Stories Worth Revisiting

A collage of Verso highlights from 2017.

Before we bid farewell to 2017 and welcome 2018, we’d like to highlight several stories published over the past 12 months that are among our favorites.

We launch our retrospective with one of our most popular stories of the year, an exploration of the tiny winged creatures known as fairies—written by Laura Forsberg, a 2016–17 National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at The Huntington. Surprisingly, the source of her research on the wee folk was the pages of The Huntington’s collections on the history of science and technology. Read “Fairy Hunting at The Huntington.”

In February, Ted Matson, The Huntington’s resident bonsai master, focused our attention on specimens we received from two bonsai experts. Al Nelson donated a rugged coast live oak, and Jim Barrett contributed a classic Chinese elm. Read “Two Gifts from Master Bonsai Artists.”

This year marked the second year of /five, The Huntington’s five-year contemporary art initiative. The exhibition “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington”—on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art through Feb. 12, 2018—is the manifestation of The Huntington’s yearlong partnership with the Los Angeles-based Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW). The exhibition features new work by seven artists, selected by WCCW, who produced the pieces following extensive research in The Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections. For more on the artistic process they pursued, read “Women Making Art,” “Engaging with the Collections,” “Art Inspiring Art,” “Artists in the Library,” and “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington.”

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

Jenny Watts, curator of photography and visual culture at The Huntington, produced our most popular post of the year, a moving contemplation of an original Civil War-era photograph showing the 12 African American and 12 Anglo American jurists selected in 1867 for the trial of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederate States of America. Read “The Power of Touch.”

We also updated you on “Decoding the Civil War,” a crowdsourcing project The Huntington launched, together with several partners, to transcribe and decipher almost 16,000 U.S. Civil War telegrams between Abraham Lincoln, his Cabinet, and officers of the Union Army. When we reported on the transcription phase of the project in April, it was at the halfway mark; we are happy to announce that the transcription phase has recently been completed. Read “Transcription Challenge for Civil War Telegrams.”

Kristi Westberg, the Dibner Book Conservator at The Huntington, shared her insights into the meticulous process she used to repair fragile areas on the pages of a 16th-century astronomy book that had been censored by the Catholic Church using corrosive ink. Those pages are on view through Feb. 26, 2018, in the West Hall of the Library as part of the exhibition “The Reformation: From the Word to the World.” Read “Preserving the Signs of Censorship.”

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

The 2016–17 Dibner Fellow in the History of Science and Technology, Tawrin Baker, revealed the way 16th-century intellectuals perceived the eye and the process of sight by analyzing the groundbreaking anatomy book De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body) by anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius. Read “Visualizing the Anatomy of the Eye.”

The papers of award-winning science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler (1947–2006) came to The Huntington in 2008. Today, the Octavia E. Butler Collection is one of the most actively researched archives at The Huntington. Ayana Jamieson, founder of the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and the awardee of the Helen Bing Fellowship at The Huntington, gave a preview of the conference that she co-convened in June to explore the evolving, transdisciplinary work that scholars have conducted based on Butler’s archives. Read “Mining the Archive of Octavia E. Butler.”

Last summer, we showed off our thriving Lily Ponds—among the first themed gardens developed at The Huntington—when they were at their seasonal peak after a major cleaning and restoration. The photos of vibrant blooms and colorful koi may make you long again for that time of year. Read “Flourishing Lily Ponds.”

During a four-week program at The Huntington during the summer of 2017, girls from the Pasadena YWCA had an opportunity to engage with the history of that organization through some unique historic materials in the collections, including archival photographs of their counterparts from the past century. The albums are part of the Library’s Pasadena YWCA Collection. Proper handling of archival materials was part of the lesson. Photo by Lisa Blackburn. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

We shared an inspiring story about a group of 100 middle school girls in the YWCA’s Girls’ Empowerment Camp who got a chance to go behind the scenes in the Library for an up-close and personal encounter with materials from the collections. Read “Making History Personal.”

Julia Cury, an undergraduate at Princeton University who served as a curatorial intern in the Art Collections, gave us a rare glimpse inside hidden compartments of furniture in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. Read “Inside Secrets.”

Another art intern, Molly Curtis, a master’s degree candidate in art history at UC Irvine, contemplated why the painters George Tooker (1920–2011) and Edward Hopper (1882–1967) intentionally left out key narrative elements in their works. Read “Deliberate Omissions.”

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about The Huntington’s collections through Verso. Please join us next year for more stories that we hope will instruct and delight.

Detail from George Tooker’s Bathers (Bath Houses), 1950, egg tempera on gessoed board, 20 3/8 x 15 3/8 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

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

David Zeidberg, Quintessential Research Librarian

David Zeidberg, who is retiring after 21 years as the Avery Director of the Library, looked back on some of the many highlights of his career during the Founder’s Day lecture on Feb. 23, 2017. Photo by Jamie Pham.

As my friend David Zeidberg prepares to retire as the Avery Director of the Library, I find myself reflecting on the times we have shared. I arrived about four years before David came in 1996 and served as The Huntington’s vice president for operations until 2016. In many ways, we experienced his tenure together—and what a joy it has been.

In a recent Founder’s Day lecture, David recounted something he shared with me numerous times: the most important function of the Library is perhaps the least seen—providing resources to research scholars. David is typecast to lead an important research library—he’s low-key, not shouting for attention—as he provides quiet leadership, calm insights, and firm guidance.

He’s also the hero of the unseen. This is a man who championed basements, for heaven’s sake! Those completely essential underground storage places are where The Huntington safeguards precious books, manuscripts, and other original materials. He advocated for the importance of building enough storage space to make room for future collections. And boy, did they come! These spaces have been vigorously filled with a range of voices—from Civil War telegrams to authors Charles Bukowski, Octavia E. Butler, and Langston Hughes.

David Zeidberg during the construction of The Huntington’s Munger Research Center in 2003. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

When asked about the characteristics that make him a strong leader of this remarkable Library, David has said, with customary modesty, “I’m good at pointing!” By that, he means that he has the ability to recognize a good idea from his staff and then let them run with it, giving them a means to succeed. He had my back in this way multiple times.

David and I worked together on two major construction projects—the Munger Research Center (opened in 2004) and the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center (opened in 2015). (Both feature plenty of the aforementioned basements!) David made sure to meet the projects’ programmatic and functional needs, and I helped to ensure that the buildings were constructed according to plans, with refinement and quality, and on time and budget. These were big projects with large budgets, important donors, and high visibility—right at the front door of the institution. David always provided support to me and to the architectural and construction teams. He was never critical, always solution-oriented. He let us run with it and helped us to succeed.

David Zeidberg speaking at the dedication of the Munger Research Center on Sept. 13, 2004. Photo by Don Milici.

Before we started construction on the Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center, we met with key team members from The Huntington, the contractor, the architect, and the landscape architect, and we asked ourselves, “when we have completed construction, how will we know whether the project has been successful or not?” Our answers included predictable ones, like meeting the schedule, producing clear and thorough construction documents, and making sure the governing boards were relaxed and confident throughout the process. But we focused even more on the softer aspects—keeping relationships intact, ensuring team members had no regrets, having communication remain transparent and respectful, and having fun! In no small part, we met all those goals, again, thanks to David’s calm and steady hand.

Much has been written about David’s deep and broad intellectual range—from the history of printing and books to the technical aspects of cars and motorcycles! This is a guy who speaks with authority about Bilstein shocks and steel brake lines; who frequents events by Cars & Coffee (a global community of automobile enthusiasts); who adores his grandkids (who call him Popop); and who’s looking forward to putting a brush to canvas again in the coming years. He loves the slow artistry of a hand-bound book as well as the speed of a well-tuned sports car. He cherishes the quiet basement storage spaces and the institution’s gorgeous uplifting views of the mountains (especially from his office!). He’s a bit of a Renaissance man in that way, and my life has been enriched professionally and personally by having worked beside him for many wonderful years.

I wish you all the best, my friend, on the next stage of your journey.

David Zeidberg, Avery Director of the Library since 1996.

Laurie Sowd is senior vice president and chief operations officer at the California Science Center and former vice president of operations at The Huntington.

Drawing Enlightenment from Stones

The Huntington will host the annual Viewing Stones Show presented by the California Aiseki Kai from Dec. 26 to Dec. 30. Shown here: “Ribbon Dancer,” collected in South Korea by Don and Chung Kruger. (Note: the stones pictured in this story were photographed during past shows. This year’s exhibits may vary.) Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

If the hectic pace of the holiday season has you craving a bit of tranquility, try this centuries-old tip for restoring inner calm—spend some quiet time in the contemplation of stones.

The annual Viewing Stones Show, presented by the California Aiseki Kai, will take place Dec. 26–30 in The Huntington’s Brody Botanical Center. A complementary exhibition by the American Viewing Stone Resource Center will be on display during the same dates in the Japanese Garden’s Ikebana House.

Contemplating the subtle, graceful forms of nature’s artistry in stone is said to uplift the spirit and stimulate the mind—a wonderful way to usher in a new year.

Viewing stones are rocks found in nature—on a beach, in the desert, along a mountain trail—whose unique qualities have caught the discerning eye of an avid collector. Wind, water, and time have transformed these rocks into shapes resembling landscapes, distant mountains, animals, and other forms. Centuries of blown sand may have etched the pattern of swaying grass into a stone’s surface, while a cluster of mineral deposits in another stone may reveal the petals of a chrysanthemum or a mist-shrouded moon. Resemblances are usually suggestive rather than literal, inviting the viewer to look beyond the surface for deeper meaning.

A stone’s resemblance to a familiar form is usually suggestive rather than literal, inviting the viewer to look beyond the surface for deeper meaning. This stunner from the Mojave Desert, titled “Indian Blanket Stone,” was collected by Bill Hutchinson. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

As the name “viewing stones” implies, the act of contemplation is essential to the art itself. Each viewer brings something different to the art, moved by his or her own memories and associations to draw enlightenment from the stones.

The California Aiseki Kai is a Gardena, Calif.–based club of enthusiasts and collectors who study the ancient traditions of viewing stones, participate in organized hunts for stones, and mount an annual exhibition of their stones at The Huntington each December. (This year’s show is their 28th.) Nina Ragle, who cofounded the group with her husband, Larry, in 1983, says that collecting and displaying stones is a hobby that has a broad appeal.

“Anyone can do it,” says Ragle. “I began collecting viewing stones in 1979 and was hooked the first time I walked the Eel River. I love the hunt! I love the sense of calm the stones produce in an otherwise chaotic world. Whether I’m gazing at a properly displayed stone or looking for a potential candidate, the journey is intensely personal and peaceful.”

The history of stone appreciation dates back to ancient China. Shown here is a 17th-century woodblock print of a Chinese scholar’s rock, pictured in the rare illustrated book Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, ca. 1633–1703. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The history of stone appreciation began in ancient China, where Chinese “scholar’s rocks” were collected as early as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.). Poets of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) made references to them in their writings. The stones were introduced to Japan around 600. During the Muromachi period (1338–1573), the influence of the tea ceremony and other arts associated with Zen Buddhism, which emphasized inner enlightenment, led to a preference for stones with subtle forms that were more metaphor than precise representation. By the 19th century, the art had become more formalized with the development of classifications, most importantly Suiseki (scenic landscape forms and images reflecting the natural world). Subclassifications range from Taka-ishi (waterfall-shaped stones) and Dobutsu-ishi (animal-shaped stones) to Bi-seki (beautiful stones that may be polished). The 20th century saw the popularity of viewing stones expand into the international community. Today it is practiced and appreciated by enthusiasts around the world.

A key element in the art of viewing stones is the way the stones are displayed. This is where the collector’s own artistry comes into play. Each stone is positioned to be seen from its most compelling angle, typically mounted on a hand-carved wooden base, known as a daiza, or set in a sand-filled tray, a suiban. “We don’t alter the stone but we can alter the way in which it’s presented,” says Ragle. “We try to elicit an emotional response with an effective display. And that response will be determined by the viewer’s life experience.”

A key element in the appreciation of viewing stones is the way the stones are displayed, often mounted on a hand-carved wooden base known as a daiza. Shown here in its distinctive daiza is “Candy Jade Mountain,” a beautiful stone from the Trinity River, Calif., collected by Ken McLeod. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

One of the newest members of the Aiseki Kai is Jack Levy, who joined the club in 2014 after stumbling upon the show at The Huntington. A retired scientist with a Ph.D. in genetics, Levy knew nothing about the traditions of viewing stones but was immediately intrigued. His first stone hunt with the group was a trip to the Imperial Valley’s Yuha Desert in the spring of 2015. “There are many stones in the Yuha that have wonderful color and patina,” says Levy, “but finding one that also has an interesting shape and is consistent with the Asian viewing stone traditions proves to be amazingly difficult.”

Finding the perfect stone, however, is only one of the many satisfactions of the pursuit. “For me, viewing stones provide a means of combining my loves of nature and art with woodworking challenges—making the wooden bases, the daiza,” says Levy. “I’ve begun learning to make them under the watchful eye of two Aiseki Kai members, Al Nelson and Phil Hogan. I have completed only one daiza so far, for a ‘plateau and mountain’ stone from the Yuha Desert.” Levy plans to exhibit that stone, and possibly several others, at this year’s show.

Members of the California Aiseki Kai posed for a group portrait this past November during a stone hunt in the Imperial Valley’s Yuha Desert. Photo by Nina Ragle.

Stop by the event and draw some inspiration of your own from nature’s artistry—and from the men and women who have carried stones out of the wilderness and revealed them to be works of art. You might find yourself tempted to join their ranks; their enthusiasm is highly contagious.

The California Aiseki Kai’s 28th annual Viewing Stones Show will take place Tuesday, Dec. 26, through Saturday, Dec. 30, in The Huntington’s Brody Botanical Center. A complementary display by the American Viewing Stones Resource Center can be seen during the same dates in the Japanese Garden’s Ikebana House. Hours for both exhibitions are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The event is included with general admission.

Several small stones tell a larger story in this thematic display by Jim Greaves titled “The Pantry (Sleeping Cat, Mouse, and Grain Sack).” Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Graffiti in the Ellesmere Chaucer

The first page of the General Prologue in the Ellesmere Chaucer, ca. 1400 to 1410, a beautiful and elaborately decorated manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In April 1917, the Cambria set sail from London for New York. Most of the passengers had no idea that one of the world’s great libraries sat below decks in 101 wooden crates. Shakespeare folios and quartos were packed in with some 8,000 early printed books. Also in the crates were 13,000 manuscripts, touching upon domestic management, family relations, religion, politics, law, literature, and diplomacy from the medieval period through the 18th century. These items made up the iconic Bridgewater Library that Henry E. Huntington had purchased from John Francis Granville Scroop Egerton, 4th Earl of Ellesmere, through the bookseller George D. Smith and Sotheby’s. Slowly the collection made its way to the United States.

Nestled among these treasures was one manuscript that has long outshone all the others in fame and significance: the Ellesmere Chaucer. This manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written on parchment and decorated with awe-inspiring illuminations, was still in the process of being created when Chaucer died in 1400. If you’ve ever purchased a copy of “the Tales” at a bookstore or had a zealous high school English teacher make you memorize the General Prologue, then you’ve read the Ellesmere Chaucer. Most printed versions are based on this manuscript.

A miniature illustration of the Wife of Bath at the beginning of her tale in the Ellesmere Chaucer, ca. 1400 to 1410. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The manuscript is among the most iconic and celebrated books in the world.  Its miniatures are recognizable on book-lover’s tchotchkes, and readers love to smirk at the bawdy “Tale of the Wife of Bath.”

The Ellesmere Chaucer is more than just a book; it is a literary masterpiece and a work of art.  But sometimes it is too easy to be blinded by the glittering illuminations. We miss some of the other stories this manuscript tells us, stories beyond the Tales. The front and back flyleaves (the blank pages at the beginnings and ends of books) tell us about the people who owned and used the manuscript before it left England. “Robertus Drury,” “Edwarde Waldegrave,” and “Thomas Calthorpp” are just some of the names that appear alongside lines of verse in Latin and English. The graffiti in the front matter of this glorious volume includes pen trials, writing exercises, and other scribbings and doodlings.

The flyleaves of the Ellesmere Chaucer tell us about the people who owned and used the manuscript before it left England. The graffiti on this page includes pen trials, writing exercises, and other scribbings. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One name jumps out from the pages: Margery. Her name appears in a youthful 16th-century script several times across the volume’s front flyleaves. There is a clue suggesting that young Margery did not write her name herself: in the center of one flyleaf, someone has put quill to parchment in anger and written in the same hand: “Margery seynt John ys a shrew”!  Poor Margery, forever accused of being a shrew in the pages of the iconic Ellesmere Chaucer! Was the outburst prompted by a feud between siblings? Or was it perhaps the result of unrequited young love? That remains a mystery. We do know that Edward Waldegrave had at least two cousins named Margery St. John, so she was associated with one of the early families who owned the manuscript.

In the center of one flyleaf, someone has put quill to parchment and written: “Margery seynt John ys a shrew” (“Margery St. John is a shrew”). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

For the first time, the manuscript is open to these graffiti-filled flyleaves in the Library’s permanent exhibition, “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times.” (The flyleaves will remain on view through mid-February 2018.) While some may miss the shining miniatures and elaborate borders of the decorated text, it is important to give these grittier pages their place at center stage. And our dear Margery St. John surely deserves some restitution for being eternally dubbed a shrew. This remarkable manuscript contains one of the most significant works of English literature and also provides us with a window into the lives of the many families who owned it. Exhibiting the flyleaves brings out the humanity of this treasure.

Vanessa Wilkie is William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington.

Globalizing the Protestant Reformations

H. Breul and H. Brückner, Life of Martin Luther and Heroes of the Reformation, 1874, hand-colored lithograph, H. Schile; New York. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The origins of the Protestant Reformations are often traced to the German friar Martin Luther (1483–1546), who on Oct. 31, 1517, posted a document with 95 theses against the indulgence trade—in which donors paid the Catholic Church to remit punishment for sins. These theses began to outline Luther’s disputes with the Catholic Church. Luther’s calls for reform would eventually lead to a global movement that gave rise to the Protestant faiths.

To investigate the nature and significance of the Protestant Reformation as a global phenomenon, I am convening a conference, “Globalizing the Protestant Reformations,” which will be held Dec. 8–9, 2017, in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall.

The title page of Disputatio pro declaration virtutis indulgentiarum (Disputation on the Power of Indulgences) by Martin Luther (1483–1546), 1519. The original document of the “Ninety-five Theses” has not survived, but versions of it were published almost immediately by printers across Europe. Luther wrote his tract in Latin, the language of the Church, which suggests that he had clerics in mind and never suspected his arguments would reach a popular audience. This volume was printed in Leipzig, some 45 miles away from Wittenberg, where Luther lived. It is the earliest version of the “Ninety-five Theses” in The Huntington’s collection. The title page’s illustration depicts Christ’s deposition from the cross. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

It will be crucial for the next decades of scholarship to investigate religious change as multi-centric and interconnected across Western and non-Western worlds. The point of incorporating neglected global dimensions is to chart the vitality of varied reformed traditions, which confronted different institutional settings, and could significantly challenge political and cultural ideas of mainstream European faiths.

This scholarship has already begun. A decade ago, for instance, historian Jon Sensbach told the story of Rebecca Protten, a Caribbean woman born in 1718 whose life was changed by the Moravian Church, one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world. As a child, she had a conversion experience, and later joined their mission. On the Danish sugar island of St. Thomas, she and her followers created the earliest African Protestant congregation in the Americas.

Exorcismus der Täuflinge unter den Negern. Plate IV. From David Cranz. Short, reliable news of the Church Unitas Fratrum. Halle, 1757. John Carter Brown Library.

In Pennsylvania, Quakers, Mennonites, Huguenots, Lutherans, and Calvinists from five different European nations created a pluralistic “holy experiment.”

These encounters have inspired scholars to ask how Protestant traditions were enriched, reshaped, and pluralized in new worlds and how those experiences in turn influenced Europe, contributing to the history of the “long Reformation” of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Protestants took different paths in marking difference to, or excluding, specific groups. They also differed in how they mapped out internal hierarchies, considered interfaith relations, understood science and commerce, and weighed in on moral discourses on such issues as social inequality. They sustained diverse approaches to the question of how God comes alive to people individually or collectively and through what practices the supernatural can be known. Conceptions of resistance, gender, or the supernatural could be worked out in distinctive ways, as could the emotions that believers learned and understood.

Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God [Bible in Massachusett]. Cambridge, Mass., 1663. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

During the conference, leading scholars from the United States, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland will investigate cultural and emotional meanings of ideas about the divine and ask how Protestant perceptions and practices shaped demarcations of the feminine or masculine, commercial practices, notions of temporality and violence, spatiality, and sensual, visual, and material culture.

The conference will include a visit to The Huntington’s exhibition “The Reformation: From the Word to the World,” which draws on its rich holdings of Protestant writings. During the conference sessions, we will address questions about the nature of religious encounters among people of different Christian faiths in relation to their European traditions. Other important areas of study will include the considerable links between Protestant centers of missionary thought across Europe and the wider world around 1700—for instance, examining how Bostonian clergymen could network with German Pietists in India.

Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University, will deliver the Crotty Lecture, “Christian Origins in Early Modern Europe: The Birth of a New Kind of History.” The lecture takes place on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. in Rothenberg Hall.

Preceding the conference, Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University, will deliver the Crotty Lecture, “Christian Origins in Early Modern Europe: The Birth of a New Kind of History.” The lecture takes place on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, at 7:30 p.m., also in Rothenberg Hall. Grafton will explore who created knowledge about religion, how authority could be claimed and defended, and look at new forms of inquiry and explanation.

These new perspectives show the dynamism of a rich field of Reformation scholarship that will allow us to better understand not just the European past, but a history of the world. A global and connected account of the Protestant Reformations is long overdue.

You can listen to Anthony Grafton’s lecture on SoundCloud.

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

Related content on Verso:
From the Word to the World (Oct. 26, 2017)

Ulinka Rublack is professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Cambridge. Her books include The Astronomer and the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for his Mother, Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe, and Reformation Europe.

Nuestro Mundo

Jairo Perez, White Masked Ladrón, acrylic on canvas, 2017. This painting depicts a thief stealing a magnificent feathered cape. The cape that inspired the painting is on view in the “Visual Voyages” exhibition in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery through January 8, 2018. Photo by Kate Lain.

To complement the exhibition “Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin,” The Huntington engaged young Angeleno artists, ages 18 to 26, to look at Latin America from their own viewpoints. Their paintings, prints, textiles, and mixed-media works comprise “Nuestro Mundo” (“Our World”), on view in the Brody Botanical Center, weekends only, through January 8, 2018.

“‘Visual Voyages’ ends with Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859,” says “Nuestro Mundo” curator Robert Hori, the gardens cultural curator and program director at The Huntington. “‘Nuestro Mundo’ brings that exhibition up to date through current work.”

All the “Nuestro Mundo” artists are mentored by Art Division, a nonprofit organization that trains and supports Los Angeles youth from underserved communities who are pursuing careers in the visual arts. About a year ago, “Visual Voyages” co-curator Catherine Hess connected with longtime friend Dan McCleary, founder and director of Art Division.

Luis Mateo, Hijo de Maíz, plaster sculpture, corn husk with human hair, 2017. The Mayan god of maize inspired this sculpture. Photo by Kate Lain.

The Art Division artists learned about the history behind “Visual Voyages” from Hess and about key objects in the exhibition from co-curator Daniela Bleichmar, associate professor of art history and history at USC. The artists also walked The Huntington’s grounds with Hori and Jim Folsom, the director of the Botanical Gardens, encountering many of the Latin American plants depicted in “Visual Voyages” along the way.

These experiences helped to spark the 24 artworks exhibited in “Nuestro Mundo.”

Hori says one of the most talked about works in the exhibition is Jairo Perez’s White Masked Ladrón, a painting that depicts a thief stealing a magnificent feathered cape—on view in the “Visual Voyages” exhibition—from the native people for whom it has sacred value. The thief leaves a trail of blood behind. Perez, in his artist’s statement, writes: “the theft of a culture . . . I feel that thought never went through the minds of the conquistadors; for them these relics were more of a status booster.”

The creative process led some artists to investigate family history and recall memories of the past.

Guillermo Perez, Sivar 1 & Sivar 2, digital prints, 2017. These prints represent the civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. Photo by Kate Lain.

Luis Mateo fashioned the plaster sculpture Hijo de Maíz, inspired by the Mayan maize god, Hun Hunahpu. “Luis learned that his family was from Yucatán and probably has Mayan ancestry,” says Hori. Mateo employed colors of the Maya: green for jade, purple for cochineal dye and the colors of maize. He also cut off some of his hair to use in the sculpture. “In Mayan civilization,” Mateo writes, “long hair could raise an individual’s rank.”

Guillermo Perez’s Sivar 1 & Sivar 2 represent the civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. “Each print depicts a different location and point of view of the civil war as seen through the eyes of my parents,” writes Perez, who had not discussed the war with his parents before he began making the prints. “The depiction of the military helicopter in both prints represents the constant reality of fear, danger, and uncertainty the Salvadoran people had to go through during this difficult period of time.”

Alfredo Alvarado, Avocado Guayabera, printed fabric, 2017. Courtesy of ArtworxLA Fashion Design 2017 Workshop. Alvarado recalled picking avocados with his grandmother and used the fruit as a motif in this textile piece. Photo by Kate Lain.

Alfredo Alvarado recalled picking avocados with his grandmother and used the fruit as a motif in his textile pieces Avocado Pattern and Avocado Guayabera. Giant ground sloths also appear. Alvarado explains: “The giant ground sloth would eat the avocado whole and once the seed would pass, the seed would grow into a new tree.”

Today it is hard to imagine that, at one time, Latin American natives such as avocados, pineapples, and nopal cacti inspired awe and wonder among Europeans who beheld them in person or studied drawings of them in books.

Victor Reyes, Mission of the Humming Bird, linoleum print on paper, 2017. Reyes’s print takes inspiration from a Quechauas legend. Photo by Kate Lain.

The hummingbird, depicted in the title graphic for “Nuestro Mundo” by Victor Reyes, falls into this category, too. “Visual Voyages” features taxidermy hummingbirds among the animals in the foyer of the Boone Gallery. Color renderings of Mexican hummingbirds accompany an ornithological essay from the 19th century in the exhibition proper. Reyes’s linoleum block print, Mission of the Humming Bird, takes inspiration from a Quechauas legend: a flower courageously transforms itself into a hummingbird, moving a god to tears. The tears awaken a serpent, its wings shedding rain on the earth—saving the world from a terrible drought.

“I am delighted that these artists have provided us with a fresh, real-life perspective inspired by ‘Visual Voyages’,” says Hori.

To see images of all of the artworks on view in “Nuestro Mundo” and read statements by the artists, head to our Tumblr.

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

Hummingbird Case History

Before leaving the foyer of the exhibition “Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin,” take a moment to examine two glass cases filled with tiny, exquisite hummingbirds frozen in motion. They are remarkable replicas of displays first created at the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. English ornithologist John Gould placed 24 such cases in an attraction called the Hummingbird House, showcasing the wonders of bird life in the Americas to excited crowds in Victorian-era London.

The creators of these modern-day displays are taxidermist Allis Markham of Prey Taxidermy, and John McCormack, director of the Moore Lab of Zoology at Occidental College, which supplied 30 specimens representing 15 species of hummingbirds from their collection of almost 65,000 bird specimens. We asked them about what went into making the displays.

Taxidermist Allis Markham chose this lush, tropical flora based on an article that the novelist Charles Dickens wrote after seeing the original 1851 hummingbird cases. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: How much information did you have about the original cases?

Markham: Six of the 24 original cases still survive in the Museum of Natural History in London. I pored over photos and read multiple accounts. One of my most valuable sources was author Charles Dickens! It turned out that he attended the exhibition and wrote a detailed article called “Tresses of the Day Star” for his weekly newspaper, Household Words. I had suspected that the original plants were lusher than the dried twigs and leaves I had seen in the photos. Sure enough, Dickens describes a luxuriant, tropical scene: “They hang amidst fuchsia flowers, or float over beds of bromelia . . . . They dart long beaks into deep, tubular flowers, hovering beneath the pendant bells.” My displays reflect that!

An adult male Costa’s hummingbird (Calypte costae) shows off its distinctive purple cap and throat. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: Are the specimens you used old or new?

McCormack: The Moore Lab was founded by Robert T. Moore, who, like Gould, had a passion for hummingbirds. He collected more than 40,000 bird specimens from the 1920s to the 1950s and purchased some from other collectors. We chose the best-preserved and most spectacular specimens from Moore’s collection, combined with some new birds that sadly collided with windows and were found dead.

The nearly 7,000 hummingbird specimens in the Moore Laboratory of Zoology at Occidental College include (from top to bottom): a long-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus kingie, Ecuador, 1928), a red-tailed comet (Sappho sparganurus, Argentina, 1917), and a violet-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis, Ecuador, 1925). Photo by Allis Markham.

Q: Are these direct replicas of the original cases or inspired by them?

Markham: I tried to replicate the cases as closely as I could, down to having a wood carver carve the bases and even learning to weld to make the frames.

McCormack: One difference is the addition of LED lights to help light up the iridescent throat patches of the hummingbirds, which reflect only from certain angles.

Q: Do you think it was easier or harder to make these cases today than it was in John Gould’s time?

Markham: I think my job was much easier than Gould’s. I could reference his original cases, and I had the aid of such modern technology as freezers to better preserve the material. I also had tools to help hold and work on the tiny birds. Having said that, it wasn’t an easy project. One thing I didn’t expect was that, after several days of working on hummingbirds, my hand started to cramp up. I can’t even imagine making 24 cases as Gould did.

Using clamps and other tools, Markham positions an adult male rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) to show the bird in flight. The specimen was donated by the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico. Photo by Allis Markham.

Q: Some people may recoil from the sight of so many dead birds. Is there a larger environmental message?

McCormack: Seeing so many specimens in one place at one time can be shocking. But it’s important to remember that Moore’s collecting activities were carried out over 50 years, so only a few individuals were ever collected from one place at one time. All the species in these cases— and, in fact, all the species in Gould’s cases—are still around today. Not one has gone extinct. The modern exemplars are what we call “salvage specimens,” or individuals found dead and donated to museums for study.

Also, it’s important to recognize the contributions of specimen collections to our scientific knowledge. Almost everything we know about species—their names, where they are found, how they differ from one another and how they are related—ultimately traces back to knowledge gained from museum specimens. All this information is important to species protection. If you can’t put a name on something or know where it lives, you can’t effectively preserve it.

Black-chinned hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri), like this adult male, feed on nectar using a long extendable tongue. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: Thousands of people lined up to see Gould’s Hummingbird House back in 1851, but at the time, few Europeans had seen live hummingbirds, which are native to the Americas. Do you think today’s visitors will feel the same attraction?

McCormack: Absolutely. Although we have amazing cameras and high-definition screens that can take us up close to hummingbirds, slow down their wing beats, and so forth, there is still something breathtaking about getting a chance to take a close look. In nature, and even on our screens, we catch only fleeting glimpses of hummingbirds. In these displays, you can admire their intricate details for as long as you’d like.

The iridescence of hummingbird feathers comes from microscopic structures that reflect light. The colors on the throat of this rainbow-bearded thornbill (Chalcostigma herrani) are as stunning today as they were when the specimen was collected in Ecuador in 1892. Photo by Allis Markham.

Related content on Verso:
A Stunning and Sacred Cape (Sept. 18, 2017)

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

First Light

The Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope, ca. 1940, side view with tube 40 degrees from horizontal. The chair of astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889–1953), on an elevating platform, is visible at left. Photo by Edison Hodge. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In astronomy, the first time a telescope lens is exposed to the night sky for viewing is referred to as first light. Astronomers and the people who design and construct telescopes eagerly await first light, when they can finally see whether the years of planning and testing have produced an instrument that delivers on their expectations.

In commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of first light for the massive 100-inch Hooker telescope on Mount Wilson—which was the largest telescope in the world for decades—The Huntington and Carnegie Observatories are sponsoring the annual Dibner History of Science conference, titled “First Light: The Astronomy Century in California, 1917–2017.” The conference takes place in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall on Nov. 17 and 18, 2017.

Edwin Hubble (1889–1953), seated at the Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope, ca. 1924. Unidentified photographer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Hooker telescope, which saw first light on November 2, 1917, was responsible for some of the most important astronomical discoveries and observations in history. Most notably, astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889–1953), whose papers are at The Huntington, used the Hooker in the 1920s to discover that what was then known as the Andromeda “spiral nebula” was in fact a galaxy outside our own.

I’m co-convening the conference along with John Mulchaey, director of the Carnegie Observatories, the Pasadena-based department of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Carnegie Observatories is home to a multitude of world-class astronomy projects, as well as a vast library of glass-plate photographic images taken at Mount Wilson. The images represent the work of generations of photographers and astronomers and are heavily used by astronomers and historians alike.

At this year’s Dibner conference, we will present a rich view of astronomy through the twin lenses of history and modern science. Each of the conference sessions includes two talks on the same topic, one by a historian and the other by an astronomer.

Solar astronomer George Ellery Hale (1868–1938), ca. 1905, seated at his office desk in the Monastery at Mount Wilson Observatory, which he founded. Unidentified photographer. Image courtesy of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

For instance, historian David DeVorkin, senior curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, will discuss how astronomer George Ellery Hale founded the Mount Wilson Observatory and used it as a test bench for groundbreaking work during the first third of the 20th century. Then astronomer Harold McAlister, the former director of Mount Wilson, will speak about the promise of optical interferometry—a way of combining signals from two or more telescopes to obtain a higher resolution—helping to ensure that the telescopes at Mount Wilson will make significant contributions to a second century of scientific findings.

Another session will feature Barbara Becker, a historian of astronomy at UC Irvine, sharing insights into the relationship between British amateur astronomer William Huggins (1824–1910) and the much younger George Ellery Hale (1868–1938), and their shared passion for solar astronomy. Co-convener John Mulchaey will follow with a talk on current collaborations in the world of astronomy.

Every field of science has a history tracking the inroads (and false starts) that inform its current practice. A careful reading of the history of science provides some of the building blocks to scientific discoveries and technologies. And it offers fascinating stories about the actions and motivations of scientific pioneers and visionaries. We hope you’ll join us.

Observatory dome of the Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope, ca. 1925, Mount Wilson Observatory. Unidentified photographer. Image courtesy of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can listen to the conference presentations on SoundCloud.

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

Daniel Lewis is the Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science and Technology at The Huntington.

COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington

Opening Nov. 18, the exhibition “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington” will be on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art through Feb. 12, 2018. Part of the second year of /five —The Huntington’s five-year contemporary arts initiative focused on creative collaborations—the exhibition will be a manifestation of The Huntington’s yearlong partnership with the Los Angeles-based Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW). The exhibition will feature new work by seven artists, selected by WCCW, who have conducted research in The Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections. Catherine G. Wagley, a freelance journalist who writes about art and visual culture in Los Angeles, focuses in this post on the exhibition.

The Three Graces and Marie Antoinette, a new porcelain and enamel vessel by Juliana Wisdom, sits atop a pedestal in “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington.” Soyoung Shin’s tapestry 24,000 BCE–1992 CE, made from a design by Melanie Florio, hangs on a nearby wall. Photo by Kate Lain.

For the better part of 2017, seven female-identified artists have been mining The Huntington’s collections, bringing their own interests to bear upon the institution’s holdings. On Nov. 18, when the exhibition “COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington” opens in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, the physical fruits of their labor will finally be available to the public. Artist Juliana Wisdom’s delicate porcelain vessels will coexist with Zya Levy’s ghostly plaster cacti and Kiki Loveday’s emergent archive of LGBTQ letters and love stories. The exhibition offers a glimpse into projects that are even bigger and deeper than the work in this show, and will likely extend beyond the time these artists spent in residence at The Huntington.

When you enter the gallery, you’ll come face-to-face with a wall text explaining how The Huntington partnered with the feminist, community-nurturing Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW) to select these artists: Wisdom, Loveday, Levy, Olivia Chumacero, Sarita Dougherty, Jheanelle Garriques, and Soyoung Shin. In the text, curators Jenny Watts and Catherine Hess acknowledge that The Huntington’s founders “excluded women from the professional staff” and “surely did not anticipate the myriad challenging, provocative, and insightful ways these artists would interpret the collection.” In other words, the fact that a multidisciplinary group of emerging artists, many of whom have non-traditional relationships to their fields, were invited in to question and probe the institution’s collections and legacy connotes progress in itself.

“The process has been iterative, with a lot of back and forth,” says curator Watts, who co-organized “COLLECTION/S” and worked with the seven artists over the past months. She was speaking about the curation of this exhibition, but the same could be said about the entirety of the project. The works we see on view result from many negotiations.

In one section of “COLLECTION/S,” paintings and wallpaper made by Sarita Dougherty are installed adjacent to items related to Kiki Loveday’s archive of LGBTQ letters and love stories. Photo by Kate Lain.

When artist Soyoung Shin initially started researching the highly detailed, ornate tapestries that were among the first major purchases Henry Huntington made together with his future wife Arabella (who was very interested in French 18th-century decorative arts), she became fascinated by their rarity. They’re the only intact set designed by artist François Boucher and made by craftspeople at the Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory in Northern France. “What tools does a collecting institution have to preserve such a craft?” Shin wondered. She thought at first that perhaps she could develop a digital algorithm to make these tapestries reproducible, then realized the scope of this undertaking outstripped the time she had; so, she made her own tapestries, taking the Beauvais work as an inspiration. With the help of painter Melanie Florio and a Belgian factory, she made two tapestries and then combined them: she replaced the men, programmers of the early general computer ENIAC, in the first tapestry with the women in the second, all of whom are important figures in the history of computing. In this way, she gestured toward two of her interests: the devaluation and erasure of women in tech history and the relationship between computing and weaving. The punch card, after all, was used for a loom before it was used for computers.

Juliana Wisdom began her project trying to trace the women who had worked on the intricate, lavish porcelain made by the Sèvres manufactory, significant examples of which belong to The Huntington’s art collections. Evidence of these women, who worked in 18th- and 19th- century France, proved hard to come by, even as she pored over the sources held in The Huntington Library. She did know, however, that Marie Antoinette and Madame Pompadour, royal women of means, had patronized the Sèvres manufactory, and as the project continued, class distinctions between the women in Revolutionary France became increasingly of interest, as did unrest in the colonies. The paintings on vessels Wisdom displays in “COLLECTION/S”—all made in response to the Sèvres porcelain—acknowledge those class divides.

A still from Olivia Chumacero’s video When Light Married Water, installed in “COLLECTION/S.”

The stories of each project’s development are equally nuanced: Sarita Dougherty and Olivia Chumacero had intended to move back and forth between cultivated and uncultivated gardens at The Huntington but found they were most compelled by an uncultivated area where California native plants grow. All of their work in the exhibition explores that garden, a part of the grounds not yet opened to the public.

In certain cases, such as the installation of poet-artist-performer Jheanelle Garriques’ work, the negotiations and inspirations that informed the process will be readily available even to viewers unfamiliar with any backstory. Garrique hosted five writing salons at The Huntington and spent time in the Library, researching the letters of Elizabeth Montagu (1718–1800), who hosted salons and encouraged female writers. Some of Montagu’s letters will appear in the exhibition, along with writings from Garrique’s salons. A large photograph from the performance Garriques and collaborators staged in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall serves as a design element in the exhibition. The process and product are indistinguishable, which also aligned with Montagu’s relationship-focused approach. “Despite all the narratives crafted and created in her coterie, what Montagu sought to save were the relationships—the connections,” says Garriques. “It was all at once productive and incredibly nurturing.”

A new video by Emily Lacy gives a peek into each of the 2017 /five projects:

Related content on Verso:
Artists in the Gardens (Oct. 27, 2017)
Artists in the Library (Sept. 11, 2017)
Art Inspiring Art (Aug. 9, 2017)
Engaging with the Collections (June 29, 2017)
Women Making Art (March 30, 2017)

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

Catherine G. Wagley is a freelance journalist who writes about art and visual culture in Los Angeles.

Emily Lacy is a folk and electronic sound artist working in music, film, and other media.

Deliberate Omissions

George Tooker (1920–2011), Bathers (Bath Houses), 1950, egg tempera on gessoed board, 20 3/8 x 15 3/8 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Often when we view a painting, we take stock of the storytelling elements that leave us with a certain thought or feeling. Especially when we are confronted with works that are associated with realism, we expect a painted scene to make sense. But how do we understand works that seem to purposely leave out key elements of the story? When we’re left wondering, “What am I missing here?”

The American artists George Tooker (1920–2011) and Edward Hopper (1882–1967) are known for works that evoke a sense of isolation.

While it isn’t essential to know the backstory of an artist to create opinions of their works, knowing how their oeuvre has been categorized can give us some context. Hopper attended the New York School of Art and Design and studied under Robert Henri. He is often associated with his peers in the Ashcan school, and yet his vacant, lugubrious scenes don’t quite fit in with the gritty portrayals of lower-class modern life that are typical of those artists. Tooker is associated with the artistic genre of magic realism, in which scenes portrayed are primarily realistic but also incorporate magical elements.

There is something unsettling about the glassy look in the eye of the figure on the right. George Tooker (1920–2011), detail from Bathers (Bath Houses), 1950, egg tempera on gessoed board. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Both Tooker’s Bathers (Bath House) (1950) and Hopper’s The Long Leg (1930) depict sunny days and use a soothing color palette of pastel blues and crisp whites. At first glance, their subjects seem pleasant enough—in Tooker’s case, a group of people bathing, and in Hopper’s work, a sailboat on the water. Yet there is something unsettling about the glassy look in the eye of the figure on the right in Bathers and the eerie stillness of The Long Leg, as though something is missing from the implied narratives of each that prevents us from fully understanding what is going on.

In Bathers, we see a group of people at a bathhouse. The periwinkle sky is dappled with clouds, and both the bathers and the bathhouse appear clean and pristine. Three figures in the foreground wait to enter the bathhouse, each with a bright white bathing cap and a crisp white towel around their shoulders. One of the bathers in the foreground and another in the background, drying hair, seem to be staring at viewers, as if we are interlopers in this space. An additional figure, who we can see only as a sliver inside the bathhouse, also seems to be investigating us. This interaction with viewers engages us and invites us to be a part of the composition.

A figure that can be seen only as a sliver inside the bathhouse seems to be investigating viewers. George Tooker (1920–2011), detail from Bathers (Bath Houses), 1950, egg tempera on gessoed board. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Upon close inspection, when one is just feet from the painting, it’s no longer clear if the gazes of these figures are staring at viewers. The frontal figure’s eyes seem glazed over, glassy and reflective. The figure drying hair turns fully toward us, and yet the eyes are cast downward. Taking into account all of these observations, it’s still not clear what’s happening. We’re left questioning why these bathers all look so similar, why the foremost figure gives such a haunting stare, and why the artist has made us feel so strange about viewing what could have been an unassuming scene of swimmers showering off.

Edward Hopper (1882–1967), The Long Leg, ca. 1930, oil on canvas, 20 x 30 1/4 in. (50.8 x 76.8 cm.). Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Like Tooker’s piece, Edward Hopper’s The Long Leg depicts a serene, sunny day. While the painting is named for the movement of the boat, tacking back and forth into the wind, the water appears calm, and the boat hardly disturbs the water. Furthermore, why isn’t anybody enjoying the fine weather, not even on the boat itself? While we might expect to see sunbathers on an open, sandy beach, we could postulate reasons for why they are missing. Perhaps the beach is closed or it’s an early fall day when most beachgoers have already gone home. But the absence of a pilot on the boat is more difficult to justify. In what is otherwise a simple seascape, we are confronted with missing elements that necessitate a consideration of the work as being more than a representation of the literal world.

These missing elements are as integral to our overall impression as the elements the artists choose to portray. While we are able to identify characteristics that are discordant with what we expect to see in a painting, we still do not have access to a complete narrative to explain why unusual elements have been included. Could Bathers be pointing to the emptiness of a world where people must “fit in” and subscribe to the status quo? Or perhaps the viewer is imagined as the spitting image of a dear friend who has just passed away—the vacant stares and averted eyes hardly concealing their dredged-up sorrow.

No one can be seen enjoying the fine weather, not even on the boat itself. Edward Hopper (1882–1967), detail from The Long Leg, ca. 1930, oil on canvas. Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

What if The Long Leg is the image of a place where humans no longer exist, but their creations keep performing their intended purposes?

Or maybe it’s none of these things. You may prefer to conclude that the missing pieces of these narratives are meant to leave you feeling perturbed, and the fact that you may walk away from these works with their stories unresolved is what gives them their emotional power.

While we may not find obvious answers to what’s going on in these scenes, the unanswered questions encourage a discourse between the painters and viewers. Leaving the stories incomplete invites visitors to fill in the blanks or at least ponder the meaning of the questions.

Perhaps the beach is closed or it’s an early fall day when most beachgoers have already gone home. Edward Hopper (1882–1967), detail from The Long Leg, ca. 1930, oil on canvas. Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Molly Curtis is pursuing her master’s degree in art history at UC Irvine and has served as an intern in the American art department of The Huntington Art Collections.