The Power of Touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telling Her Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West of Walden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Making Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zya S. Levy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

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

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

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

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

Autism Awareness at The Huntington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrating Poverty and Prisons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Ingeniously Printed Book of Songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill and Ned’s Excellent Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#5WomenArtists in the American Collections

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Starr Lives on at The Huntington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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