Illustrating Poverty and Prisons

The windowless octagonal Modern Poor House sits isolated on the outskirts of town. Debtors and paupers are whipped and then chained and imprisoned in solitary confinement. Their diet is composed of bread and gruel. Detail from Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin’s “Contrasted Residences for the Poor: Modern Poor House; Ancient Poor House” in Contrasts, or, A parallel between the noble edifices of the Middle Ages, and corresponding buildings of the present day, shewing the present decay of taste, 1841. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In 19th-century Britain, the mere fact of being poor could land you in prison—debtors’ prison, that is. The history of British prisons and how artists and architects documented the social, political, and legal tensions surrounding prison reform are the main themes of a focused exhibition in the Huntington Art Gallery’s Works on Paper room, on view until June 26.

The exhibition, titled “A.W.N. Pugin, Prisons, and the Plight of the Poor,” includes more than a dozen objects drawn from The Huntington’s Art and Library collections, including drawings, prints, and a rare book by British architect, draftsman, designer, and architectural theorist Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852).

Pugin’s architectural manifesto, Contrasted Residences for the Poor, criticized the treatment of the poor and underprivileged following the passing of the New Poor Law by Parliament in 1834. The former Poor Law of 1815 stated that each parish had to look after their own poor, raising funds through taxes on the middle and upper classes. The new law, instituted to reduce rising costs, established workhouses where the poor were required to do manual labor in exchange for food and lodging.

The Ancient Poor House, as depicted by Pugin, was a magnificent almshouse built around a courtyard with an impressive church anchoring the whole complex. Paupers were treated with dignity, receiving clothing and a substantial meal of beef, mutton, bacon, ale and cider, milk and porridge, and bread and cheese. Detail from Pugin’s “Contrasted Residences for the Poor: Modern Poor House; Ancient Poor House.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Pugin pointed to the architectural conditions endured by paupers in sordid, industrial city-prisons—where debtors and paupers were fed bread and gruel and often whipped, chained, and imprisoned in solitary confinement—and compared those to an idealized setting where the old English Catholic Church provided hospitality and charity for society’s most underserved. Pugin believed that architecture had the ability to change social environments. For Pugin, English Gothic architecture, with its soaring windows pointed toward Heaven and its foundations firmly grounded in Christian virtues—Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Justice, Temperance, and Prudence—offered a moralizing architectural fabric that could stabilize and improve what many perceived to be a tortured 19th-century society.

The artworks in this exhibition depict a range of prison styles and highlight the role that these spaces served in containing and punishing criminals, debtors, drunks, gamblers, and paupers. These images helped to document the history of Great Britain’s prison architecture, calling attention to the deplorable treatment of the individuals that they contained.

For instance, Edward Gurden Dalziel’s watercolor Children are the Poor Man’s Riches (inspired by the English proverb) emphasized what many destitute parents faced in the mid-19th century—having to bring their children with them into the workhouses to provide for the family. Dalziel’s tender portrait of a poor but happy family would have clearly contrasted with the appalling conditions that the government provided to the marginalized members of British society.

This watercolor emphasizes what many destitute parents faced in the mid-19th century—having to bring their children with them into the workhouses to provide for the family. Edward Gurden Dalziel (British, 1817–1905), Children are the Poor Man’s Riches, ca. 1855, watercolor, gouache, and pen and ink over traces of graphite on paper, 7 x 5 in. (17.8 x 12.7 cm.). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Similarly, Henry Rushbury’s etching Debtor’s Prison, York shows how the 18th-century prison (constructed 1701–1705) rises above a thick outer fortress wall of an 11th-century castle built by William the Conqueror, providing a towering reminder of the punitive consequences for persons failing to pay their bills.

After this modernized prison was completed, Daniel Defoe (1660–1731), author of Robinson Crusoe, conducted a survey of the public jails in Great Britain and noted that the York debtors’ prison was “the most stately and complete of any in the kingdom, if not in Europe.” The different floors of the prison were used to segregate the different types of offenders—debtors above and felons below. Though “stately” in its exterior appearance, inmates were often crammed 15 to a filthy cell. The combination of overcrowding and lack of hygiene in prisons led to massive outbreaks of “jail fever,” probably typhus, which resulted in tragic loss of life.

Together, the drawings, prints, and illustrated books in this exhibition reveal the role that representations of British prison architecture played as both a framing device and a backdrop for discussing and visualizing the politically and morally charged debates about 19th-century prison reform.

This etching shows the 18th-century debtors’ prison in York rising above a thick outer fortress wall of an 11th-century castle built by William the Conqueror, providing a towering reminder of the punitive consequences for persons failing to pay their bills. Henry Rushbury (British, 1889-1968), Debtor’s Prison, York, 1933, etching and drypoint on paper, 10 3/4 x 14 9/16 in. Gift of Russel I. Kully. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Courtney Skipton Long is guest curator for “A.W.N. Pugin, Prisons, and the Plight of the Poor.” She received her Ph.D. in the history of art and architecture from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 and is currently the Zvi Grunberg Postdoctoral Fellow at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

An Ingeniously Printed Book of Songs

A Collection of Twenty Four Songs (London, 1685). Two-page opening (pages [12]–[13]) showing two songs: “In Silvia is my whole delight” (anonymous and unique) and “Ah poor Olinda never boast” (music by Robert King and text by “a Lady,” from the play A Duke and No Duke by Nahum Tate). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Examining a real book up close can tell us things that a microfilmed or black-and-white online image of the object doesn’t show. Scholars often discover interesting information by inspecting a book’s watermarks, paper stocks, or bindings.

A good example of this is a fascinating booklet dating from 1685 called A Collection of Twenty Four Songs, Written by Several Hands. And Set by Several Masters of Musick, of which The Huntington possesses the only known copy. This odd little compilation was published in London under the auspices of a slightly shady character known as Charles Corbet. The whole affair is rather slapdash. The compiler doesn’t provide page numbers or identify composers and supplies only the songs’ melody lines (a real problem in the case of four songs that cannot be found elsewhere). There are also numerous mistakes in both the text and the musical notation.

Even so, A Collection of Twenty Four Songs is intriguing because it combines two printing methods on each page. The texts of the songs were created using moveable type, and the music was produced by means of copperplate engraving. In the former procedure, individual pieces of metal type—each carrying a raised letter, punctuation mark, or blank space—were cinched together into a frame and placed in a printing press, where they were inked and then applied by means of a lever onto each sheet of paper.

A Collection of Twenty Four Songs (London, 1685). Detail of page [12], showing the impression (“bite”) left by the copper plate used to print the musical notes. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In the other method, a smooth, thin plate of copper was engraved with tiny grooves—in this case for the musical notation—and then the grooves were filled with ink (the rest of the plate being wiped clean). Finally, the plate and a piece of paper were pressed together and rolled through an “intaglio” press (something like an old-fashioned clothes wringer), forcing the ink from the grooves onto the paper.

It is clear that in the case of A Collection of Twenty Four Songs, each sheet of paper had to undergo both processes before the printed page was complete. But mastering the actual printing technologies was only the first step. Then the printer needed to assemble the book. With engraved printing, this was a relatively easy process: single pages of a book were engraved and printed individually—often using only one side of the sheet of paper and leaving the other side blank—and were then bound together, just as you might send a document from your computer to your printer and then have the single-sided pages spiral-bound at your local copy center.

Books produced with moveable type were generally much more complex, being built up through multiple-page “gatherings.” Four pages were set up and printed together, top-to-top and side-to-side, on one side of a large sheet of paper; then another four pages were printed on the other side of the sheet. The sheet was then folded in half, and in half again, and finally the connected tops were slit open, and presto—the printer had an eight-page gathering that, when stitched together with other such gatherings, formed a book.

Andrew Walkling’s schematic mockup showing how one side of sheet B of A Collection of Twenty Four Songs (the “outer forme”) was laid out for printing. After being printed on the other side as well, the sheet would have been folded twice, slit open along the top, and bound as part of the completed book.

You can try this at home. Fold any piece of paper in half and half again, then holding it like a book, number the pages from one to eight. Then unfold it to check the configuration of your pages and note which page numbers are right-side up or upside down. I do it all the time with my students.

So how did Corbet bring these two very different processes together in our curious little music book? Once I came to The Huntington and had a chance to inspect the volume in person, I discovered a clue that the microfilmed image of it didn’t show: it was a mark laid down by the edges of the copper plate as it “bit” into the paper when plate and paper were crushed together in the intaglio press.

This mark spans each two-page spread and crosses over the tops of the pages, revealing Corbet’s ingenious solution. He would first print four pages of moveable-type text onto a large sheet of paper—laying them top-to-top and side-to-side—and leave a blank space in the center for the music. Then he created the musical notation on copper plates, assembling four tunes on each plate laid in the same configuration. He would run the whole sheet through the intaglio press to add the music, repeating the same two-part process for the sheet’s other side. Then he’d fold it to create each eight-page, eight-song gathering.

Corbet’s approach may have been a product of necessity. He didn’t have access to the typefaces that London’s specialized music publishers used, and producing a full-blown engraved edition of songs would have proved too expensive for his middle-class customers. His imaginative half-and-half approach has its own compelling logic. Sadly, it did Corbet little good. Shortly after the publication of this unusual music book, he disappeared from the historical record without a trace.

A Collection of Twenty Four Songs (London, 1685). Title page. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Andrew R. Walkling is associate professor of Early Modern Studies at Binghamton University and was a short-term Andrew W. Mellon Foundation fellow at The Huntington.

Bill and Ned’s Excellent Adventures

The title page of Edward Jenner’s An inquiry into the causes and effects of the variolæ vaccinæ, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the cow pox, 1800 (second edition). Jenner relies on the Roman poet Lucretius to introduce his medical method: “What more than our senses can there be to distinguish truth and falsehood?” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I’ve been tracking two people in the archives of the Huntington Library whose careers reveal surprising parallels.

One is William Wordsworth, the Romantic-era Lake District poet who made a career of dancing among daffodils and touring the rural reaches of late 18th-century England. The man became almost more important than his poetry; we remember him as the quintessential English poet with global reach, even if we can’t recite a single line from the Prelude.

The other is physician and scientist Edward Jenner, a name that might prompt a guilty and surreptitious click to Wikipedia. In 1798, he published An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ, the foundational work that set the stage for modern vaccination and immunology.

Illustration of four cowpox pustules modeled after the case of milkmaid Sarah Nelmes in Edward Jenner’s Inquiry. The large pustule on the hand and the two small ones on the wrist were all the result of an infected “scratch from a thorn.” The pustule on the forefinger (modeled after a different patient) shows the infection at an early stage. The cowpox pustules were used to develop a smallpox vaccine. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Before Jenner’s Inquiry, smallpox inoculation, or variolation, was the accepted practice to prevent the frequently fatal consequences of smallpox. It was an imperfect procedure that often led to the full-blown disease rather than immunity, but the speckled monster was so feared that many doctors proposed the treatment despite the risk. In the 18th century, smallpox was responsible for an estimated 10 percent of all adult deaths and one third of infant mortalities. And more than half the population bore the disfiguring scars of the disease. Jenner’s Inquiry couldn’t have come soon enough.

A poetic icon and a health hero might have precious little in common today, but in the Romantic era, disciplinary boundaries, when they existed at all, were treated more like suggestions. The surgeon who first described the “shaking palsy,” James Parkinson (1755–1824), also found time to write about his interest in dinosaurs. Sir Humphry Davy (1778–1829), eminent chemist of the Royal Society, tried his hand at rhyming verse. To speak of a poet laureate and a conqueror of disease in the same breath, then, isn’t as strange as we might think.

The title page of Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, published anonymously in 1798. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In fact, Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads and Jenner’s Inquiry, published in the same year, shared a common form: the medico-literary rural case study. Wordsworth’s lyrical balladeers canvassed the countryside for rustic wisdom from unlikely sources: an idiot boy, an old huntsman, a mad mother, and an aged beggar. Jenner cataloged cases from dairymaids, servants, and gardeners to track diseases, which he believed originated in a “deviation of Man from the state in which he was originally placed by Nature.” Independently, and at the same time, Wordsworth and Jenner articulated the seminal, capital-R Romantic argument: the best medicine was to go back to nature.

As they grew older, Wordsworth and Jenner both changed. The rustic Lake poet hardened, turned against his radical politics, and sold out to become the 11th British poet laureate. Jenner, meanwhile, abandoned the Gloucestershire countryside for urban, state-sponsored fame. He became fiercely protective of his hard-won reputation, leaving behind the rustic wisdom of the natural world for the heated politics of public health.

The first page of Edward Jenner’s Inquiry. In a particularly Romantic mode, Jenner blames “love of splendor,” “indulgences of luxury,” and “fondness for amusement” for the proliferation of disease. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

For example, in a letter that I discovered here at The Huntington, Jenner expresses outrage to his colleague William Clement about upstart vaccinator John Walker, who did not follow the principles set down by Jenner and had threatened to start his own vaccination institute. Having first advised Dr. Clement to ignore that “Vulture Walker,” Jenner changes his mind at the end of the same paragraph, directing his friend to punish fully Dr. Walker’s insolence. For Jenner, proper vaccination procedure was just not up for debate.

I find it useful to compare the trajectories of these two Romantic-era lives because they tell us a lot about the nature of success. Wordsworth is remembered as the heroic father of vernacular English poetry and Jenner as the conqueror of smallpox. (Jenner has been conscripted into a triumphalist narrative of modern medicine and was even inducted into MetLife’s early 20th-century series of “Health Heroes.”) Like Wordsworth, however, Jenner was once a humble rustic wanderer, and that’s exactly what led him to his remarkable discovery.

The second and third pages of Edward Jenner’s letter to his colleague William Clement about upstart vaccinator John Walker, Dec. 19, 1807. At the beginning of the second paragraph (left), Jenner writes: “With respect to that Vulture Walker, I know not whether he is worth your Powder & Shot.” By the end of the same paragraph (right), he’s changed his mind: “on second thought, you must not let Walker escape.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Click image to enlarge.

My current book project explores the messy medico-literary culture of Romanticism that allowed a Wordsworth and a Jenner to flourish. Vaccination, in my view, was not a triumph of the singular genius but of a cultural landscape that made such a discovery possible.

We enjoy the gripping narrative of success, but we must also remember the twists and turns that got us there. After his Inquiry, Jenner spent the rest of his life in the business of polishing his clinical narrative of uninterrupted rational progress, purging the detours, mistakes, and dead ends along the way.

Recently, the cracks in this clinical façade have begun to show. The anti-vaccination movement is back with a vengeance, and the two sides hardly speak the same language: medical authorities can only wag their fingers at public ignorance, while anti-vaxxers cling to their misguided sense of being in the right. If we could remember the productive dialogues of Wordsworth among beggars and Jenner among milkmaids, before their overshadowing successes, we might find some common language after all.

Front cover of a 1928 MetLife brochure featuring Edward Jenner as a “health hero.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Fuson Wang is assistant professor of English at UC Riverside and a 2016–17 Fellow in the Huntington–UC Riverside Program for the Advancement of the Humanities.

#5WomenArtists in the American Collections

Detail of Harriet Goodhue Hosmer’s Zenobia in Chains, 1859, marble. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

The history of art is peppered with tales of women artists who struggled to gain the same recognition as men.

To shine a light on women’s artistic bounty, the National Museum of Women in the Arts kicked off a social media campaign last March to honor Women’s History Month. They asked, “Can you name five women artists?” More than 400 art museums and 11,000 individuals participated, tagging their posts with #5WomenArtists.

The campaign is back this year. We decided to peruse the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art for five of our favorite works by women artists. You can find all five on view now. (And, if you want to join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram, use the hashtag #5WomenArtists.)


1. Alma Woodsey Thomas (1891–1978), Leaves Fluttering in the Breeze, 1973

The visual impact of Alma Woodsey Thomas’s Leaves Fluttering in the Breeze, 1973, acrylic on canvas, has withstood the test of time. Interest in the artist experienced a renaissance last year, with several exhibitions of her work on view. On loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photo by Kate Lain.

Expressionist painter Alma Thomas was the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972 and the first to have one of her artworks enter the permanent collection of the White House (Michelle Obama installed Thomas’s Resurrection in the family dining room).

Leaves Fluttering in the Breeze shows her signature flair for brilliantly hued abstract compositions, a style associated with the Washington Color School. Thomas was born in Columbus, Georgia, and raised in Washington, D.C. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Howard University and a master’s degree in art education from Columbia University. Thomas’s early work was representational. After retiring as a Washington, D.C., public school art teacher, she devoted herself full time to her art and made the shift to abstract expressionism.


2. Harriet Goodhue Hosmer (1830–1908), Zenobia in Chains, 1859

At first, critics didn’t believe that Harriet Goodhue Hosmer’s Zenobia in Chains, 1859, could be the work of a woman. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Tim Street-Porter.

Hosmer’s larger-than-life marble sculpture of Zenobia, the 3rd-century queen of Palmyra (a site near present day Syria) made a splash when it was exhibited at the Great London Exposition in 1862. Such fine sculpting—visible in the queen’s regal bearing, her elaborate court dress, and her leg pressing against her robe—must have been the work of a man, deduced critics. Several male sculptors who had worked with Hosmer in Rome came to her defense, convincing skeptics that the monumental work was indeed her creation.


3. Agnes Pelton (1886–1961), Passion Flower, ca. 1945

Agnes Pelton, Passion Flower, ca. 1945, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Pelton was born in Germany to American parents. She spent her early career in New York, where she studied with Arthur Wesley Dow (1857–1922), who counted Georgia O’Keeffe among his students. Later, Pelton moved to the desert enclave of Cathedral City, California, where her paintings took on a mystical serenity. The radiance of Passion Flower imbues the simple image of a flower with something more visionary—reflecting her participation in the Transcendental Painting Group and the influence of movements such as Theosophy, Zen Buddhism, and other forms of non-Western thought.


4. Helen Lundeberg (1908–1999), Irises (The Sentinels), 1936

Helen Lundeberg, Irises (The Sentinels), 1936, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Lundeberg was born in Chicago and raised in Pasadena. The mountain range in Irises may suggest the area around Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco. Two tall, bearded irises tower in scale against the mountains in the distance. Their positions and stature suggest their role as sentinels over the empty desert landscape.

The dreamlike nature of the plants in the arid environment suggests the influence of Georgia O’Keeffe. Lundeberg was interested in the flower as a symbol of life and death. The work’s title may refer to the Greek goddess Iris, who, along with Hermes, was a messenger to the gods, acting as a link between heaven and earth.


5. Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), Breakfast in Bed, 1897

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897, oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Cassatt was one of the first American women to achieve international recognition as an artist. Born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, she spent most of her life in France, where she befriended the French Impressionists, who were using small brushstrokes of unmixed colors to capture the immediate visual impression of a scene. Breakfast in Bed explores a favorite subject of Cassatt’s: the tension between a mother’s focused attention on her child and the child’s desire to explore the world around her. In Breakfast in Bed, the mother gazes at the child wrapped in her arms while the child looks out into the room.

It’s a perfect time to honor the contributions of women artists. Why not take a stroll through The Huntington’s American art galleries?

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

Kevin Starr Lives on at The Huntington

Kevin Starr (1940–2017) speaking at the dedication of The Huntington’s Munger Research Center on Sept. 13, 2004. Photo by Don Milici.

At the dedication of The Huntington’s Munger Research Center in 2004, California historian Kevin Starr (1940–2017), who died in January, said, “Southern California contemplates itself, defines itself, brings itself to further identity through a variety of agencies and instruments: its newspapers, its artists, its essayists and novelists, its historians, its filmmakers, its public television, its foundations, its research universities and libraries . . . In this roll call of agencies and instruments of regional self-understanding, no institution is more important than The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.”

Kevin was in the perfect position to opine on the importance of adding the Munger’s 90,000 square-feet of space to a library in which he had conducted research for such seminal works as Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era. He was a fourth-generation Californian and California’s State Librarian for a decade. Thinking back on his words now, I recall a great colleague, a mentor, and a close friend who deeply loved The Huntington.

Kevin and I talked of the institution often, and his regard for this place sprung from many wells. He loved the history of The Huntington and the towers of history housed within it. He knew the long-serving staff, and he valued them because their tenure meant that they, too, appreciated institutions and how loyalty could be forged within them. He loved literature and art and England, and he loved that he could learn about all of these things at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains and mere miles from the venerable San Gabriel Mission.

William Deverell, left, and Kevin Starr at a 2014 event in The Huntington’s Ahmanson Reading Room, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. Photo by Brian Morri/211 Photography.

Kevin could feel the past here. He had a kind of scholarly radar, and a deep, intimate familiarity with the California past. He studied it, he wrote about it, and he kind of lived it, too. He drew inspiration from the past, its lessons and its triumphs, perhaps more so than any other historian I knew. He could even feel the presence of Henry Huntington. It was as if the founder had just left the scene only moments before, and Kevin could think learnedly of what it must have been like for Huntington to arrive, more or less permanently, from San Francisco, something Kevin did too, more or less.

In his mind’s eye, Kevin could see the entire cast of characters who made this place what it is today. He could see architect Myron Hunt, who built Huntington’s mansion, and James de Barth Shorb, the property’s previous occupant, and he also saw those early Caltech leaders who helped convince Huntington not to take his library and his art back east. Ever attuned to the makings and markers of “a civilization,” Kevin knew that The Huntington and Caltech arose together because the overlapping leadership of each saw synergies of research and knowledge in making something big happen in Southern California at the frontiers of scientific and humanistic knowledge.

Kevin loved The Huntington because it was also about so much more than California. He loved the sheer pomp of a place that showed off its Gutenberg and its Chaucer, and that put on an annual ball beneath the stars. He exalted in talking with scholars of British history. If anyone cared to talk American literature, he or she would find in Kevin a conversation partner brimming with as much exuberance as erudition.

In his 1985 book Inventing the Dream: California Through the Progressive Era, Kevin Starr included this 1903 photo of Henry Huntington (third from right) visiting the family of the future World War II general George S. Patton, Jr. (second from left) at Lake Vineyard in San Marino. In his caption, Starr wrote: “. . . Henry Edwards Huntington, then busy linking the Los Angeles Basin with a network of high-speed electric streetcars, paused for a moment’s repose . . . [with] the family of Huntington’s land manager, George S. Patton, Sr. [second from right], onetime district attorney of Los Angeles County. Languidly regarding the scene is George S. Patton, Jr., then in the process of transferring from VMI to West Point.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Pulitzer prize–winning American writer Hamlin Garland (1860–1940) rests somewhere below decks in the Munger, or at least his diary does, and I was present during more than one conversation in which Kevin proved that he had read the whole thing. He loved Jack London, who also rests here in print and photograph, probably because Kevin’s beloved San Francisco Bay helped forge the boy into the man, the “oyster pirate” into the loud, proud voice of American protest born in the West. He once engaged me over an hour’s lunch, talking, mostly, about the intellectual candlepower of a single scholar of medieval history with whom he’d shared coffee that morning in the old coffee lounge, the Footnote. An Irish friend asked me once “who is that man, Bill?” after Kevin revealed he knew a great deal about Ireland’s Easter Rising and about Tom Clarke, the American martyr to the Irish cause.

Kevin knew libraries. I would wager that Kevin holds the record for most libraries visited in the state of California. He liked them big and small, and he saw anyone who worked in a library as a fellow laborer in the fields of culture and knowledge; for a man who knew and loved guilds, the library guild was among the most cherished and treasured.

Kevin redefined “bookish.” For him, the label encompassed his bonhomie for book clubs, the inspiration and lessons he found in the past, the hope he had for the future by way of the stories he told and uncovered, and the enduring meaning and utter indispensability he found in libraries.

Just as he could see into the past around here, and conjure up Mr. Huntington in his mind for a chat, I’m finding that I too can conjure up Kevin. His presence lives on, in his erudite words which still echo (loudly!) in these grand reading rooms and stacks. He’s still here in his ideas and his books and his enduring love for places like this, and that’s some comfort.

Kevin Starr at the dedication of The Huntington’s Munger Research Center, Sept. 13, 2004. Photo by Don Milici.

William Deverell is director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West.

Instagram Takeover with James Fishburne

Last Thursday, we let art historian James Fishburne—guest curator of “A History of Whiskers: Facial Hair and Identity in European and American Art, 1750–1920”—run The Huntington’s Instagram account for the day. In a nod to the exhibition, which is on view for just one more week, James spent the day looking at facial hair in our art galleries, touring us through “Shenandoahs,” “chin curtains,” and mustachioed teapots.

Below is a roundup of all of the Instagram posts from last week’s #takeoverTheH event.

Related content on Verso:
The Beard Makes the Man (Nov. 22, 2016)
Instagram Takeover with Lynell George (Oct. 5, 2016)

“A History of Whiskers: Facial Hair and Identity in European and American Art, 1750–1920” is on view through March 7, 2017, in the Works on Paper Room in the Huntington Art Gallery.

Kate Lain is the new media developer at The Huntington.

Two Gifts from Master Bonsai Artists

Two recent gifts, a Chinese elm (left) and a coast live oak (right, foreground), are exquisite specimens representing the highest ideals in bonsai artistry. They’ll be on view this weekend in the Frances N. Brody Botanical Center for the Bonsai-a-Thon event, and then will move back to the Zillgitt Bonsai Court of the Japanese Garden. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

One of the most iconic images of California is the coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia). With its rugged trunk, twisting branches, and broad canopy, it adds both power and grace to our native landscape. We’re fortunate to have more than 200 coast live oaks on The Huntington property. We also have a very small and special one that expresses the iconographic qualities we associate with our native oaks.

The tree is one of two important gifts we received this past year from respected Southern California bonsai artists. Al Nelson of Irvine, Calif., donated the oak. Jim Barrett of Arcadia, Calif., gave us a classic Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia), which is styled in a clump form.

Both gifts are exquisite specimens, representing the highest ideals in bonsai artistry. And both are large (by bonsai standards), old, refined trees, which were developed over several decades by their donors and today are well-known in the bonsai world. They are very welcome additions to the more than 400 bonsai in our collection, which comprises those owned by The Huntington and others displayed here by the Golden State Bonsai Federation.

The rugged trunk, twisting branches, and broad canopy of this coast live oak bonsai displays all the signature characteristics of a full-size oak. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

The Nelson oak is a powerful brute, with a massive wrinkled and scarred trunk that erupts into a burst of muscled silver branches that undulate and divide again and again, ending in clusters of small dark green leaves at the tips. Resting solidly in a stately gray Japanese pot, the tree displays the unique blend of power, elegance, and proportion that is manifest in the most ancient of this species.

Collecting trees in the wild is often the best way of producing showstopper bonsai. Nelson received special permission to remove some specimens from a private ranch near Lompoc, Calif., that was renowned for its stumpy, cattle-browsed oaks. He dug up this one in the late 1980s. The trunk was already estimated to be around 150 years old when he found it. Since then, he’s developed the branches with a range of bonsai techniques, including directional pruning, shaping the branches using fishing weights, attaching wires to the branches to pull them down (guy wires), and inserting props to spread the branches. Oak branches scar easily, so Nelson avoided using wires on the branches. That partially explains why it took 20 years to develop a bonsai of this character and proportion.

The result is a majestic bonsai created by someone who has spent a good part of his life studying and working with our native oaks, learning about what gives them their unique character, and teaching others how to reproduce that form and feeling in a container plant.

Jim Barrett started this unique Chinese elm bonsai in 1960. At the end of a long day potting seedlings, he put a last bunch of seven specimens together in a single training pot. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

The Barrett gift has its own intriguing story. It comprises a group of seven Chinese elms that were planted as a “fist” clump. Barrett is a respected leader in the bonsai community, a long-time bonsai teacher, and one of America’s most renowned bonsai potters. He has a deeply personal understanding of classic Japanese bonsai that is evident in the trees he creates—and especially in this one.

This bonsai is well known, partly due to the lore connected with its inauspicious beginnings. The elms were part of a large group of saplings that Barrett had propagated as cuttings in 1957. In 1960, he was tired at the end of a long day spent separating and putting the plants into pots. He grabbed the last bunch of seven in his fist and put them in a single 4” training pot. He repotted them in 1964 and again in 1969, when they went into their first bonsai container. Today, the bases of the trees have thickened and fused into a solid mass at the soil line.

One of the unique aspects of this group is that Jim allowed it to grow in a natural style, selectively letting branches extend their reach and then thinning them rather than using the hard topiary-style pruning that produces clearly defined pads. He also experienced some dieback but, in another unusual choice for a bonsai, he left dead branches on the tree to lend an element of character.

An early spring eases tiny serrated leaves from the delicate branches of the Chinese elm. Photo by Andrew Mitchell.

The resulting group of trees is an expression of age and harmony, with all the trunks and branches gently flowing and dividing, reaching out and spreading into a network of fine twigs, all of which give this bonsai exceptional proportion. Less stylized than some bonsai, they look like trees you might see while walking around The Huntington, though much smaller. Another appealing aspect of this tree is its exfoliating bark.

After a short stint in the Brody Botanical Center for this weekend’s Bonsai-a-Thon event, both trees will return to the Zillgitt Bonsai Court near the Japanese Garden’s ceremonial teahouse, Seifu-an. Why not take a stroll to observe them? Each vividly displays how decades of wisdom and artistry can be contained in a small pot.

The Golden State Bonsai Federation’s annual Bonsai-a-Thon event takes place Feb. 25–26, 2017, in the Brody Botanical Center. Free with admission. The event includes exhibits, demonstrations, prize drawings, and a live auction at 3 p.m. each day.

Related content on Verso:
A Prairie Boy’s Passion for Bonsai (Sept. 11, 2015)

Ted Matson is The Huntington’s resident bonsai master.

Frederick Douglass, Celebrity

Photographic portrait of Fredrick Douglass, 1876. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

By the time of his death on Feb. 20, 1895, Frederick Douglass had become one of the most celebrated personalities in the United States. Born a slave in Maryland around 1818, he escaped to New York in 1838, married, and soon became an anti-slavery lecturer. He went on to write three acclaimed autobiographies, lectured widely on a range of social causes, and became a statesman and advisor to several presidents.

After his first autobiography—Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave—was published in 1845, Douglass became a bona fide celebrity. The celebrity status, of course, was not necessarily tantamount to admiration. His contemporary Stephen A. Douglas, who lost the 1860 presidential election to Lincoln, was outraged that “FRED DOUGLASS, THE NEGRO” dared publicly debate “the illustrious” white politicians of his day.

Yet Frederick Douglass was, as historian John Stauffer has demonstrated in his book Picturing Frederick Douglass, the most photographed American of his time: 160 photographic portraits of him survive (as compared to 130 photographs of Abraham Lincoln).

Title page of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, 1845. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

And, like many other celebrities, he handed out countless autographs. Since the 1840s, celebrity autographs have been popular obsessions. Americans in the 19th century were fascinated with the handwriting of famous men and women, in part because handwriting was viewed as an endowment from God that reflected an individual’s true character. Famous writers, politicians, actors, and athletes were approached—often besieged—by folks who came to be known as “autograph fiends.”

The Huntington has a number of items related to Douglass. Among them are two small cards with Douglass’s autographs. The first is a note dated Dec. 11, 1861. It reads: “We are fighting the Rebels with only one hand when we should be striking with both. Unchain that black hand!” The eloquent line sums up a central issue in the Union’s war efforts—the Militia Act of 1792 prevented Blacks from serving in the Union Army because it made military service available only to “free able-bodied white male citizens.”

The note, most likely a gift to an admirer, is a paraphrase from an article that appeared in the Sept. 1861 issue of a paper Douglass published about abolitionism, Douglass’ Monthly. The Union was “sorely pressed on every hand by a vast army of slaveholding rebels, flushed with success, and infuriated by the darkest inspirations of a deadly hate, bound to rule or ruin,” Douglass wrote. “Men in earnest don’t fight with one hand, when they might fight with two, and a man drowning would not refuse to be saved even by a colored hand.”

Note written and signed by Frederick Douglass, dated Dec. 11, 1861. It reads: “We are fighting the Rebels with only one hand when we should be striking with both. Unchain that black hand!” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

It took more than a year for Congress to amend the Militia Act. On July 17, 1862, the word “white” was dropped from the list of qualifications for enrollment: service became open to all “able bodied male citizens,” including “persons of African descent.” The Emancipation Proclamation specified that freed Confederate slaves could also be “received into the armed service of the United States.” By the end of the war, some 180,000 Black men had joined the United States Army.

As valuable collectibles, autographs were often auctioned off as part of fundraising campaigns. In the fall of 1863, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln fetched $3,000 at the Northwest Sanitary Fair, and the organizers forwarded the prize to the White House. In the summer of 1864, Lincoln signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation that were auctioned off at a fundraiser for the Philadelphia Great Central Sanitary Fair.

On Dec. 17, 1881, Frederick Douglass wrote a letter to Caroline M. Seymour Severance (1820–1914), a prominent abolitionist and suffragist. The letter included a “small contribution in aid of your effort in behalf of the Woman’s Hospital Fair.” The small contribution was an autograph of a paraphrase from his famous autobiography, just published in its latest edition. The card reads: “There is no help for man outside of himself.”

Douglass’s words—recorded in speeches, letters, newspapers, and books—cemented his legacy as a forceful voice against slavery and social injustice. But it is perhaps his eloquence that elevated those efforts to the level of celebrity.

An 1881 autograph of a paraphrase from Frederick Douglass’s famous autobiography, which had been recently published in its latest edition. Douglass included the autograph in a letter to Caroline M. Seymour Severance (1820–1914), a prominent abolitionist and suffragist. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Olga Tsapina is the Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington.

Still Time to Color Our Collections

Coloring sheet made from an emblem in Minerua Britanna or A garden of heroical deuises, furnished, and adorned with emblemes and impresa’s of sundry natures, newly devised, moralized, and published, by Henry Peacham, Mr. of Artes, printed in Shoe-lane at the signe of the Faulcon by Wa. Dight, ca. 1612. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Even if you missed the chance last week to participate in #ColorOurCollections, a coloring extravaganza organized by The New York Academy of Medicine Library, there’s still time to join in the fun.

More than 100 libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world produced coloring sheets for the initiative and shared them for free via social media. For our part, we produced 15 coloring sheets, pulling designs from a cross section of our collecting areas, including a painting of flowers, algae in a microscope, and an orange crate label, to name a few. We posted downloadable coloring pages to Tumblr and invited visitors to color printed copies we left in the Mapel Orientation Gallery.

Above and below, you’ll find examples of creative coloring by visitors, staff, volunteers, and other friends. Want to try your hand, too? Download a PDF with all 15 coloring sheets here, print it out, and color away! We welcome you to share your results. Take a picture of your handiwork and share it with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr by tagging us and using the hashtags #ColorOurCollections and #ColorTheH.

Coloring sheet made from Clivia by Henrietta Shore (1880–1963), ca. 1930, oil and pencil on canvas laid down on board. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


Coloring sheet made from a view of algae through a microscope in the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science.


Coloring sheet made from orange crate label Cactus brand oranges, printed by Western Litho. Co., ca. 1916, color printed lithograph. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


Coloring sheet made from an illustration in L’art des accouchemens: démontré par des principes de physique et de mechanique; pour servir de base & de fondement à des leçons particulières by André Levret, printed by Delaguette, Paris, 1753. The Lawrence D. Longo and Betty Jeanne Longo Collection in Reproductive Biology. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Gardens.


Coloring sheet made from “Zodiac” illustration on 3v-4 in Portolan Atlas (HM 26), Battista Agnese, Italy, ca. 1544, parchment. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


Coloring sheet made from illustration on page 153v of Protomathesis by Oronce Fine, Paris, 1532. The Burndy Library Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.


Coloring sheet made from Repairing telegraph by Andrew J. Russell, 1863, albumen photographic print. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Handwritten thought bubble, courtesy of colorer-artist, reads, “I am in quite the predicament.”

Kate Lain is the new media developer at The Huntington.

Recent Lectures: Jan. 9–Feb. 8, 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 six recent lectures.

“The Theater of Many Deeds of Blood”:  The Geography of Violence in Frontier Los Angeles (Feb. 8, 2017)
John Mack Faragher, the Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus of History and American Studies at Yale University, discusses the spatial pattern of homicide in Southern California in the 19th century.


Exoticum: Desert Plants and the Making of a Fine Press Book (Jan. 29, 2017)
Printmaker and book artist Richard Wagener discusses how the visually striking plants in The Huntington’s Desert Garden have inspired his recent work. A series of his wood engravings are reproduced in a new limited edition, fine press publication titled Exoticum: Twenty-five Desert Plants from the Huntington Gardens.


Colonial Dreams: A French Botanist’s Encounter with Africa in the 1750s (Jan. 25, 2017)
Mary Terrall, professor of the history of science at UCLA, discusses French botanist Michel Adanson, who spent almost five years in Senegal in the 1750s. Terrall reconstructs Adanson’s sojourn in a French trading post, where he studied African natural history with the help of local residents. This talk is part of the Dibner Lecture series at The Huntington.


PBS’s Mercy Street and Medical Histories of the Civil War (Jan. 17, 2017)
The Huntington presents a fascinating conversation about the practice of medicine during the American Civil War and its dramatization in the popular PBS series Mercy Street. The panel discussion is moderated by Melissa Lo, Dibner Assistant Curator or Science and Technology at The Huntington, and includes curator Olga Tsapina, who oversees The Huntington’s Civil War collections; series executive producers Lisa Wolfinger and David Zabel; and series medical history advisor Shauna Devine.


The Atlantic Slave Trade and the American Revolution (Jan. 11, 2017)
Christopher Brown, professor of history at Columbia University, explores the relationship between two themes in American history that are usually treated separately. Brown discusses the impact the war for American independence had on the economics and politics of the slave trade, and vice versa. This talk is part of the Nevins Lecture series at The Huntington.


The Value of Patents:  A Historian’s Perspective (Jan. 9, 2017)
Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics and History at Yale University, discusses the important ways in which patents have contributed to technological innovation over the course of U.S. history. This talk is part of the Haaga Lecture Series at The Huntington.

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