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.

Master Gardeners at the Ranch

Master gardener volunteer Roger Gray talks with children during a recent Saturday open house at The Huntington’s Ranch Garden. Photo by Deborah Miller.

The master gardeners who volunteer each Saturday at the Huntington Ranch Garden Open House are the perfect hosts for this one-of-a-kind garden experience. They always arrive early to harvest the freshest seasonal bounty from the vegetable beds and fruit trees and set out samples for visitors to taste. When the garden’s wooden gate swings open at 10 a.m., they cheerfully give tours of the 15-acre site and offer their considerable knowledge on every gardening topic under the sun.

The Ranch Open House, held each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., is an open invitation for the public to gather fresh ideas for sustainable gardening and sample seasonal fruits and vegetables culled from the garden’s edible landscapes. Participants in the UC Master Gardener Program are citizen volunteers who have completed an intensive, three-month training program facilitated by the UC Cooperative Extension and then work to promote environmentally responsible and sustainable horticultural practices in home, community, and school landscapes.

Master gardeners appear as natural in The Huntington’s experimental Ranch Garden as bees do on a sunflower.

Master gardeners arrive early on Saturdays to harvest the freshest seasonal bounty from the vegetable beds at the Ranch Garden and set out samples for visitors to taste. Photo by Deborah Miller.

One recent Saturday, a master gardener volunteer gleefully clutched a bunch of golden carrots that were just moments earlier pulled from the soil. He washed, chopped, and served them alongside bowls of sweet blueberries and Gold Kist apricots. Another volunteer offered fresh Swiss chard and kale to a group of young children.

Mark Swicegood, a master gardener since 2004 who has logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours, guided me through the urban agricultural oasis of fruit trees interspersed with native shrubs, crop beds, perennial herbs, and wildflowers. Around us artichokes flourished, some with leaves still closed while others displayed their fuzzy purple flowers. “Artichokes are perennial plants, so let them die down but don’t pull them out, and they will come back next year,” he advised, adding that a healthy plant can produce edible flower buds for many years.

As we walked, he pointed out winter spinach and kohlrabi and a Golden Dorsett apple tree whose branches had been espaliered against a fence to conserve space. The lizards, birds, butterflies, and dragonflies that scurried and fluttered about indicated the garden’s emphasis on nurturing habitats that support wildlife and pollinators.

Mark Swicegood, a master gardener since 2004, talks to visitors at the Ranch Garden. Photo by Deborah Miller.

Later, as I sat at a picnic table in the garden’s heart (often the spot of many engaging gardening conversations), master gardener Aaron Ostrom explained how daikon radishes can serve as natural rototillers in clayey or compacted soil. “As they grow, their roots tunnel through the soil, and when they rot, they leave behind a wonderful tube,” he said. The plant’s decaying organic matter also helps to nourish soil.

The practice of using daikon radishes for this purpose had been employed at the Ranch back when it was first being developed more than a decade ago when the land was used as a parking lot during the construction of the Chinese Garden.

“Visiting the Ranch gives people a way to see how things grow at various stages and to decide if it’s something they want at home, pointed out Ostrom. “A lot of gardening is problem solving and experimenting.”

I realized I had found botanical nirvana. If I hung around the Ranch long enough, my brown thumb might turn a shade of green, and I could picture myself at home wielding a spade.

At the Ranch garden, you can even taste some of the flowers, including this peppery nasturtium. Photo by Deborah Miller.

“The master gardeners don’t do any actual gardening at the Ranch,” said Jim Folsom, the Marge and Sherm Telleen/Marion and Earle Jorgensen Director of the Botanical Gardens. “Rather, they are the garden’s guardian angels, tasked with interpreting the site and answering questions from the public.”

Folsom thought of bringing in master gardeners when he was searching for a way to keep the Ranch open more than just one day a month, as it had previously been. For the past 20 years, Folsom has taught the botany portion of the UC Master Gardener Program class and was well acquainted with Rachel Surls, who directs the Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program.

“We’re happy that master gardeners can help make sure the Ranch is open to the public, and at the same time fulfill our mission of teaching sustainable gardening,” said Surls. “The Ranch is full of great examples of techniques and plants that are perfect for local gardens, whether in a backyard, at a school, or on a balcony.”

The master gardeners also run a popular clinic series at The Huntington several times a year at which they will discuss such topics as composting, container gardening, and canning. On August 25 at 9 a.m., master gardener Roger Gray will lead an informational and planning workshop to help extend the life of your home food garden well into the fall.

You can read more about the Ranch garden in the online Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Manuela Gomez Rhine is a freelance journalist based in Pasadena, California.

Fourth of July Fireworks

Advertising print for Excelsior fireworks by the Detwiller & Street Fireworks Manufacturing Co. Color lithograph, ca. 1885. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The offerings are explosive: “Balloon Rockets, Devil Bombs, and Barking Dog Cap Bombs, Floating Stars changing colors, making a most beautiful display in the air,” reads a fireworks catalog entry. A promotional poster announces Sanderson & Lanergan, pyrotechnists to Boston, and promises a fireworks show, “[f]urnished as usual in the highest style of the art.”

Independence Day in the United States has been marked with a show of fireworks since the country’s first such celebration in 1777. The Huntington’s Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History provides a fascinating glimpse into how this Fourth of July tradition fueled a booming pyrotechnic industry that thrived through the 19th and early 20th centuries—an industry that used to its advantage the coinciding development of printing and color lithography.

Price list for Unexcelled Fireworks Company, 1877. (Click the image above to see a larger version of it.) Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sifting through printed artifacts that contain trade catalogs, price lists, and advertising fliers, mainly from East Coast fireworks companies such as Excelsior and Unexcelled Fireworks, David Mihaly, The Huntington’s curator of graphic arts and social history, discusses how such day-to-day items as product posters that once hung in shop windows and promotional trade cards passed out on street corners provide insight into social and printing history and visual culture.

It’s curious that a circa 1880 lithographed trade card shows a hot-air balloon rising above a colorful sea of exploding fireworks. In fact, hot air balloons are a motif that makes appearances on a number of printed artifacts related to fireworks. But why?

Some early balloonists, says Mihaly, became pyrotechnicians as a way to bankroll their hot-air balloon endeavors. They would ignite fireworks while riding in their balloon gondolas and toss them overboard to the delight of audiences below. Such airborne displays were not just relegated to July 4—they included grand exhibitions and parties for the wealthy to celebrate special occasions.

Trade card for Unexcelled Fireworks Company. Color lithograph, ca. 1880. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

What’s almost as striking as the combination of hot-air balloons and fireworks is the sheer number of combined font styles in some of the promotional literature about fireworks. One poster for celebrated pyrotechnist Isaac Edge, Jr., of New York used almost a dozen font styles, sometimes employing several different ones in a single sentence. “The posters would often bombard you with a variety of typefaces to grab your attention,” says Mihaly.

As he sorts through the collection, it’s interesting to see how much a late 19th-century Independence Day celebration resembles a modern one. An Excelsior Fireworks poster produced around 1885 depicts all the familiar components: an eagle, flags, crowds of revelers holding sparklers—all beneath a burst of fireworks.

Manuela Gomez Rhine is a freelance journalist based in Pasadena, California.

The New Fellows

There will be 141 long-term and short-term fellows pursuing research at The Huntington during the 2018–19 academic year. Photo by Deborah Miller.

As one of the world’s leading institutions for collections-based research, The Huntington has for almost a century provided essential support and a congenial environment for the conduct of scholarship in the humanities. We are committed not only to giving faculty and graduate students access to our extraordinary collections, but also to facilitating a sense of community among them.

This year, grants totaling nearly $1.7 million will support 20 long-term research fellows (in residence for the full academic year) and 121 short-term fellowships (for between one and five months) as well as 12 travel grants for study in the United Kingdom. (The full list of 2018–19 fellows is available on The Huntington’s website.) Notably, eight of the 11 long-term fellows who applied for awards through a highly competitive process are women. In total, approximately 54 percent of all our grantees this year are women (a ratio consistent with representation in the humanities in general).

One of these long-term fellows is Danielle Terrazas Williams, assistant professor of history at Oberlin College and a Barbara Thom Postdoctoral Fellow for 2018–19. Terrazas Williams focuses on the social and legal histories of African-descended people in 16th- and 17th-century Mexico. Her research interests include women’s history, governance, slavery, family, and notions of class and status.

Danielle Terrazas Williams, assistant professor of history at Oberlin College, is working on a book about the history of free African-descended women who accumulated capital in 17th-century Mexico. Photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones.

Terrazas Williams’s project challenges traditional narratives of racial hierarchies and gendered mobility by focusing on African-descended women’s experiences in Mexico during the little-studied period between 1580 and 1730. At The Huntington, she will be working with rare books and manuscripts to study the regional influence of various Catholic institutions and to examine the impact of Caribbean piracy on both quotidian experiences and colonial governance.

“My book project, The Capital of Free Women: Race, Status, and Economic Networks in Colonial Veracruz, illuminates the as-yet unknown history of how free African-descended women accumulated capital in 17th-century Mexico,” she explained in her project proposal. “In the 1600s, while African-descended people in Mexico still labored as slaves in sugar fields and urban centers, a new demographic began to emerge: free Black women of means. These women, sometimes only one generation removed from slavery, had slaves, owned significant parcels of land, and managed their own businesses. My project explores the lives of Black women across the economic spectrum, evaluates their sensibilities, and challenges our notions of race and caste in the colonial period.”

Among the 11 long-term fellows who went through the competitive peer-review process, two are Molina Fellows in the History of Medicine and Allied Science. One of the Molina Fellows is Seth LeJacq, a lecturing fellow in Duke University’s Thompson Writing Program. He is currently completing work on his first book project, Run Afoul: Sodomy, Masculinity, and the Body in the Sailing Royal Navy.

Seth LeJacq, a lecturing fellow in Duke University’s Thompson Writing Program, is writing a book that explores masculinity and sexuality among British sailors in the age of sail and focuses on the history of criminal trials for same-sex contact in the fleet from the late 17th century into the Victorian era. Photo courtesy of Duke University.

LeJacq’s work explores masculinity and sexuality among British sailors in the age of sail and focuses on the history of criminal trials for same-sex contact in the fleet from the late 17th century into the Victorian era. At The Huntington, LeJacq will investigate forensic medicine and sex-related crime in the premodern West, asking how knowledge of proscribed sexual activities was generated, how it circulated, and how it was used.

“I applied for this fellowship to work with the underexplored materials bearing on sexual crime and violence at The Huntington,” says LeJacq. “I will devote roughly half of my time to medical and related works bearing on medical knowledge and practice around sex, sexual crime, and legal medicine. These include the large group of pre-modern surgical texts in the collection, such as treatises by William Clowes, John Woodall, and Richard Wiseman. Wiseman’s popular Restoration surgical treatises, for example, discuss the physical symptoms of sexual crimes. I will also work closely with The Huntington’s considerable holdings of works on venereal diseases by such authors as Daniel Sennert, Jean Astruc, and John Hunter.”

Terrazas Williams and LeJacq were among 453 applicants who competed for fellowships this year. The success rate for long-term fellowship applicants was 13 percent; for short-term applicants, 39 percent. Of the short-term grantees, a large proportion (46 percent) are graduate students, for many of whom this visit to The Huntington will be the first fellowship of their career.

We welcome all the new fellows into the research program and look forward to learning more about our remarkable collections from their diverse perspectives.

Dr. Steve Hindle is Interim President and W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington.

Artists Research and Reflect

Artist Carolina Caycedo looks through Flora de la Real Expedición Botánica del Nuevo Reyno de Granada, an account of an expedition led by José Mutis and sponsored by Charles III, Charles IV, and Ferdinand VII, kings of Spain. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. 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 inspired by 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 the artists as they begin to reflect on their research at The Huntington.

Carolina Caycedo and Mario Ybarra Jr. begin their residencies at The Huntington by bringing distinct approaches to making new work inspired by the institution’s library, art, and garden collections. Whether instinctive or methodical, intellectual or personal, both artists find ways to enter The Huntington and connect with larger historical narratives.

The gorgeously manicured gardens at The Huntington tend to have an inspiring effect on visitors and, on a smog-free day, perform the breathtaking task of extending its scope to the San Gabriel Mountains. And yet, natural landscapes, whether they are national parks or botanical gardens, can be as curated as any built environment, such as an amusement park or a shopping center. More specifically, they construct an experience for their visitors—one that, at its core, is partly spectacle and illusion.

Carolina Caycedo looks at a photograph detail in an autochrome collection from the 1920s to 1930s. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

The spell of illusion is bound to be broken. Or at least interrupted, if you have an artist like Carolina Caycedo on the premises. In a dance performance she recently video recorded, Caycedo interrupted the seamless beauty of The Huntington’s gardens by haunting them with the dancing bodies of brown and black women. Choreographed with Marina Magalhães, the dancers make a ghostly presence that seems possessed, not by the wonders of Western Civilization that surround them, but by the spirit of the Afro-Caribbean water deity Oshun. The video will be part of a multimedia installation that Caycedo is developing and will also include drawings, as well as selected items from The Huntington’s collections.

The presence of these black and brown dancers immediately evokes what is purposefully omitted from such a landscape—labor, for it is the labor of immigrants, slaves, and their descendants that have built the backbone of this nation and its institutions. Caycedo does not turn away from these complicated histories. In fact, she digs into them deeply, with vigor. She is no stranger to the oftentimes tedious task of sifting through the minutia of archival documents. Early in her residency, she was fascinated by a collection of planning documents for the construction of dams along the Colorado River. “What I found interesting,” Caycedo says, “was the rhetoric that was being used to talk about the river as a menace, as something that needed to be controlled. It was like an early shock doctrine.”

Artist Mario Ybarra Jr. looks through a collection of 15th- and 16th-century Italian illuminated manuscripts. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Caycedo’s excavation of the relationship between restrained and commodified bodies of water and the bodies of marginalized people of color throughout the Americas is rooted deeply in much of her work. Whether it’s the Magdalena or Xingu rivers in South America or the Los Angeles and Colorado rivers in the western U.S., Caycedo approaches her projects with careful, pointed questions. For her /five residency, Caycedo applies both method and instinct, as she uncovers the internal designs of power that have come to shape the Southern California landscape and the lives of its inhabitants.

For Ybarra, the /five residency is an opportunity to find intersections between seemingly disparate worlds, using his own experiences as points of reference. His residency picks up the thread that he’s been following lately in his artistic practice—an earnest return to the daily practice of drawing.

So when, with the assistance of Huntington curators, Ybarra recently browsed through a volume of Renaissance illuminated documents, he was inspired by illustrations of recurring symbols, such as lions and columns that respectively represent justice and power. For Mario, this iconography resonated with images that can be found in contemporary “cholo” culture in Los Angeles. Like the Renaissance monks that performed the painstaking, years-long task of lettering and illustrating hand-made manuscripts, cholos pay comparably close attention to the details of their distinct Old English-inspired calligraphy and images of “firme” (attractive) feather-haired “hainas” (women), smile-now-cry-later comedy/tragedy masks, rosary beads, and tear drops, as well as an array of Aztec-inspired images.

Mario Ybarra Jr. looks at an illustration detail from a collection of 15th- and 16th-century Italian illuminated manuscripts. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

“I’m just letting it all resonate with my own experiences,” says Ybarra. He adds that the Renaissance manuscripts, though many centuries old, seemed familiar. “They made me think a lot about my own life,” he says, and he began visualizing Renaissance symbology in his daily life. For example, he says, when he thinks of his wife and cofounder of Slanguage Studio, Karla Diaz, he pictures her flanked by their two German Shepard dogs as if they were lions. “Karla is like a symbol of justice in my life,” he shares.

Ybarra is also excited about the possibility of bringing The Huntington together more closely with underserved communities. “I would like to see more overlap between The Huntington and East Los Angeles,” says Ybarra. In many of his past projects, Ybarra has often found ways to connect young people of color to the cultural institutions with which he works.

This year’s partnership with the Vincent Price Art Museum, based at East Los Angeles Community College, promises to open new opportunities to bridge these communities. “The Vincent Price Art Museum is committed to presenting groundbreaking exhibitions and connecting with the community in creative ways to make a maximum impact,” says Pilar Tompkins Rivas, VPAM director. “This partnership does just that, expanding our fall programming in terms of concept, theme, and reach.”

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

Henry Moore on Paper

Henry Moore, Five Reclining Figures, 1979, lithograph, 19 x 25 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation. © The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved, DACS 2017 / henry-moore.org.

Can a piece of sculpture and a print on paper have the same effect? The differences between them seem clear. One is plastic; the other, graphic. One exists in three dimensions; the other, in only two. However, with an artist like Henry Moore (1898–1986), it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between the two mediums.

Moore is Britain’s best-known modernist sculptor. His monumental, biomorphic forms and figures that decorate public spaces and museum collections worldwide are easily recognized by most. But, as the exhibition Spirit and Essence, Line and Form: The Graphic Work of Henry Moore makes clear, Moore was also a master printmaker. The exhibition presents a small selection of works drawn from the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation’s recent gift of more than 330 prints by Moore—works that reveal how the artist often blurred the boundaries between his sculpted and printed work.

Henry Moore, Mother and Child, 1973, lithograph, 20 x 15 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation. © The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved, DACS 2017 / henry-moore.org.

Moore’s graphic art presents many of the same themes and subjects found in his sculptures. One of these is the reclining figure, a motif repeated in the lithograph Five Reclining Figures (1979). Though these forms, often female, may recall universal themes, such as fertility or the roots of creation, the reclining figure also provided Moore with a way to experiment with form and shape, and to try out ideas. In Five Reclining Figures, the sculpture-like forms twist and bend around themselves. Some appear almost as hard and solid as boulders. Others are soft, living shapes. Has one opened her belly to reveal a baby inside?

Another recurring theme found in Moore’s work is the mother and child. He called it “one of my two or three obsessions.” As with his reclining figures, the mother and child offer the artist seemingly endless possibilities for variation. One example on view in the exhibition is a lithograph from 1973. Mother and Child, with its frontal, half-length format recalls the sober image of a Renaissance painting of the Virgin and Child or the stillness of a Byzantine icon. As if sculpted, the figures sit solid before us while the print’s writhing lines and flattened planes play with the possibilities of two dimensions.

Henry Moore, Mexican Mask, 1974, lithograph, 26 x 19 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation. © The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved, DACS 2017 / henry-moore.org.

Moore often took actual sculptural works as inspiration for his prints. His image of a Mexican Mask (1974) recalls the kind of Mesoamerican sculpture that inspired him early in his career. With its solid, textured curves and receding voids, the image appears three-dimensional, as if we could reach out and touch a surface of carved stone rather than paper. In another print, a lithograph of one of Stonehenge’s great monoliths lends the prehistoric structure a sense of mystery. The composition, a close-up and only partial view, appears unable to capture the whole monument, enhancing the feeling of awe that Moore felt when, as a young man, he first visited the ancient site.

These prints and more will be on view in the Chandler Gallery of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art from June 16 through October 1.

Melinda McCurdy is associate curator of British art at The Huntington.

Henry Moore, Stonehenge I, 1973, lithograph, 23 x 18 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation. © The Henry Moore Foundation. All rights reserved, DACS 2017 / henry-moore.org.