Anchoring the north section of the new Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center complex that opened in January is the new Huntington Store, with more than double the space of the previous store. The larger size has made it easier to showcase the range and quality of the items for sale, all of which have been carefully selected.
“I wasn’t interested in simply providing a lot of merchandise just to fill the larger space,” said Janet Crockett, The Huntington’s director of retail operations. “The key was finding the right things.” Crockett seeks objects that meet three criteria: they are high quality, have a beautiful aesthetic, and provide something unique that a visitor is unlikely to find elsewhere. “It’s about enhancing the Huntington experience—relating it to something a visitor has done, seen, or learned while here.”
Crockett spends a good portion of her time on the road and in meetings, at gift shows and with artisans, selecting items in a painstaking process. Most items for purchase are related to The Huntington’s collections—from botanically inspired diamond-and-silver bracelets to filament light bulbs reminiscent of The Huntington’s collection of historical light bulbs, some of which you can see in the permanent exhibition “Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World.”
For instance, in response to the current photography exhibition “Bruce Davidson/Paul Caponigro: Two American Photographers in Britain and Ireland,” which is on view through March 9, Crockett has presented a range of items related to photography. But not just any objects. Along with books on photography criticism, for example, the store is selling tiny silver cufflinks in the shape of a single-lens reflex camera.
The store consists of eight interconnected rooms based on Huntington themes—botanical, Asian gardens, high tea, and so on—surrounding a central space with a vaulted, sky-lit ceiling. Said one visitor in a recent news article about the new shopping experience, “It’s airy and conducive to exploring.” A special section geared toward young readers boasts a comfortable seating area for children to peruse books and other fun stuff.
The central area of the store is dedicated to seasonal displays. Currently on offer are special items linked to Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) and the Lunar New Year (Feb. 19).
A book of Shakespeare’s sonnets, illustrated by Caitlin Keegan, sits on a table devoted to love and friendship. Not far away is a sterling silver necklace inscribed with a loving quote from naturalist and painter John James Audubon of Birds of America fame. (“I have wished for thee, every day, every moment,” wrote Audubon to his wife, during an extended bird-watching expedition.)
For children, The Huntington has been carrying Oliver Chin’s popular series, “Tales of the Chinese Zodiac,” since he first published The Year of the Dog in 2006. Each year, Chin produces another adventure featuring that year’s Chinese zodiac animal, interwoven with elements of Asian culture and tradition. Meanwhile, adult admirers of the Chinese Garden might be more smitten by a custom-made, four-piece, indoor or outdoor garden sculpture of a roaring dragon.
And what about the couple who is both struck by cupid’s arrow and simultaneously wants to celebrate the Lunar New Year? A pair of red coffee mugs whose handles feature the Chinese character for “joy” might fit the bill. Put them together, and the two characters create the symbol for double happiness, a popular symbol of marriage.
Future posts will feature other items from the store and how they relate to The Huntington’s collections. The Huntington Store is open from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wednesday through Monday, and Tuesday by appointment (call 626-405-2142). A selection of items is available online.
Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.