a memory somewhere down the line? Do we even know?

I happened to engage in a few different types of photo-documentation over the course of the big bloom, and had different reasons for each. And there are undoubtedly some reasons that I haven’t yet figured out how to articulate.

Getting to focus on frames like this through my DSLR made it nearly impossible for me to drag myself away from this fascinating plant.

Getting to focus on frames like this through my DSLR made it nearly impossible for me to drag myself away from this fascinating plant.

In setting up a timelapse camera, I wanted to get a better sense of how the plant changed over long periods of time, to be able to find out what changes were happening overnight when none of us were here to keep tabs, and to get some sort of visual record of the human context of the bloom by being able to watch crowds fluctuating. Results are here, here, here, and here in animated gif form, and at the end of this post as a 30-second video. There was one day when it grew a whopping 4 inches in height. You can see the tip of the spadix (the tall middle part) reaching higher and higher in the timelapse. It’s insane. (By the way, final height at bloom was 5’ 6”.)

The detail shots I couldn’t stop taking with my trusty DSLR were a different bag of worms. On the one hand, I was making images that The Huntington’s communications team could share online and so I was trying to tell some sort of visual story that would give people some sense of the plant as a whole and up close. But there was also something deeply personal and moving in engaging with the camera’s views that was quite different from the non-mediated experience. Was it the lens showing me things my eyes couldn’t see? Was it the shift from consuming to creating, the sheer act of making something that got me processing it differently? Was it just a way to force myself to slow down and focus? I can’t really tell you.

The borsecope allowed views of plant parts we wouldn't have otherwise been able to see.

The borsecope allowed views of plant parts we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to see.

For the botanists involved in hand-pollinating the plant, other tools and motivations for imaging entered the mix. To get a better view of the teensy female and male flowers hidden away in the base of the plant, they lowered a borescope (tiny camera at the end of a long tube) into the ruffled spathe (the fancy crimson part) and were able to get a sense of when they should pollinate. A thermal imaging camera gave image-based readings that showed which parts of the plant were heating up—and how hot things were getting—as it neared pollination time. And though some of the reasons for this kind of imaging were along more pragmatic lines, the spectacular images being produced by these devices were also contributing to an undeniable image-fueled air of excitement and curiosity.

The heat imagery was useful for studying botanical processes and for just being beautiful to look at.

The heat imagery was useful for studying botanical processes and for just being beautiful to look at.

And to be fair, this frenzy of hyperdocumentation also brought with it some issues, the very same ones that many of us have dealt with at events where we can’t seem to get a decent view (or good camera angle) because there’s so much camera-pointing and selfie-shooting going on around us. Visceral impact upon our own comfort and desires aside, the ever-present camera and the perceived need to photo-document everything from a Corpse Flower to a bowl of soup does raise some great questions about what the presence of these devices (our own or others’) means for how we experience…well, anything anymore. And we will continue to ask and wrestle with such questions for a long time, I’m sure.

But regardless of the varied reasons we camera-wielders had for photo-documenting this bloom—helping us see features that our eyes couldn’t otherwise apprehend; giving us information we could use to further process or understand what was happening; serving as “proof” that it did happen and that we were there; inscribing ourselves into a larger cultural history; participating in the now-ubiquitous cultural ritual of documentation without questioning why; performing curiosity—the acts of photo-documentation were in full bloom right along with the A. titanum. This flowering of community, of inquisitiveness, of celebration of fleeting life was, for me, as beautiful and overwhelming as that of the plant itself.

Where to see images of the recent bloom:
Flickr: We’ve posted an assortment of detail shots, borescope pics, and thermal images.
Instagram: Scroll back through to see a mix of views. And for Instagram users, you can find lots of great visitor snaps if you search #AtTheH, #CorpseFlower, and #StinkyPlant.
Tumblr: Find animated gifs, beauty shots, pollination pics, and some awesome visitor selfies.

Kate Lain is the new media developer at The Huntington.

An Eclectic Collection of Orchids

Dylan Hannon oversees The Huntington's tropical collections, which include thousands of orchids. Here, he inspects Zygonisia Cynosure 'Blue Birds' in one of the greenhouses. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Dylan Hannon oversees The Huntington’s tropical collections, which include thousands of orchids. Here, he inspects Zygonisia Cynosure ‘Blue Birds’ in one of the greenhouses. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

In October, The Huntington will host the annual Southland Orchid Show and Sale. As in previous years, exhibitors will display orchids from around the world, a reflection of the passion among collectors for the vast and diverse Orchidaceae family. The event also reflects The Huntington’s own dedication to orchids, plants that are well represented in our tropical collections.

How is an orchid collection assembled?  When a plant family is so vast that it includes some 880 genera and more than 25,000 species, how are certain orchids chosen for the collections while others are not? Here, in brief, is some insight into these questions.

Paphiopedilum wardii. Photo by Dylan Hannon.

Paphiopedilum wardii. Photo by Dylan Hannon.

Prioritizing the development and content of the orchid collections at The Huntington means weighing institutional considerations such as educational, scientific, conservation, and display value against practical considerations like availability of plants and their amenability to growing conditions here. These limiting factors, combined with chance opportunity and curatorial preference, have resulted in an eclectic and dynamic assemblage of orchids over the years. The Huntington conserves one of the most significant orchid collections to be found among American botanical gardens today.

Approximately 900 orchid species and more than 2,000 unique hybrids currently are growing here in The Rose Hills Conservatory for Botanical Science and in our greenhouses. In both categories there are two main areas of focus: generalized, representative collections and more specialized, in-depth collections. The purpose of the first is to give visitors a glimpse of the staggering range of variation found in the orchids: the shapes, colors, sizes, and fragrances of their flowers as well as the expression of growth habits and leaf characters. This variability across the Orchidaceae family corresponds to the defining characteristics of different groups— subfamilies and tribes—of orchids: vandoid, angraecoid, and oncidioid orchids, among others. By carefully selecting from these groups, representative diversity can be presented without maintaining exhaustive collections of every group.

Acineta mireyae. Photo by Dylan Hannon.

Acineta mireyae. Photo by Dylan Hannon.

In contrast, a specialized effort involves seeking a measure of diversity within some number of these groups. Examples of this approach would be the genera Paphiopedilum, Acineta, and Lepanthes in our case. These more narrowly themed collections allow us to exhibit the evolution of orchids where similarities are readily discernible. Such simultaneous specialized and generalized collecting is common to other areas of The Huntington’s living plant collections as well.

For display and education purposes, and sometimes for horticultural benefit, it is advantageous to display orchids in a naturalistic way, such as mounted in trees. (Many orchids in the wild grow on trees as epiphytes, plants that grow non-parasitically on other plants.) This context is important, yet it limits the number of orchids we can keep on public view. In the greenhouses that house the collections, many more orchid hybrids and species serve as a pool from which plants can be brought into the Conservatory on a permanent or temporary basis. A parallel can be drawn here to the treasures in Library collections, which are exhibited only a few at a time.

The tiny flower of Lepanthes fiskei measures less than 3/4" in length. Photo by Dylan Hannon.

The tiny flower of Lepanthes fiskei measures less than 3/4″ in length. Photo by Dylan Hannon.

Visitors to the Conservatory can thus enjoy a wide range of plants, especially orchids, that are shown on a changing basis. Some extraordinary specimens have been displayed there over the years, several of which are pictured in this article and in the accompanying photoset on The Huntington’s Tumblr.

Mark your calendar for the annual Southland Orchid Show and Sale at The Huntington, coming up Oct. 17–19, 2014. A number of blooms from The Huntington’s orchid collection will be among the entries. Hours on Friday are from noon to 4:30 p.m. and on the weekend from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The event will be held in the Brody Botanical Center and is included with general admission.

Dylan P. Hannon is curator of the Conservatory and tropical collections at The Huntington.

The Gift of Time

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Matt Stevens, Managing Editor at The Huntington for the past ten years.

Every now and then a coworker comes along who is absolutely made for the job. They live it, breathe it, are the essence of the work—so much so that you think the job is them. In fact, you don’t know which came first; it’s a sort of workplace chicken and egg phenomenon.

Here’s how it all began with Matt Stevens: For a long period of time, The Huntington did its thing quietly. People knew it as a lovely place for tea, the spot where Pinkie and Blue Boy lived, the “museum” your grandmother brought you to.

But by the early 2000s, more emphasis was being placed on communications and outreach, on telling our story. And very rightly so; it turns out that with a library collection of more than 9 million objects, a spectacular art collection, and 120 acres of botanical gardens, there were a lot—a LOT—of stories to tell.

Enter Matt Stevens. Bookish and earnest with a wry sense of humor, Matt came to The Huntington to start a magazine. “You want to hire me,” he stated, in the most matter-of-fact manner I think I’ve ever encountered in an interview. And hire him I did!

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The inaugural issue of Huntington Frontiers, 2005

Brought in as the founding editor of Huntington Frontiers, Matt sought good stories like a bloodhound pursues forensic evidence: focused, perspicacious, selective. He befriended scholars, curators, and security guards alike in his search for the good stuff. He sidled up to anyone with a penchant for writing: staff, volunteers, renowned scholars who’d done research here. From Yale’s Edmund Morgan to Pulitzer Prize winners Alan Taylor and Daniel Walker Howe, Matt corresponded with all of them, winning their trust, editing their work, making it sing.

Almost to a person, people reacted with delight to the final product—their bylined stories, edited by Matt, running in the magazine. Most writers will tell you (especially writers with egos) that if they don’t absolutely abhor being edited, they certainly chafe at the process. But not with Matt. “A pleasure!” people would say to me, time and time again. “He’s amazing!”

In fact, he became the go-to person for much of the institution’s copy. Until, that is, buried under a mountain of unedited work, he hollered, “Uncle!” (Since then, we’ve brought on a bit of freelance editing help and tried to share the burden a bit.) Meanwhile, he took on the Annual Report, making it a triumph of a publication. He mastered our podcasting effort, editing, polishing, and uploading lectures and related materials to our iTunes U site, which he helped develop. He upgraded our style guide and created a higher quality standard for everything from event invitations to exhibition label copy. And he helped create Verso, the Huntington blog. And that’s just scratching the surface.

And now he’s leaving. Matt heads to USC to work his magic there as managing editor in the school of education; today is his last day at The Huntington. But what a gift the last 10 years have been. In fact, they passed in such a flurry of activity, I was stunned when he announced he would be leaving exactly a decade after he began.

In doing so, Matt made a single, final request of his colleagues: “Please, please, I ask of you,” he began, at a farewell luncheon the other day. “Please. It’s one space after a period. Not two.” And so I have tried. I even took out a pica ruler and measured this. But, geez, can I just say: that’s one bear of a habit to break!

And with apologies to Dickens (whose material, by the way, The Huntington holds a lot of—and, so sorry, Matt, about that dangling preposition, but you didn’t get to edit this piece, I’m afraid): It was the best of times, and the best of times.

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

The Library Tomorrow

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A selection of books on display in the “Library Today” gallery of the Library.

The next time you walk into the Library’s main exhibition hall to see “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times,” be sure to stop into “The Library Today” gallery. Several remarkable videos will vie for your attention—one projected onto a table and five others on view on iPads. But don’t overlook the display of recent books published by scholars who have conducted research at The Huntington. Virtually all of them mention The Huntington in their acknowledgments. These books—and their authors—are the hidden treasures of The Huntington.

Each year, nearly 200 professors and graduate students receive funding to conduct research here through fellowships ranging from one month to a full year in residence. The grants total $1.7 million, with about 30 percent of the awards going to scholars from outside of the United States. The recipients for 2014–15 are listed here and include scholars who specialize in literature, the history of science, and the American Civil War, among other fields. Many grantees have been arriving throughout the summer and are busy at work in the Ahmanson Reading Room of the Munger Research Center.

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Readers busy at work in the Ahmanson Reading Room of the Munger Research Center. (Photo courtesy of Martha Benedict, www.marthabenedict.com)

One such researcher is Susan Brigden of Oxford University. She’s the inaugural Mary L. Robertson Visiting Fellow in Tudor Studies and will be the featured guest at the opening seminar of the Early Modern British History group on Sept. 13, one of the oldest seminar series among the more than a dozen that take place here every year. Then on Sept. 22 she’ll kick off the lecture season with a talk titled “Reformation Diplomacy: Henry VIII and His Ambassadors.” You can check out the entire slate of lectures here, not to mention the rich conference programs listed here. Lectures are free but often require reservations; conferences carry a modest fee.

The Huntington posts audio of many of these programs as well. On iTunesU you can find more than 150 talks, including Alan Taylor’s lecture about the book he was working on during his fellowship in 2012–13. (The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 went on to win the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in history.) Most of the talks from the 2013–14 season are now available for download, including Louis Hyman’s Haaga Lecture about “Entrepreneurs of the New Deal,” in which he managed to work in a mention of Scrooge McDuck and tell a joke about the efficient market hypothesis. (Yes, it got a lot of laughs.)

So history is never dead at The Huntington. And, according to Frederick Hoxie, it isn’t even past. “If we as Americans have a special story to tell,” he said last year during his lecture about Native American history, “we won’t find it in the past. We will best tell the story in the future about the society that we will all make together. A story that will be informed by our past but will not reproduce it. That society—that new society—will be one based on accepting our complicated history and acknowledging the different perspectives it has produced.”

This was Matt Stevens’ final post as editor of Verso, but was bumped to make way for a tribute to him. 

Matt wrote as a postscript to this piece:  “Special thanks to Kate Lain for her invaluable work on Verso and also to the many volunteers who have helped sustain Verso, Huntington Frontiers magazine, and The Huntington’s audio programming, including Linda Chiavaroli, Nicole Fanning, Virginia Lawson, Bob Pierpoint, and Joyce Schlaker. You, too, are hidden treasures of The Huntington.”

Matt Stevens was editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine. He left The Huntington last week to join the staff of the USC Rossier School of Education.