Ascending Old Baldy

A sketch by Olive Percival (1869–1945) made during her 1893 camping trip to hike Mount San Antonio, or “Old Baldy.” Whimsically labeled “Camp of the Laughing Water,” Percival’s tent scene might have been located at Stoddard’s Camp or nearby in the San Antonio Canyon. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Summer is a time for enjoying the great outdoors, and what better way than by hiking and camping? That’s as true today as it was more than a century ago, when one remarkable woman embarked on a 10-day camping trip in the San Gabriel Mountains with a group of friends. She documented the experience in a delightful diary and sketchbook, which are contained in the Olive Percival archive, part of which resides at The Huntington.

Percival (1869–1945) was a Pasadena author, artist, and bibliophile who amassed a collection of more than 10,000 books in her lifetime. Lured to Southern California by its mild weather at the age of 18, Percival worked first in a department store and later as the first female underwriter employed by an insurance agency. Independent and adventurous, she would later travel to Mexico, design and cultivate her own gardens, and host fanciful parties for the literati of the Arroyo Seco.

Percival’s drawing of a rustic stone and pipe camp stove, 1893. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The goal of her 1893 camping trip was to hike Mount San Antonio, or “Old Baldy,” the highest peak in the San Gabriel range, reaching 10,064 feet. Filled with intimate details of the trip through San Antonio Canyon to the summit, the diary and sketchbook reveal Percival’s wit and delight in life.

Percival’s sketches document whimsical details of camp: the wooden chair she describes as “after Louis XV,” a rustic stone and pipe stove, a ham hanging in a tree, and the banjo music that served as evening entertainment. In pencil and watercolor, she depicts the trail with its burro riders and pack mules. She also captures the humor of the trip, for instance in a sketch titled “Come, oh! Come with me!” showing a determined camper pulling a recalcitrant mule.

Percival’s illustration of a determined camper pulling a recalcitrant mule, 1893. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Recalling another humorous moment in her diary, she writes: “At noon we rested under some gigantic pines where we met five ‘young huntsman’—quite like a page from a story, with their sunburn, and rifles, and eating with their hunting hunger. They told us of a spring half a mile further on, our last chance to get water on the way up. We found it but the dog found it first and had a bath.”

Percival recounts the difficult trail of the ascent and a short-lived panic when she became separated from her party:

“Up early and started for the peak. A hard, hard trail. Wasted two hours on the wrong trail. No snow on the peak—been gone about six weeks. But a very strong, cold wind was blowing. I stopped a few minutes to pick up some stones for paper-weight souvenirs and then went on to overtake the others. I took the wrong trail and was lost and scared to death for nearly an hour. Finally started back for the top so they could find me more easily, and then, far away, I saw a man (Mr. Porter). He was going to the top to look for me.”

Percival made numerous sketches of the creatures she encountered along the hiking trail, including this colorful butterfly. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Percival makes numerous sketches of the wildlife she encounters, such as an exquisite, colorful butterfly and an invented bear she “did not meet” while separated from the rest of the group.

Her drawing of a miner’s camp recalls the gold mining history of the area. The Hocumac Mining Company enjoyed moderate success near Baldy Notch in the late 19th century. Percival mentions meeting Robert Brewster Stanton, the chief engineer of the mine from 1893–1894, and his family. Stanton was known as one of the first people to lead an excursion through the Grand Canyon by boat, becoming a minor celebrity. The Hocumac Mine would ultimately fail due to water-supply issues.

Percival’s drawing of a miner’s camp recalls the gold mining history of the area. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Percival’s sketches and prose offer a glimpse into an ephemeral world. In 1900, the San Antonio Water Company acquired the Hocumac Mine Company lands and discouraged public use. The company would later recant and open their own resort, Camp Baldy, but the rugged camps of the 1890s never returned.

Today we can drive most of the way up “Old Baldy.” But only the hardy and sure-footed can reach the final peak, as Olive Percival did more than a century ago, recording her trip in lively words and vivid images.

Percival’s most detailed view of a campsite during her 1893 trip to Old Baldy. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
The Worlds of Olive Percival (Jan. 27, 2012)

Natalie Russell is The Huntington’s assistant curator of literary collections.

A Different Kind of Beat Poet

“Mr. Woodhouse the Poetical Cobler,” mounted print in an extra-illustrated copy of James Granger’s Biographical History of England (London, 1769). James Woodhouse (1735–1820), the British poet and shoemaker, did not sit for this popular portrait and hated it, later stating that it “never mark’d his character at all.” He also was annoyed at his characterization as a “cobbler,” a far inferior trade to making shoes. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Most of us have little experience of being thrown out of a garden. When I’ve been found wandering through The Huntington’s orange groves (usually off-limits to visitors), at worst I’m asked by one of the polite staff to ramble somewhere less wild.

Such was not the case for the British poet James Woodhouse (1735–1820) when, in 1765, he was caught walking in the Leasowes, the famed English landscape garden designed by his friend and mentor William Shenstone (1714–1763). Shenstone had died only two years before, and the new owner—a nouveau riche button-maker with the appropriately Dickensian name of Captain Turnpenny—mistook Woodhouse for a trespasser and furiously attacked him.

My Ph.D. dissertation is on British laboring-class poets—the workers of the past who, against the odds, managed to be published. Woodhouse is an especially interesting example. Scholars suppose that he occupied two separate identities: the submissive, sycophantic poet of the 1760s who sought a leg-up from his patrons; and the radical, rebellious poet of the 1790s whose criticism knew no bounds. Exploring the letters of Woodhouse’s patrons in The Huntington’s collections, I was keen to find out more about the younger poet whom, I felt, might have been misunderstood.

Engraving of the seat of William Shenstone (1714–1763) within the 144-acre Leasowes, as it was before the house was demolished and rebuilt in 1776. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

James Woodhouse lived in the small village of Rowley, in Staffordshire, just two miles away from the Leasowes. The eldest son of a yeoman farmer, he had attended a local free school until he was eight, and a few years later was apprenticed as a shoemaker.

Shoemaking had advantages for someone with a taste for literature. Shoemakers did their work indoors, individually or in small groups, often occupying their minds by singing, sharing news and stories, and in some cases writing poems. As the advertisement to Woodhouse’s first book would later explain, Woodhouse composed verses while working, jotting down the lines between tasks.

Woodhouse’s penchant for poetry began attracting notice in 1759 when Shenstone closed the Leasowes to the public due to acts of vandalism. In response, Woodhouse wrote an elegy to Shenstone that showed Woodhouse’s keen appreciation of the landscape—with a nod to Shenstone’s genius, of course.

The beginning of Woodhouse’s first elegy to Shenstone in the 1764 Poems. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A poet himself, Shenstone was impressed. He offered Woodhouse free use of the Leasowes and his library. He invited Woodhouse for dinner and on walks, sent his poems to other literati, and introduced him to his publishers. Shenstone’s influence lasted long after his sudden death in 1763. Woodhouse was crestfallen by this misfortune, writing several poems in memory of him.

Woodhouse’s Poems on Sundry Occasions was published the following year, and he became an instant celebrity. Upon his visit to London, he was fêted by polite society and gained important new patrons, including Lord George Lyttelton, owner of the nearby estate of Hagley, and his friend Elizabeth Montagu, the social reformer and founder of the Blue Stocking Society, a female-led intellectual salon.

The Huntington’s collection of Elizabeth Montagu’s correspondence—totaling some 7,000 items—includes 14 letters sent to her by Woodhouse. I was also interested in letters between Montagu and her friends, as these mentioned him often. One letter from Lyttelton to Montagu struck me, not least because it had the words “Poet Woodhouse beaten!” scrawled across the top.

The note at the top this letter from George Lyttelton to Elizabeth Montagu was added by one of the early editors of Montagu’s correspondence. Although Lyttelton tried to forge some kind of reconciliation, Woodhouse never forgave Turnpenny for the assault and called him a “fierce Despot” in his 28,000-line poetic autobiography, The Life and Lucubrations of Crispinus Scriblerus, written throughout the 1790s. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The letter describes Woodhouse’s encounter with Turnpenny, shortly after Turnpenny had moved into the Leasowes. Mistaking Woodhouse and his companions for trespassers, Turnpenny went after Woodhouse’s younger brother. Woodhouse stepped in to defend his kin and, things escalating, Turnpenny called for his servants. One heck of a fight must have followed, because Woodhouse, who was six and a half feet tall, went home to his wife with “a bloody Nose, a swelld Face, and a black Eye.”

Lord Lyttelton’s colorful report spans four pages and shows just how much he cared for Woodhouse and was shocked by his mishap. It chronicles the kind of violence that rustics like Woodhouse faced in a transforming British landscape, while revealing Woodhouse’s surprisingly obstinate, even rebellious nature. Lyttelton, for instance, couldn’t understand why Woodhouse didn’t introduce himself to Turnpenny or attempt in any way to make himself known during the encounter.

A plan of the Leasowes showing points of interest, accompanying Joseph Spence’s “The Round of Mr Shenstone’s Paradise.” The fight likely took place on one of the wooded walks visitors were meant to follow. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This letter is important because it describes just one of many instances in which Woodhouse was confronting the strict social hierarchy of the 18th century. Looking closer, I discovered that Woodhouse had adopted a fake persona to challenge his snooty reception as a “mechanic” poet in newspapers. He also wrote with significant freedom to his patrons, asserting “the natural, tho’ not political, Equality of Mankind.” By seeing the private rebellions behind Woodhouse’s 1760s poetry, I was better able to understand the poetry itself.

Besides a new understanding of Woodhouse, what I took away from my time at The Huntington was a less author-focused approach to epistolary correspondence. While it’s easy to overlook the scandals, stories, and pieces of gossip scattered through letters, once gathered together, these fragments can tell us much about the people of the past.

In his 1766 expanded second edition of poems, Woodhouse makes explicit his occupation as a “Journeyman Shoemaker” (not a cobbler) and also writes his own preface. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Adam Bridgen, doctoral student of English at the University of Oxford, is the Leeds Hoban Linacre-Huntington Exchange Fellow for 2017. His full article, “Patronage, Punch-Ups, and Polite Correspondence: The Radical Background of James Woodhouse’s Early Poetry,” is published in the Huntington Library Quarterly.

Flourishing Lily Ponds

The Lily Ponds are looking better than ever after undergoing a major three-and-a-half-week cleaning last fall. Photo by Kate Lain.

The Lily Ponds, among the first garden features developed at The Huntington, are at their seasonal peak now. William Hertrich, Henry Huntington’s first superintendent of the gardens, created the five descending ponds from natural springs on the grounds in 1904. The two large and three small ponds surrounded by a grassy meadow replaced an unsightly gully in the gardens’ southeast corner. Hertrich first planted lotuses and water lilies in the Ponds in 1905 and, later, lined the shores with bamboo groves and added landmark conifer and redwood trees nearby.

The Ponds look better than ever after undergoing a major three-and-a-half-week cleaning last fall. Algae and muck had turned the water blackish brown. Boxes that had held the water lilies for many years were in poor shape and could no longer keep the plants from spreading unchecked.

William Hertrich, Henry E. Huntington’s first superintendent of the gardens, created the five descending ponds from natural springs on the grounds in 1904. This view, taken by an unidentified photographer around 1906, shows the original design.

Today, an eye-popping swath of pink and white water lilies (Nymphaea ‘Arc-en-Ciel’, N‘Marliacea Chromatella’, N. ‘Fire Opal’, N‘Laydekeri’, and N‘Virginalis’) and lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), accented by the tall orange flowers of the canna lilies (Canna ‘Chocolate Inferno’), greets visitors. Bobbing purple and white heads of newly planted Lilies of the Nile (Agapanthus) border the ponds’ pathways. Clumping bamboo (predominantly Bambusa beecheyana), replacing dense running bamboo (Phyllostachys flexuosa), opens up the shoreline profile. A pool at the top of the ponds’ chain, revealed by soil clearance, offers a tiny oasis of swamp iris (Iris pseudacorus), daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Elves’), and papyrus (Cyperus papyrus).

To make this spectacle possible, the renewal project team—led by Shadi Shihab, curator of Floristic Gardens—pumped water out of the ponds, distributing it on the adjacent grass, then rented a vacuum truck to remove the pond muck and washed the pond bottoms with hoses. They cut back the water lily overgrowth, replaced the old lily boxes, filled the new boxes with young plants, and added the canna lilies. The workers also repaired the mini-waterfalls connecting the ponds, restoring the cement that directs the flow of water.

Two of the small ponds as they look today. Photo by Kate Lain.

When the job was done, well water replenished the ponds. Two pumps continue to recycle the water. Botanical staff dose the water lilies with fertilizer tablets annually, and resident fish, water fowl, and algaecide help maintain a healthy pond ecosystem and keep the water clear.

One of the Ponds’ major attractions, the koi, lived in large containers during the cleaning. Children will be especially happy to know that 40 to 50 additional koi joined them once the ponds were refilled. A member of the staff feeds the fish on a regular schedule, using a food formulated for their needs. (Tossing bread, crackers, or junk food into the ponds for koi or ducks disturbs the ponds’ ecosystem, so please heed the “Do Not Feed the Fish” signs!)

This large pond provides a cool and shady place to escape the heat of summer. Photo by Kate Lain.

Fittingly, a memorial plaque honoring William Hertrich, located near the large pond presided over by the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, reminds visitors of the ponds’ origins and Hertrich’s key role in The Huntington’s development. Moved in 2013 from an inconspicuous spot in the adjacent Jungle Garden, the memorial hails Hertrich for his creative genius and inspiration. The St. Francis of Assisi bronze recalls the historical value of the ponds as well: Clara Huntington, Henry’s daughter, sculpted it in the mid 1920s.

The Lily Ponds beckon visitors to sprawl on the lawn to watch the koi dart through the water and the mallards tending their young. No matter what the draw, this treasured site is in prime condition.

Koi swimming in one of the large Lily Ponds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing.

New Chief Curator’s Take on American Art

Eunice Hooper’s Sampler, ca. 1790. Silk on linen, 21 x 21 ¼ in. Collection of Jonathan and Karin Fielding.

You might skip right past it. In a room of the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Wing dominated by kaleidoscopic starbursts and spirals on huge early American quilts, The Huntington’s new Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art, Chad Alligood, stops in front of a small, dark piece of needlework. In other rooms of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries are major works by standard-bearers of the American art canon—from John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) to Andy Warhol (1928–1987)—yet Alligood effervesces over little Eunice Hooper’s own masterwork, or homework assignment, as it were—it’s her sampler made in 1790, when she was nine years old.

Alligood says this sampler is more than the typical lesson in Bible verses or the alphabet. “Look at the thickness, the density of the stiches in the foliage. Look how she’s repeating patterns here and there. This is evidence of an art being passed from a master to a very talented young pupil,” he says. “Here she depicts a modest home with an everyday woman in the window, then Athena in a horse-drawn chariot! Frolicking lambs. She’s imagining this bounteous, strange world outside her doorstep.”

Zenobia in Chains, 1859, a monumental sculpture by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908). Photo by Kate Lain.

The fact that he took me to the sampler on a recent tour of the Scott galleries shouldn’t have been surprising. He says he’s always been invested in “offering a window onto stories not adequately told,” like those of women artists and artists of color who have often been overlooked by museums. He stopped in front of Zenobia in Chains, a monumental sculpture by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908). The towering marble, created in 1859 by an artist whose abilities were suspect because of her gender, depicts the grace and dignity of a third-century queen of Palmyra (near present-day Syria) as a prisoner of the Roman Empire. “I’m drawn to this work because it uses the ancient Greek and Roman artistic ideals that informed much of 19th-century American art to address issues that are pertinent today.”

Alligood also lingered in front of the powerful 1944 painting Soldier by Charles White (1918–1979), who drew from experience for the subject. When drafted for military service, White assumed he would be contributing to the fight against the Nazi regime in Europe, but instead found his African-American troop had been demeaned with an assignment to dig Mississippi River mud on the home front. “This is a rare, momentous work to have in the collection—by an artist who is finally getting his due.” He points to White’s virtuosic use of tempera paint, with multiple layers of tiny strokes, and to the soldier’s hands that look as though they are sculpted of stone.

Charles White (1918–1979), Soldier, 1944, tempera on masonite, 30 x 25 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © 1944 The Charles White Archives.

Why such interest in marginalized subjects? Maybe it’s because Alligood didn’t go to art museums as a child. He still remembers his first visit to a museum in his first year of college and recalls that, when you’re not used to them, “museums have a kind-of omniscient, disembodied museum voice” that wasn’t speaking to him.

Of The Huntington, Alligood says, “This wondrous place draws some 800,000 visitors a year. We can make quite an impact with such a high-quality collection—which is really without peer in the Western half of the country. People might quibble with that, but when you go from gallery to gallery and see how it’s presented, there’s great possibility.” How do we entice visitors to spend a little more time indoors and connect with the American art galleries? The new chief curator says, “We have to relate it to who they are. I always curate for my 10-year-old self.”

Chad Alligood, the new Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington. Photo by Stephen Ironside. © Ironside Photography.

You can read more about Eunice Hooper’s sampler online in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

You can read more about Charles White’s works online in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

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

Engaging with the Collections

For her /five project, kerrie welsh is researching materials related to the Greek lyric poet Sappho in the Huntington Library collections. Photo by Kate Lain.

Earlier this week, The Huntington announced “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington,” an exhibition that will be on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art from Nov. 18, 2017, through Feb. 12, 2018.

Part of the second year of /five—The Huntington’s five-year contemporary arts initiative focused on creative collaboration—the exhibition will be a manifestation of The Huntington’s yearlong partnership with the Los Angeles-based Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW). Featuring new work by seven artists who are currently conducting research in The Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections, the exhibition will include an installation of paintings, sculpture, textiles, video, writings, and other new works, as well as performances, talks, and tours by the artists—all of whom were selected in collaboration with WCCW.

The projects that will be featured in “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington” are described below.

Projects in the Library Collections

Jheanelle Garriques reads 18th-century letters in the Elizabeth Montagu archive at The Huntington as part of her research. Photo by Kate Lain.

Jheanelle Garriques
Garriques’ project for /five—called “Storytelling, Solidarity, and the Blue Stockings Society”—uses The Huntington’s Elizabeth Montagu archive as inspiration for a writing salon and a mixed-media spoken word performance. Montagu (1718–1800) was a founder of the Blue Stockings Society, a British movement that encouraged intellectualism among women through literary discussions. “I’m trying to draw a thread through the experiences of these female-identified people in 18th-century Britain and the femmes that I’m working with,” she says. In the fall exhibition, Garriques will juxtapose a handful of letters from the Montagu collection with new writing produced by eight participants in a multi-week salon Garriques has assembled as part of Naked Narratives, a narrative therapy project she founded in 2014. Her performance piece will involve the participants and dance choreographed by Rissi Zimmermann.

kerrie welsh looks through an 1888 copy of Alphonse Daudet’s Sappho: Parisian manners. Photo by Kate Lain.

kerrie welsh
welsh’s project, “What You Love,” collects LGBT letters, testimonies, and diaries to create an archive of contemporary love stories. Inspired by The Huntington’s rare book and theater holdings related to the ancient Greek poet Sappho, the project investigates the story of Olga Nethersole (1863–1951), a controversial and popular British actress who portrayed Sappho on stages across Europe and the United States. It will include correspondence with the local LGBT community and collected ephemera evidencing LGBT lives and loves, highlighting the historical vulnerability of these kinds of materials to destruction, due to secrecy, shame, and fear.

 

Projects in the Art Collections

Soyoung Shin takes notes on The Huntington’s historic carpet Astrology in the Huntington Art Gallery as part of her research. Photo by Kate Lain.

Soyoung Shin
Shin’s project for /five, “Picture Elements,” is drawn from the word “pixel,” an abbreviation of “picture element.” Centered on The Huntington’s historic carpet Astrology (on view in the Huntington Art Gallery’s large library), one of 93 carpets commissioned around 1665 by King Louis XIV to line the Grand Gallery of the Louvre, Shin’s project investigates the anonymity of women who engaged in the creation of textiles without receiving credit, in the same way that contemporary women rarely receive credit for their roles in emerging technologies. “Picture Elements” will take the form of textiles (including fragments of a Savonnerie carpet currently in storage), software, a book, and lectures.

Juliana Wisdom photographs Sèvres porcelain at The Huntington as part of her research. Photo by Aric Allen.

Juliana Wisdom
Wisdom is developing new work in response to The Huntington’s 18th-century French porcelain collection. Emulating the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory’s techniques with both traditional and new materials, she will create sculptures that seek to broaden the historical narrative of the Sèvres Manufactory by including the often-anonymous women who served as both makers and benefactors of Sèvres.

 

Projects in the Botanical Collections

Olivia Chumacero sits alongside Sarita Dougherty as Dougherty works on a painting at The Huntington’s Ranch Garden. Photo by Kate Lain.

Olivia Chumacero and Sarita Dougherty
Chumacero and Dougherty are working on a joint project focused on indigenous practices in the natural world, ecology, and aesthetics. Chumacero’s contribution will be a video, “When Light Married Water,” in which the relationship of light and water gives birth to native California flora in both the manicured and the less cultivated areas of The Huntington’s grounds. Dougherty’s contribution, “Domestic Flora Familiars,” consists of four paintings relating to plants on The Huntington’s grounds along with a printed cloth screen, of the type used in home décor, inspired by Chumacero’s video.

Zya S. Levy takes notes on a Golden Barrel Cactus at The Huntington as part of her research. Photo by Kate Lain.

Zya S. Levy
Levy’s project, titled “Green–Gold,” explores the Desert Garden collection at The Huntington to draw links between early plant collectors, botanical origins, migration stories, a sense of place, and the future of biological diversity. “Green–Gold” will consist of a visual catalog of cacti diversity at The Huntington, a short audio collage, and sculpture, as well as a series of off-site urban plant tours.

The /five initiative is made possible by a generous gift from The Cheng Family Foundation. Additional funding for the second year of /five has been provided by a grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance.

You can learn more about the initiative and individual projects on the /five website. Find artist bios here.

Related content on Verso:
Women Making Art (March 30, 2017)

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

Mining the Archive of Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler, ca. 1988, © Miriam Berkley. For alternative images and questions regarding usage, please contact photographer Miriam Berkley.

The papers of award-winning science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006) came to The Huntington in 2008. By the time the collection had been processed and cataloged, more than 40 scholars had already asked for access. Today, the Octavia E. Butler Collection is one of the top two most actively researched archives at The Huntington.

To better understand the insights gained by scholars using the archives, we are convening a daylong academic conference to explore the legacy of a writer whose relevance and influence continue to rapidly expand.

Titled “Octavia E. Butler Studies: Convergence of an Expanding Field,” the conference highlights the evolving, transdisciplinary work that scholars have done based on Butler’s archives. It will also foster conversations to examine how Butler’s life, writing, and research nurture a deeper understanding of the past, present, and possible futures.

Shelley Streeby, one of the conference presenters, has been studying Butler’s research on the environment and climate change, which Butler initiated in 1965. This image is of the outside of an envelope Butler used to file away the articles she collected on climate and the environment beginning in the 1980s. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler. Click here to enlarge.

The Octavia E. Butler Collection contains more than 8,000 items, including her unpublished book drafts, diaries, research, notes, letters, and other ephemera. Our conference provides the first opportunity for those Butler experts who earliest delved into The Huntington’s archive to share and discuss their discoveries.

The conference showcases academics addressing a range of topics drawn from the Butler Collection. We are pleased to include Shelley Streeby, faculty director of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego, who will expand on chapters written for her forthcoming book, Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World-Making through Science Fiction and Activism. We’ll also hear from Gerry Canavan, assistant professor of American Literature at Marquette University, who is the first to use the Butler archive to develop a biography, Octavia E. Butler. Canavan will discuss fragments of Butler’s unpublished novel Parable of the Trickster, the intended third installment in her Parable series.

Aimee Bahng, assistant professor of English at Pomona College, will discuss Butler’s research on the behaviors of slime molds, a topic explored in the Xenogenesis trilogy. Cassandra Jones, assistant professor of African American Studies and director of the American Studies program at University of South Carolina Upstate, will present on Butler’s character Anyanwu, the shapeshifter, in the Patternist novels. Jenny Terry, senior lecturer in the Department of English Studies at Durham University, will talk about art inspired by Butler’s novels. And Sami Schalk, assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at University of Wisconsin, Madison, will explore Butler’s writings as disability literature.

Butler in Machu Picchu, unidentified photographer, 1985. Butler traveled to Peru to conduct research for her Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic rain forest and in and alien space vessel. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

This long-planned conference comes on the heels of several other significant Butler programs over the last year or so. A Huntington Library exhibition, “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories,” the first major exhibition to explore Butler’s life, runs through Aug. 7, 2017. The local arts non-profit Clockshop ran a yearlong series of events celebrating Butler called “Radio Imagination,” with several partners including ourselves and The Huntington. These events provided opportunities for Butler scholars, artists, students, readers, and fans to come together to discuss and celebrate the author’s work and legacy. We continue that tradition as co-editors of a forthcoming special issue on Butler in Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, a peer-reviewed journal published by the State University of New York.

We hope that 50 years from now, in 2067, people will look back on this conference as the beginning of an explosive golden age in the field of Butler Studies.

Related content on Verso:
Telling Their Stories (May 17, 2017)
Telling Her Stories (April 6, 2017)
Instagram Takeover with Lynell George (Oct. 5, 2016)
Seeing to It (Aug. 15, 2016)
Mentoring in the Afterlife (June 10, 2016)
Celebrating Octavia Butler (Jan. 27, 2016)
Writing Herself In (June 22, 2015)

You can read more about the conference program and registration on The Huntington’s website. UPDATE (6/26/17): You can listen to audio from the conference on SoundCloud and iTunes U.

Ayana Jamieson is the founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and the awardee of the Helen Bing Fellowship at The Huntington, where she will continue her scholarship on Butler’s life. She is also an interdisciplinary lecturer for State University New York, Empire State College.

Moya Bailey is the digital alchemist of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and assistant professor of Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northeastern University.

Visualizing the Anatomy of the Eye

Vesalius’s first cross-sectional image of the eye, from Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), 1543. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

As a historian of science, I’m fascinated with pictures that help make sense of past scientific ideas and practices. The Huntington’s vast collection of rare 16th-century science books document how intellectuals of the day perceived the eye and the process of sight. Chief among these works is the groundbreaking anatomy book De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) by the Flemish-born anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius (1514–64).

De fabrica was printed in 1543 in Basel, Switzerland, and, with its incredible woodcut images based on the burgeoning practice of human dissection, it marked a major development in the history of anatomy. Readers might be familiar with the book’s famous muscle men or the memento mori of a skeleton contemplating a skull. Although less well known, Vesalius’s detailed diagrams of the eye were among the first in a printed anatomical treatise. His cross-sectional diagram would become the model for almost all other visual representations of the eye in anatomy and optics until the mid-17th century.

Vesalius tells us that he drew a similar diagram for his students prior to performing an ocular dissection. A real eye has many fluid, transparent parts that are difficult to grasp (literally and conceptually) in a dissection, so Vesalius used a visual aid to bring order to the messiness of the anatomized eye—he was telling his students and his readers what they were supposed to see. But, by visualizing the eye before his students (or readers) would see an anatomized eye itself, what sort of order was he imposing?

Diagram of the cosmos, from Gregor Reisch, Margarita philosophica (Pearl of Wisdom), 1504. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The eye Vesalius depicts in De fabrica was very much a product of the image-making culture of his age. Vesalius writes that the eye can be compared to the cosmos—an earth-centered cosmos, that is. The year 1543 was revolutionary for science. Nicolaus Copernicus, in the same year, published De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), which had the earth revolving around the sun, rather than the reverse. Copernicus’s heliocentrism, however, took hold slowly. Geocentrism was the order of the day.

So Vesalius addresses readers who would be familiar with images of an earth-centered cosmos, for instance those found in the most popular university textbook in the first half of the 16th century, Gregor Reisch’s liberal arts textbook Margarita philosophica (Pearl of Wisdom), also in The Huntington’s collections. Vesalius draws upon this scheme and puts the lens at the center of the eye. Many implications from this concept of the cosmos are transferred over: for example, just as the universe was constructed according to a divine plan, so too was the eye.

Vesalius did not invent a new theory of vision. Most people at the time believed that the purpose of the ocular lens was not to refract rays of light and color but to receive and capture them. The basic idea was that, if what we see are the colors of things, then what we see with must be uncolored—that is to say, it must be transparent. This theory of perception, hailing back to Aristotle, ruled out the retina: it was too dark, too rough, too colored. The central place of the lens in Vesalius’s diagram showcases its central place in the visual theory of the time.

Detail from Vesalius’s idealized depiction of the shapes and sizes of the parts of the eye, and how they fit together. From Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), 1543. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Vesalius also provides a “deconstructed” image, which might be thought of as assembly instructions for Nature herself. At the top-left, you can see a lentil-shaped part of the eye—in fact, the English word lens comes from the Latin word for lentil. Reading from top-left to bottom-right, one sees the eye being constructed piece by piece. Notice that Vesalius rotates the parts to show them from different angles, helping us to generate a three-dimensional picture in our minds. Once we have built up a mental model, we can then scan from bottom-right to top-left to understand how to dissect the eye, instructions for which Vesalius gives in a subsequent chapter. Keep in mind that these are images of fluid humors and delicate membranes—what he shows is clearly not what one would actually see in a dissection.

Vesalius’s images were the first, in print, to try to accurately depict the relative sizes, shapes, and positions of the eye and its parts. But, paradoxically, to be faithful to anatomy, he had to present an ideal: he showed how to construct or dissect an eye in one’s mind. These and other images in the magnificent collection of books at The Huntington are windows into the world—the microcosm and the macrocosm—of the 16th century.

Detail from Vesalius’s idealized depiction of the shapes and sizes of the parts of the eye. From Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body), 1543. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Tawrin Baker is the 2016–17 Dibner Fellow in the History of Science and Technology at The Huntington. He was a Mellon Postdoctoral Associate in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh for 2015–16 and will be a postdoctoral fellow in the Visual Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania for 2017–18.

Learning Real Life Solutions to Civic Problems

Los Angeles Service Academy (LASA) students gather at the Los Angeles River in Frogtown, March 2017. Photo by William Deverell.

Who will be the civic leaders of tomorrow and guide the decisions Los Angeles makes about infrastructure, transportation, homelessness, and other major issues?

It may just be some of the high school juniors involved in the Los Angeles Service Academy (LASA)—an educational program offered by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW). LASA supplements regular schoolwork with an intensive introduction to the infrastructure and institutions of greater Los Angeles for students who have expressed an interest in public, civic, and civil service.

“LASA has the potential to change the lives and career paths of hundreds of high school students in the region,” says William Deverell, director of ICW and professor of history at USC. “Students learn how the metropolis works—and doesn’t work—and how they can solve problems through civic engagement and acquiring knowledge.”

LASA students overlook the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s main water treatment facility in La Verne, Calif., August 2016. Photo by John Lee.

LASA organizes a series of seminars and fieldwork guided by scholars and experts in the field. The program, now in its fifth year, enrolls 30 high school juniors each year from across the Los Angeles Basin. A week-long summer immersion seminar explores Los Angeles geography, seismology, history, and politics, and culminates in a kayaking trip along the Los Angeles River. LASA then meets one Saturday per month during the regular school year.

The winning essays from a recent contest sponsored by LASA show the impact the program can have on students’ will to solve problems facing the city.

Bryan Silva-Barajas, a student at the Applied Technology Center High School in Montebello, talked about how his encounter with people in front of Los Angeles City Hall who were hungry and homeless motivated him to get involved in politics. The messages he heard later that day at a talk held at the Los Angeles Public Library cemented his resolve. The advice he heard from Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, was to “do what you like first and get lots of school, then go into politics.” Now Silva-Barajas plans to finish school and then become a political leader who can represent and help the homeless.

LASA founding director William Deverell with LASA students in the “gleaning room” of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, January 2017. Photo by John Lee.

Sachi Thomsen, a student at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, explained how her LASA experience made her aware of the huge amounts of waste in the city’s food and clothing industries. She is currently working with her school to develop an on-campus clothing trading center. The idea is that “students from Poly as well as other schools in the area would be able to donate pieces that they no longer wear but are unique,” Thomsen wrote. “The clothes would be cleaned and resold . . . . All of the money would go to support a small sustainable clothing business.”

Other essays discussed additional field trips and seminars. This year’s group visited the Los Angeles Harbor with the former port director of Los Angeles, worked a shift at the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, and toured the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s main water treatment facility, among other excursions. Whenever possible, the program brings in the perspectives of local scholars.

Both Silva-Barajas and Thomsen believe that LASA has planted the seeds for life-long perspectives on the complexities of Los Angeles civic life as well as keen insights into some solutions.

That’s music to the ears of Elizabeth Logan, associate director of ICW and LASA’s executive director. “Our students become engaged leaders of tomorrow with the assistance of LASA and the powerful partnership among The Huntington, USC, and local schools.”

A group of LASA students kayaks along the Los Angeles River in the Sepulveda Basin, August 2016. Photo by John Lee.

You can watch a video about LASA’s recent trips to the Los Angeles River and the Port of Los Angeles on YouTube.

You can learn more about LASA on its website.

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

Railroad Confidential

McKeen Motor Car, 1906. The sleek McKeen motor car, a gasoline-powered railway vehicle with innovative porthole windows and an aerodynamic “wind-splitter” front end, was the brainchild of engineer William R. McKeen Jr. (1869–1946). Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Patent papers. Drawings of railcars. Engineering notes. Photographs of trains and machine shops. These were the kinds of materials I expected to encounter as I began organizing the personal papers of William Riley McKeen Jr. (1869–1946), a mechanical engineer and innovator who developed some of the first gasoline-powered railroad cars in the U.S.

But an entirely different world emerged when I opened a weathered brown envelope scrawled with “Lawsuit and settlement, 1913.” Brothels. Gentlemen’s clubs. Private detectives. Prostitutes.

It turned out that, in 1912, while overseeing the design and manufacture of the stylish “McKeen Motor Car,” McKeen became embroiled in a court battle in Omaha, Nebraska, brought by his new wife’s ex-husband, Charles W. Hull.

William R. McKeen Jr. (left) and Charles W. Hull, from Omaha: The Gate City, and Douglas County, Nebraska / A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement, Arthur C. Wakeley, ed., (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1917). Unidentified photographers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Hull, one of Omaha’s leading businessmen, filed suit to avoid paying $91,000 in alimony to his former wife, who had become Mrs. Mary McKeen. The couple fought back. They hired a private detective, intending to prove that Hull was little more than a drunken philanderer and loyal patron of the city’s most notorious houses of “ill fame.” The detective struck gold.

As I dug through the contents of the envelope, I read how Detective H. J. Pickett interviewed 200 witnesses over the course of eight months. He discovered that Hull and a large coterie of Omaha’s business elite were habitués of the city’s “sporting district” underworld. The detective’s 41-page transcript of interviews with prostitutes, brothel owners, barmaids, and other employees of Omaha’s social clubs resulted in a report rich in social and cultural detail. There were eyewitness accounts of sexual escapades, raunchy behavior at poker games, public drunkenness, and backdoor assignations, all of which identified the full names of both the witnesses and the prominent society members involved.

“A Good Pair to Hold,” advertising card, ca. 1890. Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In sometimes graphic language, the report revealed the underbelly of Omaha’s high society and how it operated. Titillating and damning details aside, the document also uncovered telling details regarding societal norms, race, gender, and class.

For instance, the account by brothel owner Gertrude Broomfield tells a little of her life history: “I have lived in Omaha for more than 22 years. During all that time, except six months I have been a keeper of a house of prostitution . . . and had as my patrons some of the best men in Omaha . . . .” She went on to explain how visiting brothels was often a family affair, as she counted among her clients “the young Hamilton boys, the Krug boys, the Metz boys, the Kountz boys . . . and hundreds of women and men you would little suspect of visiting that district.”

Nellie Jacks, whom the detective reported “was located for me by Tom Vann, a notorious vamp about town,” began her statement plainly: “For nine years I was night door maid at Minnie Fairchild’s house of prostitution, 120 South 9th Street.”

Excerpt from Detective H. J. Pickett’s 41-page transcript of interviews with prostitutes, brothel owners, barmaids, and other employees of Omaha’s social clubs. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Bradley Walker, a waiter at the Omaha Country Club and the Rome Hotel, explained: “I do not want to have anything to do with this case, because the waiter who does will be blacklisted for life . . . no colored person can give evidence in this case on either side and remain in Omaha at any of the ordinary occupations.”

One witness offered his insights into human nature and class. Lee Travis, who was employed in the hotels and clubs in Omaha for 20 years and knew Mr. Hull well, said this: “You know how rich men take liberties with women along moral lines. [Hull] was fly with women, especially when he was in his cups. I have seen him do many immoral things.” The detective noted Travis’s reticence to testify because “he wanted to get back to work and feared that Hull could prevent it.”

As evidence mounted against him, Hull dropped the suit, and the case never went to court.

Detail of map of Omaha, Nebraska, 1887. This detail shows the vicinity of some of the brothels downtown by the railroad tracks and the river: “House of all Nations” at 9th and Dodge Street. (on map at the top of the second “R” in “3rd WARD”); “Mongrel House” at South 16th Street; and “Minnie Fairchild’s” at 120 South 9th St. (on 9th, just below Dodge Street). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

When all was said and done, Detective Pickett described how this unsavory, bribery-filled undertaking required patience, intelligence, and nerves of steel—but what motivated him? He wanted the report to serve a larger social purpose, and at several places in the document, he takes on a personal, cautionary note. His hope, he said, was that the report would provide a “permanent source of information” to “. . . help others avoid the fate [of prostitution].”

Did McKeen forget the salacious report was part of the railroad materials he handed over for posterity? We’ll probably never know, but The Huntington now has a fascinating slice of social history for scholars to study.

Suzanne Oatey is a project archivist in the Library’s curatorial department, where she is currently organizing a collection of railroad materials from the estate of Donald Duke.

Literary Ties That Bind

Elizabeth Jane Howard, ca. 1965. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Imagine my surprise when I read the following words in the acknowledgment section of Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence, Artemis Cooper’s 2016 biography of the late English novelist. “At the Huntington Library I thank Steve Hindle, Sue Hodson, and, above all, Gayle Richardson, the archivist who had cataloged Jane’s papers. Gayle’s ‘Finding Aid’ for the Papers . . . proved to be an invaluable work of reference, and Gayle was the greatest possible help—both at the research stage and during the writing.”

Wow! I must admit to standing in Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena over the years and scanning acknowledgment sections of various books to see if The Huntington and my name were listed. But Artemis’s kind words far surpassed all the thank-yous I’d discovered in the past.

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923–2014) as a child, ca. 1927. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

My job is to catalog manuscripts that come into the Library. This involves sorting through massive amounts of material, placing it in folders and boxes, and describing the contents of the papers in a detailed finding aid. Most of the time my efforts at making order out of chaos are hidden away in the depths of the Library, seen by few researchers and staff. But, every once in a while, my work has an immediate and vital impact, as it did when British biographer Artemis Cooper came here to do research.

Cooper is renowned for her biographies of British cooking legend Elizabeth David and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. In 2013, she was asked to write the authorized biography of another celebrated British personality, Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923–2014). Artemis, as I came to know her, first contacted me in 2013 to inquire about the Elizabeth Jane Howard Papers, which arrived here in several batches starting in 1995. In March 2014, Artemis traveled from her home in England to San Marino to start her research.

Elizabeth Jane Howard and her father at Christ Church in Paddington, London, on the day she married her first husband, Peter Scott, April 28, 1942. A note that accompanies the photo in The Huntington’s archives reads: “Lace dress by Christabel Ampthill—lace not rationed . . . dress later dyed black.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Howard was a British writer who died in 2014; she is not that well known in the U.S. but she was widely published in England as a novelist, journalist, and reviewer. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II awarded her Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a distinction granted for prominent national achievements. When she was younger, Howard had worked as a model and actress and was married three times, most famously to the writer Sir Kingsley Amis from 1965 to 1983.

The Huntington Library began collecting the papers of modern literary authors in the 1970s with the acquisition of the Wallace Stevens Papers, followed by the Kingsley Amis Papers in the 1980s. It was through this acquisition that Howard came to know The Huntington, and the Library began acquiring her papers in 1995 and continued to do so until 2014, shortly after her death.

Elizabeth Jane Howard with her third husband, the novelist Kingsley Amis, on the Greek island of Rhodes, 1966. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In Howard’s papers, I found a trove of drafts of almost all of her novels and other writings. I sorted through decades of correspondence and hundreds of photographs; altogether I cataloged 6,907 items in 169 boxes.

Howard’s novels include the Cazalet Chronicle, which was dramatized on “Masterpiece Theater,” and Falling, also made into a television movie. Her correspondence involved such noted individuals as Kingsley Amis, Hilary Mantel, Cecil Day-Lewis and his son Daniel Day-Lewis, Iris Murdoch, and Julian Barnes.

Over the next two years, I helped Artemis with her research by providing dates of material, confirming quotes, and suggesting items that might be useful. At one point, I shared with her a manuscript titled “A Chronicle: writing exercise for therapy.” Artemis told me later that it had provided valuable insights into Howard’s life. This manuscript “is turning out to be pure gold—lots of little nuggets to tuck into earlier chapters,” she wrote. “Thank you so much for sending it.”

Elizabeth Jane Howard and Kingsley Amis at Ascot, ca. 1968. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A year or so later, I was privileged to read an early draft of the biography. I thought it an insightful portrait of a complicated woman and found it so satisfying to see how the information contained within the hundreds of boxes I had cataloged helped to create this nuanced portrait. The biography was published to glowing reviews in the autumn of 2016.

After the biography was published, I asked Artemis about her next book project. I wanted her to have another reason to come to the Library to do research, so I suggested for her consideration a few literary authors whose papers also reside at The Huntington.

Artemis and I have developed a great working relationship and friendship. These bonds have made my job as a cataloger both fun and rewarding. So, thank you, Artemis, for writing a sensational biography. And thank you, Elizabeth Jane Howard, for living an amazing life that made for such rich storytelling.

Elizabeth Jane Howard with black cat, ca. 1965. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Gayle Richardson is a catalog librarian and archivist at The Huntington.