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.

Caring for Camellias

Recent rains were welcome relief for Camellia japonica ‘Are-Jishi’, which has red-pink flowers in a peony form. Photo by Kate Lain.

The eastern side of the North Vista contains some of The Huntington’s oldest and most precious cultivars of camellia. William Hertrich, Henry Huntington’s superintendent of the gardens from 1903 to 1948, had a passion for the flowering plant and took advantage of San Marino’s mild winter temperatures to plant many varieties, from the bright white Camellia japonica ‘Alba Plena’ to the reddish pink C. reticulata ‘Captain Rawes’.

But mild temperatures are not enough to keep camellias looking their best. They also need consistent moisture. Recent rains have been a huge boon to the plants, especially after six years of drought.

“We hope this year’s rains signal a return to more regular rainfall,” says David MacLaren, The Huntington’s curator of Asian gardens. “But we can’t be sure.”

MacLaren says running overhead sprinklers for several hours results in water reaching roots no more than four to six inches deep. This provides some relief in dry times, but it doesn’t achieve the deep soaking that occurs with regular, consistent rains. Sustained rains, like many of the ones that have fallen so far this year, saturate the soil, giving camellias the moisture they’re craving while at the same time helping to remove harmful salts. (Rain also washes the plants’ leaves, warding off pests.)

Drip tubes crisscross a planting area on the eastern side of the North Vista, helping camellias like this C. japonica ‘Rudy’s Magnoliaeflora’ to battle drought. Photo by Kate Lain.

So a few years ago, MacLaren worked with his team and the irrigation crew to install approximately 20 miles of drip irrigation tubing in parallel lines under the camellias. The drip tubes release small amounts of water over time, allowing the moisture to reach deeper into the soil. Drip irrigation is also unaffected by local regulations that limit the duration of watering. The Huntington can run the drip irrigation for an extended period, provided the overall water-use stays below required levels.

Prolonged drought had left the camellias with a lackluster appearance and made them increasingly prone to plant pests, such as spider mites and the sometimes-fatal polyphagous shot hole borer. Several camellias had already succumbed to the deadly insect.

To date, The Huntington has installed approximately 41 miles of drip irrigation tubing in the gardens. MacLaren estimates another five miles of tubing is required to cover the entire camellia collection.

Another issue facing camellias is a loss of tree canopy. In Hertrich’s day, large and leafy coast live oaks created shady cover for the young plants. As the camellias grew, so did the oaks, some of whose canopies spanned 50 feet or more.

Then, in 2011, a major windstorm struck, knocking down more than 400 trees across the property, including several massive oaks.

With the loss of several large oaks that had provided shade, the branches of C. japonica ‘Gigantea’ became burned by the sun. Photo by Kate Lain.

Some camellias can withstand direct sunlight, especially the sasanqua species that are native to Japan. But even they prefer some relief from afternoon sun. Suddenly, there were large gaps in the tree canopy. Portions of the trunks and major branches on some of the camellias suffered severe sunburn, leading to many of their branches dying. MacLaren wanted to provide shade for the plants, but waiting for a new grove of trees to reach mature size could take decades.

He devised a plan. Dozens of camphor and Virginia oak trees were planted near the exposed camellias. Instead of planting these fast-growing trees fully in the ground, he left them in their wooden boxes, removed only the bottom panel, and then submerged the box halfway in the ground. If any of the trees grew particularly well, he could remove the box, mound soil around the base, and allow it to grow. Otherwise, he would selectively remove these sacrificial trees as other more valuable specimens created the needed canopy.

So, has the plan worked? As hoped, drip irrigation is reaching much deeper into the soil. Meanwhile, some of the camphor and Virginia oaks have grown a good 10 feet or more since they were planted, creating some much-needed shade.

And are the camellias doing any better? According to MacLaren, the answer is a qualified yes.

Even before this year’s rains, MacLaren noticed some positive signs. Normally, camellias set buds in the fall and don’t show new growth until after the bloom. But this year, gardening staff started seeing a flush of new growth much earlier than usual. And the recent rains have only helped.

“Camellias are slow to show signs of damage or improvement,” says MacLaren. “Still, the fact that the plants are showing new growth is excellent.”

Like many other camellias, C. japonica ‘Julia France’ appreciates the dappled sunlight of a tree canopy. Photo by Kate Lain.

February is one of the best months for observing camellias in bloom. On Feb. 11 and 12, hundreds of gorgeous blooms will compete for top honors at The Huntington’s 45th annual Camellia Show. View the exhibits, shop for camellia plants to grow at home, and get some expert tips on the care and cultivation of camellias. Brody Botanical Center. General admission. 

Related content on Verso:
Winter Blooms (Dec. 22, 2015)
Camellia 101 (Feb. 3, 2014)

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

Finding Molokai

Charmian London on horseback at Molokai pali (cliff) with Kalaupapa peninsula visible in the distance, July 1907. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Charmian London on horseback at Molokai pali (cliff) with Kalaupapa peninsula visible in the distance, July 1907. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

At daybreak on a steamy morning last August, my husband dropped me off at the Kalaupapa trailhead on the north shore of Molokai and waved goodbye.

A year earlier, I had convinced my husband and two children that this tiny, rural, and impossibly beautiful Hawaiian island was the vacation destination of their dreams. But as I stood at the edge of the pali (cliff) that plunged 2,000 feet into the sea and contemplated the cluster of warning signs—Falling rocks! No public medical facilities! No one under 16 years of age allowed! Proceed at your own risk!—I felt a twinge of fear.

The adventure writer Jack London and his wife, Charmian, had lured me to this spot. In 1907, the irrepressible duo set off from Oakland, California, on a widely publicized round-the-world trip. Sailing a custom-built, 45-foot-long sloop named the Snark, the Londons headed for Hawaii as their first port of call. Never mind that they and their ragtag crew knew nothing about navigation. London, a voracious reader since his youth, consulted “how to” books en route. After 27 days at sea, the Snark drifted into Honolulu harbor. The press had already given them up for dead.

As I hiked alone down the rugged trail, I encountered makeshift shrines along the way. Tucked into rocks, nearly hidden by ferns, were offerings of shells, plastic Madonnas, horseshoes, folded-up prayers. Markers for the two dozen switchbacks ticked by, one by one. Several deer warily eyed my progress, and a feral pig crashed across my path. At last I stood on a deserted beach looking across a dazzling bay toward a peninsula of land. Here it was: the place Jack London called “the pit of hell, the most cursed place on earth.”

Looking down on the Kalaupapa peninsula from Molokai pali, August 2016. Photo by Jenny Watts.

Looking down on the Kalaupapa peninsula from Molokai pali, August 2016. Photo by Jenny Watts.

Its breathtaking beauty notwithstanding, Kalaupapa’s dastardly reputation was justly earned. King Kamehameha V enacted a law in 1865 that criminalized sufferers of “leprosy” or what is now known as Hansen’s disease. The government arrested the ill, shipped them off to the isolated colony of Kalaupapa, regardless of their age, and then threw away the key. Over the next 100 years, at least 8,000 people died in enforced isolation. Residents were not free to leave until 1969.

Jack London received an invitation to visit the colony while hobnobbing with Honolulu’s elite. By 1907, the Board of Health (the entity that governed Kalaupapa) had made significant medical and humanitarian strides. Even so, sensationalist accounts abounded, and Pacific Rim boosters worried about the negative impact of these stories on Hawaii’s budding tourist trade. Who better, they reasoned, to help dispel the myths than renowned author Jack London?

Jack and Charmian were aware of Kalaupapa’s notoriety, and they leapt at the chance to take a tour. The sightseeing also fit into London’s scheme of writing articles to finance the trip. An accomplished amateur photographer, London knew that any pictures he supplied substantially increased his fee. (His standard rate of 15 cents a word and five dollars per published photograph was a pretty sweet deal.) To that end, London packed seven cameras: four portable folding models, two Kodak panoramas, and a stereoscopic camera with a state-of-the art lens.

Women Pa’u riders on horseback and wearing traditional costumes, Kalaupapa, Molokai, July 4, 1907. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Women Pa’u riders on horseback and wearing traditional costumes, Kalaupapa, Molokai, July 4, 1907. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I had only an iPhone in my pocket as I waited for the bus that would take me on a historical tour of the area. A few National Park Service vehicles drove past. (Kalaupapa became a National Historical Park in 1980.) From what I could see, the place was as eerily quaint and idyllic as it had appeared a century earlier when Jack and Charmian rode in on horseback.

The pair stayed five days, and their hosts pulled out all the stops. They attended Fourth of July festivities at the racetrack, where the “Horribles” (as the residents jokingly called themselves) gathered to compete and bet. London marveled at the handsome P’au riders parading in traditional dress. He reveled in the games and flamboyant costumes and took a series of panoramic photos to record the events. “The chief horror of leprosy,” London reported in a glowing account that ran in Women’s Home Companion in 1908, “obtains in the minds of those who have never seen a leper and who do not know anything about the disease.” Kalaupapa’s residents were, he concluded, a “happy lot.”

Miss Kanoelani Hart (case 603), age 22, from Waimea, Hawaii, July 3, 1906. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Miss Kanoelani Hart (case 603), age 22, from Waimea, Hawaii, July 3, 1906. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Several of the pictures pasted into three albums stamped “Molokai” in The Huntington’s Jack London archive belie the writer’s upbeat article. There are many photos of Fourth of July revelers, as well as shots of the remarkable setting and people posed in front of well-kept buildings with tidy lawns. But none of the afflicted came to the settlement by choice, and some of the government-issue portraits included in the archive tell a darker tale. In these, the sitters’ expressions are frozen in a paralyzed grimace, and their eyes look inconsolably sad.

I reflected on these pictures—of children, in particular—as six fellow tourists and I meandered down the nearly deserted roads in an air-conditioned van. We visited a bookstore and a “bar,” each run by one of the 15 remaining residents, who seemed to resent the intrusion. Jack and Charmian enjoyed a warmer welcome on their carefully orchestrated tour. They were taken into the medical and communal facilities shared by the then 800 residents, treated to concerts, and shown the ancient archeological sites. They visited the grave of Father Damian, the sainted Belgian priest. We did, too. Father Damian made Molokai his life’s work before succumbing to Hansen’s disease at the age of 49.

Hiram Pahau (case 558), age 7, from Ala Moana near John Ena Road, admitted Oct. 27, 1905. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Hiram Pahau (case 558), age 7, from Ala Moana near John Ena Road, admitted Oct. 27, 1905. Jack London Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Next to Father Damian’s flower-bedecked grave was that of Brother Joseph Dutton, a man the Londons mentioned in passing. Dutton served with the 13th Wisconsin Infantry during the U.S. Civil War. He spent two subsequent years digging up and reinterring Union soldiers’ remains. A disastrous marriage and heavy drinking followed before he took Catholic orders and showed up, unannounced, in 1886 on Kalaupapa’s shores. He spent the rest of his life, 44 years all told, seeking penance for his past, caring primarily for the colony’s male orphans.

The tour guide dropped me off where I had begun my journey six hours earlier. This time, the only way out was straight up. Even though I was glad I’d come, the superficial overview made me uneasy as I contemplated the weight of Kalaupapa’s history. Even Jack and Charmian had privately admitted their misgivings, and Jack later wrote a dramatic short story, “Koolau the Leper,” that enraged his hosts.

Yet it was Brother Dutton, not the Londons, I thought about as I struggled up the trail. When asked what could be done to help, Dutton’s reply was simple and profound. One does not have to travel far to encounter suffering or charity: “There are Molokais everywhere.”

Two images of Joseph Dutton on Molokai, ca. 1905. In the image on the left, Dutton sits with a group of Hawaiian men and boys. In the image on the right, Dutton is seen with a group of men on a porch of what may be the Baldwin Home for men and boys that Dutton founded on Molokai.

Two images of Joseph Dutton on Molokai, ca. 1905. In the image on the left, Dutton sits with a group of Hawaiian men and boys. In the image on the right, Dutton is seen with a group of men on a porch of what may be the Baldwin Home for men and boys that Dutton founded on Molokai.

You can view the Jack London Photographs and Negatives collection online at the Huntington Digital Library.

Related content on Verso:
A Deep Dive into Jack London’s Life (Sept. 19, 2016)
Jack and Charmian’s National Park Adventures (July 22, 2016)
Jack London and the Rose Parade (Jan. 1, 2016)
Jack London, Public Intellectual (Sept. 22, 2015)
To Build a Fire (Jan. 10, 2014)
The Star Rover (Jan. 12, 2012)
A Friend to Jack London (Sept. 15, 2011)

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

Religious Affections in Colonial North America

During the midst of the Great Awakening, the preacher, theologian, and philosopher Jonathan Edwards attempted to delineate true religious affections from false impressions and emotions. Title page of A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, 1746, by Jonathan Edwards. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In 1746, Jonathan Edwards—the famous preacher, theologian, and philosopher of the Great Awakening—tried to sort through the wide variety of experiences that doubt and faith can generate. Some experiences should be trusted as signs of grace, he argued; others, less so. Either way, Edwards remained emphatic about the importance of religious affections. A true convert, according to Edwards, doesn’t just understand God, but actually experiences sorrow for sin, joy at forgiveness, and love for God and others. “True religion,” he insisted, “in great part, consists in holy affections.”

The work that Edwards produced, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, was arguably one of the most influential and well-known attempts to puzzle out these questions. But religious affections were vital not just in evangelical circles. They shaped communities throughout colonial North America in ways that have had an abiding influence upon American cultures and histories. The goal of our conference “Religious Affections in Colonial North America,” which will take place on Jan. 27 and 28 in Haaga Hall, will be to understand religious affections better by studying the diverse range of experiences, interpretations, and consequences they entail.

What and how people were moved—and to what end—were central to the experience of religious affections. Here, the Franciscan friar and missionary Junípero Serra, recently and controversially canonized by the Catholic Church, preaches to a crowd of Native Americans holding a stone in one hand and a crucifix in the other. Frontispiece of Relacion Historica, 1787, by Francisco Palou. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Studying religious affections brings together exciting developments from multiple fields. When considering the cultural history of affections, recent work in Early American Studies has attended to the watershed of the American Revolution, a moment when sensibility and sympathy primed disparate colonists for democratic citizenship. Democracy emerged from, and then demanded, a revolution in public intimacy—requiring, producing, and policing the capacity to feel properly in the new republic.

Yet Early American Studies has also seen a surge in scholarship that takes seriously the sincerity, importance, and persistence of religion as a dynamic repertoire of cultural practices. Lived religion changes, adapts, and grows both within and alongside the seeming rise of a secular society. Rather than being displaced by modernity, religion inflected colonial shifts in politics, economics, and art. In particular, religion—like public intimacy and sensibility—was instrumental in defining community and engendering radical change, including in the spiritual lives and performances of marginalized persons. Our conference brings these trends together to consider a longer cultural history of religious affections in early America.

Great Awakening transformations, long acknowledged to have democratized religious access and authority, resonate with the spiritual lives and performances of marginalized persons, including slaves, indigenous peoples, and women. “The Sunny South—A Negro Revival meeting—A Seeker ‘Getting Religion’,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Aug. 9, 1873 issue, page 352. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One goal for the conference will be to arrive at a better definition of “religious affections.”  Affect, sympathy, sensibility, friendship, intimacy: these keywords have been theorized and historicized by many scholars. But what happens when religion enters the picture—especially in an age formerly designated the foundational moment of secularization? Are religious affections primarily concerned with communal values and public interactions, or are they about personal and private experiences between a believer and his or her deity (or deities)? When and how do different religions enfold tenderness, desire, protectiveness, and kinship, and how do they delineate between the mundane and the spiritual, the sensuous and the cerebral?

The conference is framed by opening and closing plenaries that speak to the larger field of American religious history and the study of emotions. The opening speaker is Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author and expert in Calvinist traditions, who will speak on Jonathan Edwards. The sessions then move through a series of regionally focused topics: New Spain, Evangelical New England, New France, the Indigenous Atlantic, and the Early South. These sessions explore the wide possibilities of religious affections in multiple communities of colonial North America.

Instruction in religious affections began in childhood in the New England colonies. First advertised in 1690, The New-England Primer was a popular schoolbook for decades and it taught Puritan beliefs along with literacy. The picture alphabet offered memorable rhymes, including the central one above about the Bible and the heart. Detail from The New-England primer, enlarged: for the more easy attaining the true reading of English, 1735. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Taken as a whole, this conference will enable us to consider more deeply the meaning of “religious affections”: what, after all, makes some emotions count as “affections,” and what distinguishes some affections as “religious”? Moreover, how does religion—with its institutional structures, its ways of giving purpose and meaning to individual lives, its function in forming communities, and its dimensions of transcendence—speak back to and alter our received histories of emotions? To draw our discussion together, therefore, we conclude with a plenary by one of the foremost scholars of religion and the history of emotions, Barbara Rosenwein, who will speak to the larger interpretative dilemmas and consequences of studying religious affections.

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

Caroline Wigginton is assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi.

Abram Van Engen is associate professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.

Robert Seymour, 19th-Century Political Cartoonist

Robert Seymour, cover design for Volume One of The Looking Glass, 1830. Seymour depicts John Bull, the archetypal Englishman, turning his head to us and smiling gleefully at the rout of the Tory government by the jubilant Whigs (or Liberals). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington possesses a trove of images from the golden age of British caricature—most notably by artists Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and Isaac Cruikshank (1764–1811). It also owns some gems by Robert Seymour (1798–1836), an illustrator whose fame grew around the time of Rowlandson’s death. Today, Seymour is probably best known as the illustrator of the first two installments of Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836), but in his own time, Seymour was a leading political cartoonist.

Seymour benefited from the rise of the caricature magazine, a new format publishers created to appeal to an expanding market of readers who wanted value for money. His best work was for Thomas McLean’s The Looking Glass (1830–36), the most successful and impressive of this new kind of visual satire. The Huntington owns a unique, complete, colored version of this magazine.

Robert Seymour, “The Colossus,” The Looking Glass, Oct. 1831. Seymour shows Lord Brougham (whose name sounded like “broom”) as a colossus who is about to strike the Tories with his giant broom if they do not vote for reform. The scene is funny but also disturbing, as it implies that the new government could become tyrannical. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Looking Glass was published monthly and cost three shillings uncolored or six shillings hand-colored. The method of reproduction was lithography, a printing process in which the drawings were etched on long-lasting stone rather than soft metal. The price of the magazine was not cheap, but each four-page, quarto-size issue included 20 to 30 large and small images. By comparison, a single Rowlandson print in color could cost three shillings or more. This was clearly good value.

One of the factors that boosted the magazine’s success was the quality of the artwork, both in terms of Seymour’s artistry and his political insights. In Seymour’s design for the first bound volume, we see politics as an enjoyable show. He depicts John Bull, the archetypal Englishman, turning his head to us and smiling gleefully at the rout of the Tory government by the jubilant Whigs (or Liberals). Like John Bull, we are spectators gazing into the magical mirror of the political cartoon. Politicians may have power in government, but the magazine cuts them down to size.

Robert Seymour, “The Birth of Political Sin,” The Looking Glass, Nov. 1831. Seymour shows the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo and the leader of the Tories, as a character from Greek myth. Titled “The Birth of Political Sin,” the scene re-enacts the creation of the goddess Pallas Athena from the head of Zeus. The joke is that Wellington’s stubborn resistance to change had turned public opinion in favor of reform, which he and his party had opposed. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The second factor in the magazine’s success was good timing. The Looking Glass appeared during a period of political turbulence in Britain and Europe. In the wake of the French Revolution in 1830, the new Whig government in Britain introduced a modest Reform Bill designed to give more of the middle-class the vote and abolish “rotten boroughs,” where Members of Parliament could be elected by just a handful of voters. This was fiercely resisted by the Tories, who were led by the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo.

The political turmoil provided great material for Seymour. In a host of large and small cartoons, he shows Wellington and his Whig opponent Lord Brougham in various slapstick and fantastical situations. The fact that both men had large noses was another gift for Seymour, as was the pronunciation of Brougham’s name, which sounded like “broom.” In one full-page image from 1831, Seymour shows Brougham as a colossus who is about to strike the Tories (including Wellington) with his giant broom if they do not vote for reform. (The Tories did refuse to vote for reform and sparked a series of riots). The scene is funny but also disturbing, as it implies that the new government could become tyrannical.

Robert Seymour, The Schoolmaster Abroad, Plate 1, 1834. Seymour mocks Lord Brougham’s role as a leading figure in working-class education. Brougham’s attempts to convert the British people to his gospel of “useful knowledge” fell on deaf ears. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

About a year later, Seymour showed the defeated Wellington as a character from Greek myth. Titled “The Birth of Political Sin,” the scene re-enacts the creation of the goddess Pallas Athena from the head of Zeus. The joke is that Wellington’s stubborn resistance to change had turned public opinion in favor of reform, but the image is also impressively crafted. Although Seymour parodies Renaissance painting, he also borrows its beauty and compositional balance.

Seymour was a prolific comic illustrator, and The Huntington has several other very rare examples of his superior artwork. One of my favorites is The Schoolmaster Abroad (1834). Brougham is the target again. In this instance, Seymour is mocking Brougham’s role as a leading figure in working-class education. But what strikes me is the energy, vividness, and joyful inventiveness of the cartoons. The first image in this book shows Brougham riding what can only be described as a 19th-century motorcycle powered by steam, his books perched perilously close to the exhaust system. Below him is a horseless stagecoach, a comic example of technological and industrial progress that resembles an object from science fiction. Needless to say, Brougham’s attempts to convert the British people to his gospel of “useful knowledge” fall on deaf ears.

Robert Seymour, front page of Asmodeus; Or the Devil in London, June 30, 1832. Seymour reached out to a working-class readership who could afford to pay just one penny for a monthly installment of this series. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I also admire the short-lived series Asmodeus in London (1832). It shows Seymour reaching out to a working-class readership who could afford to pay just one penny for the monthly installment. In order to achieve this very low cost, Seymour turned to wood engraving, which allowed images and text to be printed cheaply on the same page.

Seymour was a gifted and astute political cartoonist. Sadly, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1836, before he had even reached the age of 40. We are lucky to have so many examples of his fine work.

Related content on Verso:
A Decidedly British Approach to Humor (Aug. 21, 2015)
A Satirical Look at Georgian Society (Jan. 28, 2015)

Ian Haywood is professor of English Literature at the University of Roehampton in London and a 2016–17 short-term fellow at The Huntington. His books include Romanticism and Caricature and The Gordon Riots: Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain (co-edited with John Seed).