Preserving the Signs of Censorship

Kristi Westberg, the Dibner Book Conservator at The Huntington, works to preserve a copy of Primum mobile (Prime Mover), an astronomy book by the Austrian humanist and astronomer Erasmus Oswald Schreckenfuchs (1511–1579). Photo by Kate Lain.

Five hundred years before government officials in some countries got in the business of censoring Instagram feeds or Twitter accounts, the Roman Catholic Church was using ink to black out text that it considered dangerous. Censors went through books, including scientific texts, and crossed off portions that defied Church doctrine. One such book is The Huntington’s copy of Primum mobile (Prime Mover), an astronomy book by the Austrian humanist and astronomer Erasmus Oswald Schreckenfuchs (1511–1579).

This copy of Primum mobile was typeset by hand, printed on high-quality rag paper, and bound in parchment. Despite being 450 years old, it barely shows its age. The title page displays an illustration of an armillary sphere—an ancient astronomical device that reproduces a model of the celestial sphere—with the Earth at its center, but there are several brown ink spots that mar the image. When you turn the page, it becomes evident that the book’s censor, blacking out some offending text, applied iron gall ink, a compound made of iron salts and tannic acids.

The book’s censor, blacking out some offending text on the back of the title page, applied iron gall ink, a compound made of iron salts and tannic acids. Photo by Kate Lain.

Iron gall ink is more permanent than carbon ink, and over time, its intense blue-black color fades to brown. Under certain conditions, including high humidity, iron gall ink can corrode and damage the paper beneath it. Several of the blacked-out areas of this volume showed signs of corrosion, and the most dramatically damaged areas had small holes and text losses where the censor applied ink more heavily.

As a book conservator, my challenge was to repair the fragile areas of the obscured text without adding additional moisture that could accelerate the chemical reactions causing the holes. The solution? Solvent set tissue. This type of repair tissue is perfectly suited to such a problem. It is very lightweight but strong thanks to its long fibers, and with a little preparation, it can be adhered to weak areas of the text with ethanol, a solvent that evaporates quickly.

Solvent set tissue is made by applying a special adhesive on a piece of thin polyester, dropping a lightweight piece of Japanese paper on top, and then waiting for it to dry. Photo by Kate Lain.

Solvent set tissue is made by applying a special adhesive on a piece of thin polyester, dropping a lightweight piece of Japanese paper on top, and then waiting for it to dry. In this case, I used Klucel G, a flexible adhesive that can be dried and reactivated with water or ethanol. (Head to Tumblr to see how solvent set tissue is made.)

I then cut a small piece of the coated tissue to the shape of the hole, extending it a little beyond the degraded paper to the more stable and flexible unmarked page. I brushed Ethanol on a black tile to insure even application of the solvent and to help me see the nearly transparent repair piece. Next, I dropped the repair piece on top of the brushed-out Ethanol to reactivate the adhesive.

Westberg brushes Ethanol on a black tile to insure even application of the solvent and to help her see the nearly transparent repair piece. Photo by Kate Lain.

Using a pair of fine tweezers, I lifted the repair tissue off the tile, placed it on the degraded part of the text, and tamped it down with a soft brush. To ensure the newly repaired area remained flat and completely dry, I placed a piece of smooth, porous fabric called Hollytex on top of it, along with a dry blotter and a light weight. I repeated this process on several parts of the page to provide support to the fragile areas.

Using a pair of fine tweezers, Westberg places the repair tissue on the degraded part of the page and tamps it down with a soft brush. Photo by Kate Lain.

After several hours of carefully cutting and placing repairs, I was pleased with the stability of the degraded areas. While these repairs might seem small, they are important to the overall preservation of this rare copy of Prime Mover. The censored areas have become an integral part of the volume, so repairing the weaknesses and text losses help to make it safe for use by researchers. I don’t support censorship, but I do support preserving evidence of the practice.

A close-up of Westberg’s repair work on the title page of Primum mobile. Photo by Kate Lain.

The American Library Association’s Preservation Week runs from April 23–29. For more information, visit their Preservation Week website.

Kristi Westberg is the Dibner Book Conservator at The Huntington.

Big Bonsai? Not Really

Kyoto-based landscape designer Takuhiro Yamada (far right) and his pruning crew, from left to right: Kaori Ashida, Tomohiko Kawamura, Yusuke Nakabayashi, and Shigeki Masuda. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

For Kyoto-based landscape designer Takuhiro Yamada, the tea garden he designed in The Huntington’s Japanese Garden is a work in progress. Each year, he returns to check on its development and chooses a few areas where he can help infuse the plants, shrubs, and trees with a design aesthetic that harks back to Japan—or, more specifically, to Kyoto.

In the long growing season of Southern California, quite a bit of growth occurs in a year. What struck Yamada when he returned earlier this year was that the leaves and branches on many of the pine trees had become so dense and thick that they started resembling big bonsai.

During his annual pruning visit to The Huntington’s Japanese Garden, Yamada noticed that the branches of the black pine (Pinus thunbergii) near the teahouse were looking too much like a big bonsai. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

He looks at a black pine (Pinus thunbergii) near the teahouse, for instance. “The top part is open the way I like it but the bottom has too many small branches clustered together,” says the designer. To him, the shape reads too much like a bonsai, which by definition has a compact form. By contrast, a landscape tree needs to have a nice, open shape.

A tree’s contours also contribute to a visitor’s mood, says Robert Hori, The Huntington’s gardens cultural curator. “If a tree is too tightly cropped, you’ll feel tension,” he says. “By opening up a tree and letting more air circulate, it gives it a more relaxed feel, encouraging the visitor to relax, too.”

Yamada walks to the Zillgitt bonsai court and points to another black pine planted in the center. This tree also has a compact shape. In this case, though, it works, he says. Its location in the bonsai court makes it okay for its style to imitate the small trees in pots.

The compact form of this black pine didn’t bother Yamada because of its location in the Zillgitt bonsai court. Photo by Kate Lain.

Descending a few steps further into the Japanese Garden, he assesses other trees. He walks up to a black pine that he’s been pruning for about five years. “I’ve been thinning this one to create lightness and airiness,” he said. When he thinks about its shape, he imagines the branches as different levels of a terrace. At the same time, the overall feel must be a relaxed, soft form, not flat or rigid.

Pine trees benefit from pruning two or three times a year—once in winter as Yamada does, but at least once in spring to early summer when the upright buds at the branch tips, called candles, form. Selectively pruning the candles is another way to nudge the tree in the right direction.

The Japanese landscape designer does what he can with once-a-year pruning. Standing back, he appraises its form. “It’s on the way,” he’ll allow.

Yamada has been pruning this black pine for about five years. It doesn’t quite have the softness he’s after, but it’s “on the way.” Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

Yamada has also been making his mark elsewhere in the Japanese Garden. Last year, he noticed that the azaleas on the upper banks of the garden were looking very manicured. “I advised the landscape crew to leave them more natural and take off only the pieces of the plant that were really sticking out,” he says.

He evaluates the azaleas now and appreciates their rolling, mounding appearance. They look better, he says, more in keeping with a style that you’d see in Kyoto’s famous gardens, such as Ginkaku-Ji or Ryoan-Ji.

Installing a Japanese garden correctly is crucial, says Yamada, but so is maintaining it. Knowing that, he happily returns each year, gently pruning and shaping the plants in keeping with the centuries-old traditions of his hometown of Kyoto.

Related content on Verso:
LISTEN>> Japanese Tea Ceremony (June 3, 2016)
Pruning, Kyoto-style (March 14, 2016)
Worth the Wait (Aug. 7, 2015)

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer in the office of communications and marketing.

Recent Lectures: Feb. 23–April 12, 2017

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of 10 recent lectures.

Potosí, Silver, and the Coming of the Modern World (April 12, 2017)
John Demos, Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University and the Ritchie Distinguished Fellow at The Huntington, presents an account of Potosí, the great South American silver mine and boomtown that galvanized imperial Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries, fueled the rise of capitalism, destroyed native peoples and cultures en masse, and changed history—for good or ill? This talk is part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Unraveling the Mysteries of Exploding Stars (April 3, 2017)
Tony Piro, the George Ellery Hale Distinguished Scholar in Theoretical Astrophysics at the Carnegie Observatories, discusses how scientists are combining observations with theoretical modeling to unravel the mysteries of supernovae. This talk is part of the Carnegie Astronomy Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

A Recipe is More than a Recipe (March 29, 2017)
Long before recipes were shared on the internet, they were passed among friends and compiled into community cookbooks published as charity fundraisers. Drawing on The Huntington’s Anne M. Cranston cookbook collection, food writer Patric Kuh discusses what these shared recipes can tell us, not just about food and community but about the changes that shaped the way Americans cook. Kuh is the author of Finding the Flavors We Lost: From Bread to Bourbon, How Artisans Reclaimed American Food.

 

Framing a New Elegance: The World of George T. Marsh and His Japanese House (March 28, 2017)
Originally conceived by art dealer George T. Marsh as an exotic setting in which to sell curiosities, the building that in 1912 became The Huntington’s Japanese House is a beautiful remnant of a transformational moment in design history. Art historian Hannah Sigur puts Marsh and his house in context, discussing the factors that helped make Japanese aesthetics the basis of good taste at the turn of the 20th century. This talk is part of the East Asian Garden Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Excavating the Book (March 20, 2017)
Stephen Orgel, J. E. Reynolds Professor in Humanities at Stanford University, discusses books and their marketing throughout history, emphasizing the ways in which books are embedded in history, and how literary interpretation is at least partly a form of archaeology. This talk is part of the Zamorano Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Kate Sessions: A Legacy of Botanical Bounty (March 19, 2017)
Landscape historian Nancy Carol Carter examines the horticultural legacy of Kate Sessions (1857–1940), the pioneering nursery owner and garden designer who left an indelible mark on the Southern California landscape. Best known for her work in San Diego, Sessions is credited with introducing and popularizing many of the beloved tree species in the region. The lecture is presented in collaboration with the California Garden and Landscape History Society.

 

The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics (March 15, 2017)
Mae Ngai, Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies and professor of history at Columbia University, discusses the role of Chinese miners in the 19th-century gold rushes of California, Australia, and South Africa, and the rise of anti-Chinese politics in the West. This talk is part of the Cheng Foundation Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Remarkable New Discoveries from Hummingbird Rescue (March 5, 2017)
Hummingbird rehabilitator Terry Masear presents a lecture about nature’s tiny “flying jewels” and the work of the dedicated volunteers of the Los Angeles Hummingbird Rescue. Since its inception in 2007, the group has rehabilitated and released back into the wild 10,000 orphaned or injured birds. This talk is part of the Southern California Gardener Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

A Satire of the Three Estates: Renaissance Scotland’s Best Kept Secret? (March 1, 2017)
Greg Walker, Regius Professor of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, discusses Sir David Lyndsay’s remarkable play, A Satire of the Three Estates, probably the most dramatically and politically radical piece of theater produced in 16th-century Britain. This talk is part of the Crotty Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Founder’s Day Lecture (Feb. 23, 2017)
David Zeidberg looks back on some of the many highlights of his career in the annual Founder’s Day lecture.

Find more audio recordings of Huntington lectures and conferences on SoundCloud and iTunes U.

Transcription Challenge for Civil War Telegrams

On the “Decoding the Civil War” website, a citizen archivist transcribes the first line of an encoded telegram.

In June 2016, The Huntington launched a crowdsourcing project called “Decoding the Civil War” to transcribe and decipher a collection of 15,922 U.S. Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. This extraordinarily rare collection, acquired by The Huntington in 2012, is a near-complete archive of the papers of Thomas T. Eckert (1825–1910), the head of the military telegraph office of the War Department under Lincoln.

Funded in part by a two-year federal grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the project involves a partnership between The Huntington, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, North Carolina State University’s Digital History and Pedagogy Project, and Zooniverse, the largest online platform for collaborative volunteer research.

Thus far, the project has enlisted more than 3,900 volunteers—known as “citizen archivists”—who have transcribed roughly half of the handwritten telegrams. But there is still much more work to be done. As a result, The Huntington and its partners have issued a challenge: double the rate of transcriptions per day over the next two weeks.

Encoded telegram from President Lincoln to General Weitzel, April 12, 1865, from a ledger of the United States Military Telegraph, War Department, Jan. 21, 1864–Dec. 7, 1865. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Our volunteers have been doing yeoman’s service to collectively turn out roughly 200 pages of transcriptions per day,” says Mario Einaudi, Kemble Digital Projects Librarian at The Huntington. “However, we have fallen behind where we had hoped to be at this stage of our project. So, we are asking both new and current volunteers to help us transcribe 10 telegram ledgers—a total of nearly 600 pages of telegrams—between April 17 and May 1. This will help us achieve our goal of having the greater part of the ledgers transcribed by June 2017.”

People interested in participating in the transcription challenge can go to the project’s Zooniverse website, “Decoding the Civil War,” take a brief tutorial that explains the process for transcribing a telegram, and find further information on the project. If participants are interested in joining discussions on particular telegrams, then they will need to create a user name and password by registering with Zooniverse.

“The canard is often repeated that libraries and archives are dead. Or, if not dead, then they are simply morgues for outdated material,” says Einaudi. “Our partners and volunteers have demonstrated that active collaboration, research, and discovery are still vital. Working together, we can meet this challenge!”

Decoded telegram from General Darius N. Couch to General George G. Meade, 3:10 p.m., Harrisburg, Pa., July 1, 1863. The last four words, great battle very soon, were added by the telegraph operator and presage the Battle of Gettysburg. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can start transcribing telegrams now at the “Decoding the Civil War” website.

Related content on Verso:
Decoding the Civil War (June 21, 2016)

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

Do Not Open

Phonograph record of actor Joseph H. Hazelton reminiscing about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The recording was made in 1933 at Freeman Lang’s studios in Hollywood, California. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington Library is a vast treasure box, replete with more than nine million items, including rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and maps. In addition, the Library houses a variety of oddities—such as a set of false teeth, an Oscar statuette, and a collection of vintage light bulbs. For someone like Aric Allen, our staff video producer, a random chat with a curator can turn into a delightful process of discovery. That’s what happened when he learned about a mysterious box in the Library’s vault with a warning on it: “Do Not Open.”

The curator in question was Jenny Watts, The Huntington’s curator of photography and visual culture, who became aware of the box some years ago while researching a major photography exhibition on death and dying in the U.S. Civil War. Inside the box, and off limits, was the only known copy of a large, fragile disc on which was recorded the voice of the actor Joseph H. Hazelton (1855–1936), an eyewitness to the Lincoln assassination when he was just a boy. (While the record itself is much too fragile to spin on any turntable, the Hazelton audio is available online at the Huntington Digital Library.)

In Aric Allen’s video, the Hazelton recording is prepared for its close-up by Jessamy Gloor, a conservator at The Huntington.

In his video, Allen pieces together the curious story of the recording, Hazelton’s eyewitness account, and the value of such a historic artifact (especially curious, given that Hazelton’s recollection of the assassination was riddled with inaccuracies). In fact, the story seems particularly timely, providing a tiny window into how so-called eyewitness accounts can turn into “alternative facts.”

Timely, too, because this weekend marks the 152nd anniversary of Lincoln’s death, which occurred on April 15, 1865.

You can learn about highlights in the Library’s collections related to the U.S. Civil War on The Huntington’s website.

Related content on Verso:
Lincoln’s Last Hours (April 14, 2015)

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

Aric Allen is video producer in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

The Power of Touch

The 24 members of the petit jury impaneled by the United States Circuit Court for Virginia in Richmond for the treason trial of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis in May 1867. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Click here to enlarge.

One afternoon in the Library’s archive, I found a battered and scuffed photograph at the bottom of a small pile. Twenty-four men gaze somberly at the camera; all wear jackets and ties. The mere fact that the 19th-century portrait showed Black and white men respectfully intermingled made the photograph compelling enough. But there was something about the gesture of their hands that stopped me in my tracks. I had the sense that the picture was important. I just didn’t know precisely why.

The photograph revealed few facts. A composite of two images crudely pasted together (the obvious overlap between the man in checked pants at center and the sitter next to him provides a clue), it had no date or other identifying information. On the picture’s back, a studio stamp: the Lee Photographic Gallery.

Detail of a group portrait of the petit jury impaneled for the Jefferson Davis treason trial, 1867. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I asked Anita Weaver, the curatorial department’s research assistant extraordinaire, to track down any information she could find. Within a day, she came back with the hoped-for news. The photograph was a significant find: a rare surviving original picture of the first racially integrated petit jury (another name for a trial jury) in Virginia history.

There was more. The historic jury of 12 African American and 12 Anglo American jurists was selected in the spring of 1867 for the trial of none other than Jefferson Davis. The former president of the Confederate States of America had been charged by the federal government with treason.

This was one bit of American history that I’d never learned. As the Confederacy crumbled in April 1865, Davis fled the executive mansion in Richmond and headed south toward Texas. Union cavalrymen apprehended him a month later in Georgia and sent him to Fort Monroe, Virginia, a military installation where he was imprisoned while awaiting trial for the next two years.

Detail of a group portrait of the petit jury impaneled for the Jefferson Davis treason trial, 1867. Left to right, standing: L. Boyd, Thomas Lucas, L. Lipscomb, A. Lilly, and (unknown first name) Wilburn. Seated: B. Wardwell, Albert Royal Brooks, Lewis Lindsey, J. Morrisey, J. Turner (in foreground), Dr. W. Scott. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Virginia jurists were chosen by United States Circuit Court judge John C. Underwood, a Radical Reconstruction firebrand whose speeches about the “moral monsters” of racism put him at odds with moderates on both sides of the political divide.

All this research raised more questions than answers. How did Judge Underwood choose these men? And who were they? A few identities came into focus. Lewis Lindsay (seated and holding a scroll in the image above) was a fearless advocate for the confiscation of Confederate lands. Born enslaved in Virginia, Lindsay worked at a Richmond iron works after the war. Albert Royal Brooks (seated second from left in the image above) purchased his and his family’s freedom between 1861 and 1865, and became a respected Richmond businessman and community leader. Joseph Cox (standing far left in the image below) was a free Black man employed as a factory worker, blacksmith, bartender, and storeowner during his lifetime.

Detail of a group portrait of the petit jury impaneled for the Jefferson Davis treason trial, 1867. Left to right, standing: Joseph Cox, Herman L. Wigand, L. Tabb. Seated: F. Smith, J.E. Frazier, J.B. Willis. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Who were the white jurors? Jefferson Davis’s friend, lawyer James Lyons, referred contemptuously to them as “the worst kind of white men.” Like Lyons, members of Richmond’s ruling class deplored the case against Davis, considering a mixed-race jury a bitter affront.

The circumstances surrounding the creation of the photograph also remain unclear. A Richmond photographer, David H. Anderson, most likely performed the job. He split the group into two, probably because his large-format camera could not accommodate 24 sitters in a single frame. At some point, a neighboring studio owner, William W. Davies of the Lee Photographic Gallery, obtained the two glass negatives and began to print and sell the portrait, as demonstrated by the stamp affixed to the back. Sales were sparse; only a handful of copies exist. How and when this remarkable photograph came to The Huntington is yet another mystery to be solved.

I kept coming back to the hands. The group is linked together by that most human of gestures, touch. Even still, that contact is racially bound. Black touches Black. White touches white. White touches Black. But only in one case does an African American man, E. Fox (standing far left in the image below) place a hand on a white man’s shoulder—and then, in a most tentative way. This cautious touch seems a telling symbol of what was to come.

Detail of a group portrait of the petit jury impaneled for the Jefferson Davis treason trial, 1867. Left to right, standing: E. Fox, J. Freeman, J.R. Fitchett. Seated: W.A. Parsons, L. Carter, C.P. Fitchett, John Newton Van Lew (in foreground). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden.

The petit jury heard cases during its term, but not the most famous one for which it had been impaneled. On May 13, 1867, amid jubilant shouts, Jefferson Davis walked out of the courtroom on $100,000 bail. A group comprised of northern industrialists and radical abolitionists had paid $10,000 each toward Davis’s bond, an action emblematic of the haste with which many wished to heal the wounds of war.

The government formally dismissed charges against Davis in early 1869, despite his emphatic desire to plead his case. The will to prosecute simply faded over time. Jefferson Davis—an unrepentant champion of slavery and the Confederacy’s “Lost Cause”—never went to trial.

Jenny Watts is curator of photography and visual culture at The Huntington.

Telling Her Stories

Author Octavia E. Butler, 1986. Photo by Patti Perret. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington is launching the first major exhibition on the life and work of award-winning science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006), whose literary archive resides here. She was the first science fiction writer to receive a prestigious MacArthur “genius” award and the first African American woman to win widespread recognition writing in that genre. The exhibition, “Octavia E. Butler: Telling My Stories,” opens April 8 in the West Hall of the Library and continues through Aug. 7.

“She was a pioneer, a master storyteller who brought her voice—the voice of a woman of color—to science fiction,” says Natalie Russell, assistant curator of literary collections at The Huntington and curator of the exhibition. “Tired of stories featuring white, male heroes, she developed an alternative narrative from a very personal point of view.”

Outline and notes for Parable of the Sower, ca. 1989. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Butler, a Pasadena, Calif., native, told The New York Times in a 2000 interview: “When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”

The exhibition follows a roughly chronological thread and includes approximately 100 items that reveal the writer’s early years and influences. It also highlights specific themes that repeatedly commanded her attention.

Butler was born June 22, 1947, to a maid and a shoeshine man. Her father died when she was quite young. An only child, she discovered writing very early because it suited her shy nature. (The exhibition features samples of her earliest stories.) But it was a 1954 science fiction film called Devil Girl from Mars that inspired Butler to take on science fiction. “She was convinced she could write a better story than the one unfolding on the screen,” Russell says.

“Silver Star and Rocket,” ca. 1958. This drawing of the equine heroine Silver Star and her friend Rocket is from one of Octavia Butler’s earliest stories. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Butler enrolled in every creative writing course she could find, including classes at Pasadena City College. In the early 1970s, at a workshop for minority writers, she met the science fiction author Harlan Ellison, who introduced her to the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop, where Butler learned to hone her craft among other like-minded writers; it was then that she sold her first story. Following Clarion, she took odd jobs to support herself, writing in the early morning hours before work. But the road to success was long and slow. “I had five more years of rejection slips and horrible little jobs ahead of me before I sold another word,” she once said.

On display in the exhibition is one of the pages of motivational notes she frequently wrote to help herself stay focused on her goals. “I am a Bestselling Writer. I write Bestselling Books . . . Every day in every way I am researching and writing my award winning Best selling Books and short stories . . . Everyone of my books reaches and remains for two or more months at the top of the bestseller lists . . . . So Be It! See To It.”

A page of Butler’s motivational notes, ca. 1975. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

In 1975, she sold her first novel, Patternmaster, to Doubleday, quickly followed by Mind of My Mind and Survivor; the trio comprise part of her “Patternist” series, depicting the evolution of humanity into three distinct genetic groups. A review on display in the exhibition lauds Patternmaster for its well-constructed plot and progressive heroine, who is “a refreshing change of pace from the old days.”

By the late 1970s, she was able to make a living on her writing alone. She won her first Hugo award in 1985 for the short story “Speech Sounds,” followed by other awards, including a Locus and Nebula.

Draft of an early version of Kindred (with the working title To Keep Thee in all Thy Ways), ca. 1977. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

The exhibition includes examples of journal entries, photographs, and first editions of her books, including Kindred, arguably her best-known work. The book is less science fiction and more fantasy, involving an African American woman who travels back in time to the horrors of plantation life in pre-Civil War Maryland. “I wanted to reach people emotionally in a way that history tends not to,” Butler said about the book. Published in 1979, Kindred continues to command widespread appeal and is regularly taught in high schools and at the university level, and is frequently chosen for community-wide reading programs and book clubs.

Beyond race, Butler explored tensions between the sexes and worked to develop strong female characters, a hallmark of her writing. But she also challenged traditional gender identity. “Bloodchild,” for example, is a story about a pregnant man, and in Wild Seed, the plot develops around two shape-shifting—and sex-changing—characters, Doro and Anyanwu. The exhibition includes notes Butler made about the two characters as she worked to develop them.

Notes on the Oankali for the Xenogenesis trilogy, ca. 1985. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Butler sought to meticulously research the science in her fiction, traveling to the Amazon to get a firsthand look at extreme biological diversity in an effort to better incorporate biology, genetics, and medicine in her work. Climate change concerned her, as did politics, the pharmaceutical industry, and a variety of social issues, and she wove them all into her writing. “Her stories resonate in very powerful ways today,” said Russell. “Perhaps even more so than when they were first published.”

After Butler’s death, The Huntington became the recipient of her papers, which arrived in 2008 in two file cabinets and 35 large cartons, comprising more than 8,000 items. By the time the collection had been processed and cataloged, scholars were already clamoring for access. In the past two years, the Octavia E. Butler archive has been used nearly 1,300 times—or roughly 15 times per week—making it one of the most actively researched archives at The Huntington.

Octavia E. Butler, notes on writing, ca. 1970–1995. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Related content on Verso:
Mentoring in the Afterlife (June 10, 2016)
Celebrating Octavia Butler (Jan. 27, 2016)
Writing Herself In (June 22, 2015)

You can learn more about the Octavia E. Butler collection here.

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

West of Walden

Shortly after the publication of Walden in 1854, Samuel Worcester Rowse, an artist famous for his fashionably sentimental portraits, sketched this portrait of Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862). Prudence Ward, who sent this reproduction to Anne J. Ward, was a permanent boarder in the Thoreau household. Correspondence of Prudence Ward and Anne J. Ward, 1839–1906. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Walden. Yesterday I came here to live.” That entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), and the intellectual journey it began, would by themselves be enough to place him in the American pantheon of writers and thinkers. His attempt to “live deliberately” in the woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord, Mass., has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of his Walden in 1854.

Thoreau famously concludes Walden with the line “The sun is but a morning star”—declaring that this, his morning book, celebrates dawn and first light. As the book’s motto affirms, he’ll brag “as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.” And wake us up he did: to the dawn of democracy and civil rights, to the first stirrings of American environmentalism and the earliest call to protect the nation’s wild places. Yet elsewhere in his writings, Thoreau looks westward to the close of day.

Thoreau’s cairn at Walden Pond, looking west, ca. 1895. Bronson Alcott laid the second stone in this cairn, after watching his friend Mary Newbury Adams lay the first stone during a visit to Walden in 1872. The cairn, which stands near the site of Thoreau’s house, continues to grow daily. Correspondence of Prudence Ward and Anne J. Ward, 1839–1906. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

For example, he ends his essay “Walking”—that westward journey of his imagination—by remembering the “great awakening light” of sunset, which gleamed on the westward side of every tree and all the rising ground “like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman, driving us home at evening.” To Thoreau, west meant the future, the unknown, the possible, the earth still unexhausted and richer; as he summed up, “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”

The conference “West of Walden: Thoreau in the 21st Century,” taking place on April 7 and 8 in Rothenberg Hall, commemorates the bicentennial year of Thoreau’s birth from the sundown side, reading his life and work from the far west of his imagination. California is the perfect setting in which to consider Thoreau today, standing as it does on the western verge of America. Thoreau always dreamed of travelling west and read with envy of the Pacific Coast. Though he made it only as far as the Mississippi River and the Minnesota prairie, seven draft manuscripts of Walden made it all the way to California: they are housed here, at The Huntington.

This popular map shows that the United States had already grown to its present continental borders by 1860, though many of the western states had yet to be created. Map of the United States and Mexico, compiled from the latest authorities, by Col. Carlos Butterfield. Publisher: Julies Bien (1826–1909), New York, December 1860. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Conceptually, too, Thoreau’s later work traveled from dawn and spring daylight to day’s end and the darker lights of autumn. As he looked to the future of his nation, he saw great promise ahead—but he also saw great peril, fearing for the coming of the “evil days” when wild lands would be fenced and built over, and nature’s goodness would come to us not freely, but priced and prepackaged for the market. This gathering of eminent Thoreau scholars will consider how to read Thoreau from our own day, a time when we sense a sunset coming and anticipate the dawn of a new day.

In four sessions over two days, we will look at the widening circles of Thoreau’s career as a poet-naturalist, and of his friends, correspondence, and reform efforts; we’ll reflect on the westward turn of his environmental imagination, and the global contact zones where he encountered other cultures and literatures. Thoreau, in his life and practice, joined humans and nature, speaking for both environmental protection and social justice. During our time together, we will ask: How does Thoreau help us to see our past? What are his gifts to us? How can his gifts help us envision our future—and anticipate our own morning star?

The west of the imagination: “Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a west as distant and as fair as that into which the Sun goes down,” wrote Thoreau. Sunset over California, as envisioned in 1868 by Albert Bierstadt, America’s premier painter of the West. A lithograph reproduction of Sunset (California scenery) by Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), from Prang’s American chromos, L. Prang & Co., Boston (Mass.), 1868, Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can read more about the conference program and registration on The Huntington’s website.

In conjunction with the conference, The Huntington will display, in the foyer of the Library’s Main Exhibition Hall, one of the seven drafts of Walden housed in the Library, along with the autograph manuscript of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s funeral oration for Thoreau. A page from Walden is also on view in the Library’s permanent main hall exhibition, “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times.”

Related content on Verso:
Society and Solitude in Concord (June 14, 2016)

Laura Dassow Walls is the Willliam P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame and the author of the forthcoming biography Henry David Thoreau: A Life, which will be published by the University of Chicago Press in July 2017.

Women Making Art

The Huntington has partnered with the Women’s Center for Creative Work for the second year of its contemporary arts initiative called /five.

In 2016, The Huntington launched /five, a five-year contemporary arts initiative focused on creative collaboration. The plan? Each year, a different arts or cultural organization is selected to bring in artists to create works in response to The Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections in new and unforeseen ways.

The inaugural year brought JPL/NASA’s Orbit Pavilion here. In 2017, we chose the Los Angeles–based Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW) to explore the theme of collecting and collections. WCCW is a nonprofit organization that cultivates feminist creative communities and practices.

Close to 100 artists answered WCCW’s call for proposals, seven of whom were chosen to conduct research at The Huntington and produce original work inspired by the collections. The WCCW collaboration will culminate in an exhibition opening in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art this fall.

The artists working in the Library collections are Jheanelle Garriques and kerrie welsh.

Jheanelle Garriques. Photo by Stevie Rae Gibbs. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Garriques is a social entrepreneur, Black feminist, and model. She holds many titles but is most proud of her work as the founder and executive director of Naked Narratives, a narrative therapy project. The project—which operates as a writing program, encouraging its participants to confidently express themselves while resolving past traumas—spans three continents and seven cities. When she is not traveling, Garriques can be found in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York, writing poetry, studying hip-hop at Alvin Ailey, or chatting in patois with her family.

kerrie welsh. Photo by C.E. Nolen. Photo courtesy of the artist.

welsh is fascinated by archival accidents, hidden histories, and the shifting limits of the speakable in contemporary culture. Her mixed-media work pushes the boundaries between personal and cultural memory—and between social and artistic conventions. It has been exhibited in venues from UnionDocs in Brooklyn to The Situation Room in Los Angeles. She has taught in the undergraduate film program at The New York University Tisch School of the Arts, where she co-founded the Women in the Director’s Chair Oral History Project. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at UC Santa Cruz, writing a dissertation on silent cinema, titled “Sapphic Cinemania! Female Authorship, Queer Desires, and the Birth of Cinema.”

The artists working in the Art collections are Soyoung Shin and Juliana Wisdom.

Soyoung Shin. Photo by Sayoko Cox. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Shin is a multidisciplinary Korean-American artist currently working in textiles, performance, zines, and new media. Born to Korean immigrants living in Seattle, Shin grew up in the neighboring suburb of Federal Way. From a young age, she spent time with her mother making cross-stitched textiles and other crafts. She has a strong interest in labor that is traditionally enacted by women, especially at a time when trends in automated technology are devaluing handiwork. Shin has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Washington, where she pursued studies in art-making to balance her passion for varying forms of critical thinking. She maintains a steady artistic practice from within her home as an homage to the generations of women who have done the same.

Juliana Wisdom. Photo by Evan Backer. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Wisdom combines traditional ceramic and textile techniques with contemporary repurposed and industrial materials to create objects that explore issues of interpersonal relationships and social progress. Referencing historical aesthetics as a way to link past and present, her sculptural work celebrates how traditions of handmade craft and mass-produced, discardable, everyday objects provide tangible proof of the human experience. After receiving her BFA in ceramics and sculpture from the University of Washington in 2010, Wisdom continued to explore contemporary craft and sculpture with the support of the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, Artist Trust Seattle, Pilchuck Glass School, and A-Z West. She has shown her work on the West Coast and in Rome, Italy. She currently works as a porcelain production assistant and independent artist in Los Angeles.

The artists working in the Botanical collections are Olivia Chumacero, Sarita Dougherty, and Zya S. Levy.

Olivia Chumacero. Photo by Chris Cruse. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Chumacero walks through sage-filled paths and obsidian-cut winds. Her life’s energy has taken her to the four corners of the planet, where the muses sustain her in a diet of awe and gratitude. She is open to dialogue and actions that make humyn beings accountable for the current state of Mother Earth. Respect, reciprocity, and responsibility are her legacy, her blood memory. She asks that we rethink how to live on our collective home with a nurturing heart that is conscious of those seven generations yet to come. Chumacero studied film at UC Santa Cruz and is the founder of Everything Is Medicine, a project that involves workshops, hikes, and other initiatives to raise awareness about California native flora, sustainable water use, and the respectful use of lands belonging to indigenous groups. Chumacero is working with Dougherty on a collaborative project.

Sarita Dougherty. Photo by Chris Cruse. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Dougherty generates and paints habitats from the plants, systems, and cultural ephemera she finds. She received an MFA from UCLA in 2012 and teaches at the University of Redlands and Cypress College. She is pursuing a Ph.D, researching Pachamama consciousness as a pathway toward decolonization in aesthetics, ecology, and education. Dougherty lives and works on a mountain with her partner and baby in Yangna (the Tongva name for Los Angeles). She is working with Chumacero on a collaborative project.

Zya S. Levy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Levy is a botanist, artist, and environmental educator. Her work draws on her background in ethno-botany and seeks to create tangible relationships between people and the natural world through the use of audio/visual art, traditional craft, natural materials, tall tales, and sensory experiences. Levy received her bachelor’s degree in botany and has over 12 years of experience working with North American flora as a field botanist for the United States Department of Agriculture. She is the co-founder of WE THE WEEDS, an ongoing collaborative botanical arts project based in Philadelphia that highlights the presence of the natural world within the manmade landscape. During her residency at The Huntington, she will be aided by fellow WE THE WEEDS co-founder Kaitlin Pomerantz.

Members of The Huntington’s /five team recently joined WCCW’s directors in welcoming the selected artists at a reception. Standing left to right, in front of Doyle Lane’s 1964 ceramic Mutual Savings and Loan Mural, are: Jenny Watts, The Huntington’s curator of photography and visual culture; Catherine Hess, The Huntington’s chief curator of European art; Sarita Dougherty; Olivia Chumacero; Zya S. Levy; kerrie welsh; Juliana Wisdom; Sarah Williams, WCCW’s managing director; Kate Johnston, WCCW’s creative director; Catherine Allgor, The Huntington’s director of education; Vanessa Wilkie, The Huntington’s William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History; Soyoung Shin; Rebecca Shea, The Huntington’s senior advancement officer; and Robert Hori, The Huntington’s gardens cultural curator. Not pictured: Jheanelle Garriques; Kate Lain, The Huntington’s new media developer; and Jennifer Phillips, The Huntington’s associate director of public programs. Photo by Kate Lain.

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.

Related content on Verso:
Hearing NASA’s Earth Science Satellites (Nov. 15, 2016)

Autism Awareness at The Huntington

Among the topiary in the Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden, children get to splash in water and shape its flow with their hands.

Children with autism react to sensory stimuli in very different ways. Some children on the autism spectrum are overly sensitive, while others are just the opposite. The Huntington offers a range of environments to suit any child’s needs.

“The Huntington can be a wonderful place for someone with autism because it offers so many opportunities to see, smell, hear, and touch. But it also offers quiet, open spaces,” says Ricki Robinson, M.D., co-director of Descanso Medical Center for Development and Learning in La Cañada, California, and a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She’s also a member of The Huntington’s Board of Overseers.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, a great time, says Robinson, to consider visiting The Huntington—given the mild weather and plants bursting forth in bloom.

Artist’s rendering of the Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden. Drawing by Lisa Pompelli.

We asked Robinson what she’d recommend to caregivers bringing their kids:

“A first stop for many children (autistic or otherwise) is the Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden. Designed by California kinetic artist Ned Kahn, children get to splash in water, make music with pebbles, dance under rainbows, disappear into a swirl of fog, and hold the magic of magnetic forces in their hands.

“Many autistic children have a heightened sense of smell. For them, the dozens of fragrances in the Rose Garden may hold great appeal. But each child reacts differently to their environment. What may be a joyous experience for one autistic child may be frightening for another. One child may find the waterfall in the Chinese Garden fascinating. To another, its sound can seem like pounding nails. With so many different sensory experiences that can be explored throughout The Huntington’s gardens, parents of a child with autism can tailor their visit to match their child’s interests and sensory likes and dislikes.

The view from behind a waterfall in the Chinese Garden, also known as Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance.

“There are indoor attractions that provide exciting opportunities as well. In the permanent exhibition about plants and botany, ‘Plants Are Up to Something,’ in The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science, touching is encouraged. So, go ahead: pet a plant!

“Some children may be mesmerized by the displays in the Library’s permanent science exhibition, ‘Beautiful Science,’ with its many light and astronomy sections with interactive features. Children can work with a prism to split the light, or explore a camera obscura, or look through a telescope. It’s a way to keep them engaged visually and intellectually.

Sam Francis’s Free Floating Clouds, 1980, acrylic on canvas. Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“If visual stimuli entice your child, consider the huge, bright swirls of paint in Free Floating Clouds by the American painter Sam Francis. It’s located in a massive, quiet room in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. Children may find its vivid colors and multiple patterns soothing. Another source of serenity is the raked-gravel dry garden, also known as karesansui, in the Zen Garden of the Japanese Garden. A more intense experience is listening to the soundscape of satellites inside the shell-shaped NASA/JPL Orbit Pavilion on the Celebration Lawn.

“For a break from all the stimuli, I suggest seeking out the open spaces of lawn east of the Huntington Art Gallery and grassy spots near the Lily Ponds, inhabited by peaceful koi fish. These are places to just flop and rest, or run free.”

The grassy spots near the Lily Ponds provide calm places to rest and relax.

During the month of April, families can find a flyer with more suggestions on how children with autism can make the best of a visit to The Huntington. The flyers will be available at the Admissions windows and in the Mapel Orientation Gallery. A conference on autism, “Honoring Individual Differences: The Gateway to Supporting Neurodiversity in Autism & Mental Health Treatment,” will take place at The Huntington on March 31 and April 1, 2017, featuring internationally recognized experts, including Dr. Robinson.

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