Coming Home

Phillip E. Bloom is the June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies at The Huntington. Photo by Lisa Blackburn.

Before Phillip E. Bloom applied to become The Huntington’s Curator of the Chinese Garden, he spent two days exploring and contemplating Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance—first alone and later with his wife, Yurika Wakamatsu, who had just taken a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Occidental College.

Coming to San Marino from Indiana University, where he was an assistant professor of East Asian art, Bloom was enthralled by the thoughtfulness that marked the garden’s planning and construction; the exacting placement of plants, rocks, and water in relation to the architectural features; and the use of poetry and literature to name and enliven each pavilion. But what really surprised Bloom, who grew up in Montana and has lived in many far-flung locales both in the United States and abroad, was Southern California itself.

“Neither of us had spent much time here before, but when Yurika came for her job interview, she felt more at home than anywhere she’d ever been,” says Bloom. “I could see why. It’s exciting to live in a place where Asia really matters. And there are so many other ethnic communities and cultures that coexist with a fluidity we’d never seen before.”

Pavilion of Three Friends and Lake of Reflected Fragrance in The Huntington’s Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Bloom and Wakamatsu met while in graduate school at Harvard University, where they both earned their doctorates in East Asian art history. Bloom specializes in the visual culture of China’s Song Dynasty (960–1279).

Since becoming the new June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies in September, Bloom has loved watching the way people from the region’s diverse communities interact with the space. True to the way it was conceived, the 10-year-old Liu Fang Yuan functions as a place where different cultures gather not only for beauty but also for inspiration, to create something new, from art and friendships to cultural understandings. “In just the short while I’ve been here, I’ve loved watching the range of experiences—from young schoolchildren learning about poetry and plants, to grown-up crowds enjoying the food, art, and musical performances,” says Bloom. (And he’ll no doubt witness more such experiences when visitors come to celebrate the Chinese New Year Festival at The Huntington on Feb. 17 and 18, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

The Huntington will celebrate the Chinese New Year with a cultural festival on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 (Sat. and Sun.), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can enjoy music, dance, demonstrations, exhibitions, Chinese cuisine, and performances, including those by lion dancers. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Continuing to engage the region’s diverse communities is Bloom’s paramount goal, and he is eager to collaborate with his counterparts at other museums and institutions of higher learning to share ideas and to develop partnerships that will lead to exhibitions and new public programs.

“Part of the appeal of coming to Southern California was that there’s a higher density of historians of Asian art than almost anywhere else in the U.S,” says Bloom.

As coordinator of the institution’s East Asian garden lecture series, Bloom also sees great potential in sharing the dynamic scholarship from Huntington-hosted symposiums with a wider audience—especially college students and interested members of the general public—by developing a publication series and a digital journal.

“I am eager to create a body of scholarship that can be used for university teaching,” says Bloom. “When you read scholarly articles on East Asian gardens, they somehow tend to make the garden feel quite dead, so I am eager to create a body of scholarship that can be used for teaching undergraduates.”

The Waveless Boat pavilion and the Lake of Reflected Fragrance in Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance. Photo by Martha Benedict.

With all this on his plate, Bloom and Wakamatsu have still found time to become full-fledged Angelenos, indulging their love for art, music, and food. With Los Angeles’s status as an important hub of Asian culture and influence and The Huntington’s own critical role in promoting the appreciation of Asian culture as part of our shared global heritage, Bloom says they have found an exciting and comfortable place to call home. And, he says, “I don’t ever want to leave.”

You can listen to Phillip Bloom’s inaugural lecture at The Huntington, “The Ecology of Eternity in a Song-Dynasty Buddhist Monastery,” on SoundCloud.

Manuela Gomez Rhine is a freelance journalist based in Pasadena, California.

Ancestor in a Japanese Guest Book

Akira Chiba (middle left), the consul general of Japan in Los Angeles, and his wife, Yuko Chiba (middle right) look at a guest book for a welcome party organized by the Japanese Red Cross to honor Sir Frederick Treves, personal physician to King Edward VII, on May 3, 1904, in Tokyo. The guest book, which contains signatures by Akira Chiba’s great-grandfather, was acquired and recently donated to The Huntington by Frank and Toshie Mosher (Toshie Mosher is on the far right). Li Wei Yang (far left), is curator of Pacific Rim Collections. Photo by Jim Folsom.

When Akira Chiba, the consul general of Japan in Los Angeles, came to visit The Huntington, he had an opportunity to look at one of the Library’s recent acquisitions—a guest book that contains the signature of one of his illustrious forebears.

Chiba’s great-grandfather was the esteemed physician and bacteriologist Shibasaburo Kitasato (1853–1931), who was best known for his research on such diseases as tetanus, tuberculosis, and bubonic plague, as well as his administrative efforts to improve public health in Japan. He went on to found the Kitasato Institute, the forerunner to today’s Kitasato University, in Tokyo.

As a young man in 1885, Kitasato was sent by the Japanese government to Germany to study with the best microbiologists of the time. He spent seven years in Germany, jointly publishing his breakthrough work on tetanus immunization with Emil von Behring, who had done similar work regarding diptheria. (Von Behring would go on to win a Nobel Prize for this work in 1901.) In 1891, Kitasato became the first foreign scientist to receive the honorary title of professor from the German government. Kitasato returned to Japan in 1892, where he founded a lab to study bacteriology, and the institute grew in stature and size under his leadership.

Front cover of the guest book. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Kitasato’s government-sponsored time abroad was not unique. Only a few decades after the opening of Japan to the West, many of the nation’s brightest had been sent to foreign lands to acquire skills and knowledge in a variety of fields. Many of them gathered at a welcome party organized by the Japanese Red Cross to honor Sir Frederick Treves (1853–1923), personal physician to King Edward VII, on May 3, 1904, at the Maple Club in Tokyo. (Treves saved the life of King Edward in 1902 with his surgical treatment of appendicitis; he is also famous for his friendship with Joseph Merrick (1862–1890), better known as the “Elephant Man.”)

The guest book for the welcome party was acquired and recently donated to The Huntington by Frank and Toshie Mosher. When Chiba was told about the guest book, he wondered if his great-grandfather’s signature would be inside. In fact, when he was shown the book by Li Wei Yang, The Huntington’s curator of Pacific Rim Collections, he found two signatures by his ancestor.

The first pair of Japanese and Roman-letter signatures on page 17 of the guest book belongs to the physician and bacteriologist Shibasaburo Kitasato (1853–1931), Akira Chiba’s great-grandfather, who founded the Kitasato Institute—the forerunner to today’s Kitasato University in Tokyo, Japan. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“One of Kitasato’s signatures was in Japanese characters, and the other one was in Roman letters,” explains Robert Hori, The Huntington’s gardens cultural curator and program director, who facilitated Chiba’s visit. “Like most of his fellow guests, Kitasato signed in two languages, a common practice for people like himself who had studied abroad,” Hori says.

In his memoirs, Treves recounts his meeting with this group of Japanese physicians.

“I also became acquainted with the Japanese Red Cross Society. This business-like organization is the most remarkable and efficient of its kind in the world. During six months of terrible fighting and exposure in a foreign country [Japan was in the midst of the Russo-Japanese war at the time] there was only a fraction of 1 per cent of loss from preventable disease.

In the Boer War 13,250 soldiers died of disease. It may be safe to conclude that the greater proportion of these deaths were due to preventable disease. It is a little distressing to reflect how many lives might have been saved if the methods of the Japanese Medical Service had been adopted by the British Army.”

Sir Frederick Treves, personal physician to King Edward VII, 1908. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Doctors who had introduced modern medical practices to Japan were now surpassing their Western counterparts in results. The dinner honoring Treves was both a reunion with his students and a celebration of their success.

Commenting on the Library’s remarkable holdings, Consul General Chiba remarked, “Never would I have imagined finding my ancestor here in the collections of The Huntington.”

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

An 18th-Century Star in Stripes

George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806), Zebra, exhibited 1763, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

What do a zebra and a musical genius have in common? In the case of George Stubbs’ painting Zebra and Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of his friend, the composer and musician Karl Friedrich Abel, there is, surprisingly, more than one connection.

First, both the zebra herself and the portrait of the composer were at one time in the collection of Britain’s Queen Charlotte (1744–1818). And, from Feb. 3 to April 30, 2018, both will be on view in the Huntington Art Gallery.

Thomas Gainsborough (British, 1727–1788), Karl Friedrich Abel, ca. 1777, oil on canvas, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The female zebra painted by Stubbs was among the first of her species to be seen in England. She had been sent by the colonial governor of South Africa in 1762 as a gift for the young queen. When she arrived in London, the zebra was placed in the queen’s menagerie at Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) and became an instant celebrity. As one observer noted, the beast “was pestered with visits, and had all her hours employed from morning to night in satisfying the curiosity of the public.” Dubbed the “Queen’s she-ass,” she became an instrument of satire in the hands of caricaturists, and rude songs appeared in broadsheets inviting the public to visit the “Queen’s A–.”

Dubbed the “Queen’s she-ass,” the zebra depicted by Stubbs became an instrument of satire in the hands of caricaturists, and rude songs about her appeared in broadsheets. The asses of Great Britain, an answer to Harry H—-d’s ass by fart-inando a modern political astrologer, 1762. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Zebra is the first in a series of portraits of exotic animals that Stubbs would later produce for his friends and patrons, the Scottish anatomists William and John Hunter, though this particular canvas remained in his studio at his death. It was likely William, one of the queen’s doctors, who arranged for the artist’s access to the zebra, and her portrait displays all the hallmarks of Stubbs’ careful observation of animal form. The artist was famous for his ability to accurately portray the muscles and bone structure of horses, as seen in The Huntington’s painting of a jockey and racehorse in action, Baronet with Sam Chifney Up. Stubbs coupled his artistic interest in equines with scientific study, performing dissections and even publishing a treatise, The Anatomy of the Horse (1766).

Stubbs’ attention to anatomy is in full evidence in Zebra, which accurately depicts the differences between this species and the horse, including the backward position of the ears and the tufted tail. In fact, he has so accurately painted the pattern of stripes on the zebra’s hide that zoologists have been able to identify this particular animal as a Cape Mountain zebra.

George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806), Baronet with Sam Chifney Up, 1791, oil on canvas, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Stubbs’ Zebra is more, however, than a record of precise scientific observation. A powerful example of an artist’s ability to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, this poignant image tugs at our heartstrings. Rather than depict her as she would appear in her native habitat, Stubbs places the zebra alone amidst the lush green of an English forest. The trees overwhelm her little figure, and her striped hide, meant to provide camouflage in the grass of the savanna, stands out sharply against the deep shade of the foliage. Her body is turned to the side in an exposed and vulnerable pose, and her expression, ears slightly flattened and eye seemingly heavy-lidded, gives the sense that she is aware of her displacement, and is perhaps longing for her faraway home.

Stubbs’ ability to endow his Zebra with a sense of life and personality has endeared this painting to audiences for more than 200 years, making it one of the best loved animal paintings of all time. On loan from the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Conn., George Stubbs’ Zebra will be charming audiences in the Huntington Art Gallery for a limited time only (Feb. 3 to April 30, 2018). Come visit this loveable stripe-clad celebrity while you can.

Melinda McCurdy is associate curator of British art at The Huntington.

A Botanical “Feathered” Friend

Mammillaria plumosa, nestled where two cracks in a cliff converge in Huasteca Canyon. The canyon is located near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Photo by John Trager.

As The Huntington’s curator of desert collections, I, along with my staff, care for 2,000 species of succulents, including a vast range of cacti, in the 10-acre Desert Garden, plus thousands more in 20,000 square feet of greenhouse and other nursery space.

Over the years, specimens have come to us from a variety of sources, including other botanical gardens, nurseries, and private collectors. In the early days, when Henry E. Huntington’s superintendent William Hertrich (1878–1966) presided over the gardens, and up until a few decades ago, it was common for plants to be collected during expeditions to their natural habitats. (We still do this, but it’s become more and more rare because of the international restrictions in place meant to protect plant material in their native habitats.)

The cliffside habitat of Mammillaria plumosa in Huasteca Canyon. Photo by John Trager.

That’s how we came to grow an example of the feather cactus, Mammillaria plumosa. This plant is on the opposite end of the prickly spectrum from the spiny cactus varieties with which most people are familiar. Its spines are soft and feathery, as its name implies.

As the plant grows, it forms more and more pincushion-like heads. We propagated these plants by separating the heads to root on their own and then shared many specimens with other institutions and private collectors. This is good insurance for us because, if we lose a plant, others can return the favor by sharing one of their propagations to restore the collection. One head we planted about a decade ago has multiplied into dozens of heads, forming a mounding cushion about a foot in diameter. It lives in the Desert Conservatory, where we invite visitors to touch it.

A magnified spine cluster showing the feather-like nature of the spines. Photo by Raquel Folgado.

But, admittedly, as much as we love presenting the plants here at The Huntington, it’s especially rewarding to see them in their natural habitat. So, when the opportunity arises, I’m eager to tear myself away from the greenhouse to do fieldwork. The experience can yield insights into natural variability, associated flora, and ecological relationships with habitat, plants, and animals. It can also help inform our cultivation practices so that we can better grow the plants in our care.

When I set out on a fieldtrip last summer to northern Mexico, I didn’t know what to expect. I was exploring a cliffside in Huasteca Canyon near Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo Leon, when a companion asked me to identify two species of mammillaria. I scanned the cliff and identified Mammillaria formosa and Mammillaria winterae and, lo and behold, nestled where two cracks in the cliff converged, was our old friend, the feather cactus, Mammillaria plumosa.

After returning from Mexico, I was inspired to take a closer look at our Mammillaria plumosa. With the help of The Huntington’s research botanist, Raquel Folgado, we captured some close-ups through a dissecting microscope. Under magnification, the spines radiating from each areole look like ostrich feathers.

A view from under the spines of Mammillaria plumosa. Photo by Raquel Folgado.

Peering beneath the spines revealed spine clusters that resemble little parasols, held aloft on small conical projections called tubercles. These not only shade the plant from the most intense sunlight, but also diffuse light, rather like a photographer’s diffusing umbrella, shedding light evenly to all sides of the green tubercles—and rendering Mammillaria plumosa one of the most beautiful cacti, in my opinion.

It is also a marvel of efficiency in how it makes best use of available light. Plants that inhabit cliffs can be alternately exposed to blazing sun or dry shade. During a shady Mexican afternoon, the cliff still radiates the warmth of the day, and the plants still have several hours of photosynthetic work to be done before darkness falls.

I have always appreciated Mammillaria plumosa, but seeing it in the wild gave me newfound curiosity and respect for this botanical wonder. Visitors can see—and even touch—this cactus in the Desert Conservatory, which is open every Saturday during public hours.

John N. Trager is The Huntington’s curator of the desert collections.

For the Love of Flowers

William King (British, active mid to late 18th century), Granadilla Foliis Trilobatis, 1763, watercolor on vellum. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Have you ever found yourself fascinated by the intricate shapes and features of plants, or even taken the time to draw or photograph a beautiful flower that caught your eye? In the exhibition “In Pursuit of Flora: 18th-Century Botanical Drawings from The Huntington’s Art Collections,” you’ll find 16 drawings by a range of artists who were struck by the beauty of flowers. It’s on view in the Huntington Art Gallery’s Works on Paper Room through Feb. 19, 2018.

Some of these artists were among the most important botanical illustrators of their day; they made the images to disseminate knowledge about particular species of plants, often as reproductions in scientific publications. Several of the works, however, are the products of amateurs—in the 18th-century meaning of the word. Back then, being called an amateur did not imply any lack of artistic skill.

William King (British, active mid to late 18th century), Granadilla Foliis Trilobatis (verso, showing annotations by Thomas Skinner), 1763. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The word comes from the Latin “amare,” meaning to love. An amateur referred to someone who was passionate about a subject and practiced a skill without regard for monetary compensation. Most amateur artists of the period were members of the aristocracy or landed gentry—people with the wealth and leisure time to deeply follow their passions. Botany was another interest in which they could readily indulge.

Take, for example, several generations of botanical artists from the Conyers family of Essex. These women had ample opportunities to study a variety of plants on the family estate, called Copped Hall, known for its splendid garden. The family also owned properties on the Caribbean islands of Antigua and St. Kitts. These exotic locations may point to the origins of the Marvel of Peru, (Mirabilis jalapa), shown here by Matilda Conyers (1698–1793).

Matilda Conyers (British, 1698–1793), Marvel of Peru, 1767, watercolor and gouache on vellum. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Conyers may have taken drawing lessons from one of the most important botanical illustrators of the day, Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708–1770), a collaborator of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, as the family owned several of the artist’s works. Whether or not Matilda Conyers received instruction from Ehret himself, his influence is clearly evident in her drawing, which displays a careful rendering of variegated yellow and red flowers, and includes both open and closed buds to show as much botanical information as possible.

The drawings of English botanical illustrator William King (active mid to late 18th century) reflected the specimens he recorded from the garden of amateur botanist Thomas Skinner, who had collected several plants from the Americas, species that seemed decidedly exotic to his neighbors in suburban London. King’s intricate watercolor shows a passionflower (Passiflora), with its delicate twining tendrils. Skinner recorded his own observations about these exotic plants on the backs of King’s drawings. On one he describes the plant as “a very hardy out-door perennial” that “continues growing and flowering till the Frosts cut it down towards the latter end of Autumn.”

Peter Brown (British, active 1766–1791), Belladonna Amaryllis, ca. 1780, watercolor on vellum. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Artist Peter Brown (active 1766–1791) had been tutoring a number of aristocrats who engaged in botanical illustration before being appointed botanical painter to the Prince of Wales. His striking image of Belladonna Amaryllis is similar to one that once formed part of an album of botanical illustrations made by Elizabeth Montagu (1741–1832), Duchess of Manchester. The presence of a number of Brown’s drawings inside the Duchess’s albums suggests that he may even have been her tutor.

Could the love of flowers expressed in these images encourage you to become an amateur artist yourself? Further inspiration is right outside the gallery in The Huntington’s extensive botanical gardens. Even if you are just as an observer, why not enjoy the beauty of these exquisitely rendered plants and flowers?

Georg Dionysius Ehret (German, 1708-1770), Climbing Lily, 1763, watercolor on vellum. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Melinda McCurdy is associate curator of British art at The Huntington.

British Theater Censorship in the Georgian Era

Edward Dayes (British, 1763–1804), Drury Lane Theatre, 1795, 15 x 22 in. (38.1 x 55.9 cm.), pen and watercolor. Gilbert Davis Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I am convening a conference at The Huntington titled “The Censorship of British Theatre, 1737–1843,” which will take place on Jan. 12 and 13 in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall. Leading experts on 18th- and 19th-century theater will explore the implications of statutory theater censorship as Britain grappled with issues of modernity, race, gender, and religion during a period of imperial expansion and conflict.

For the literary historian or the student of Georgian culture, the most intriguing consequence of the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 was the establishment of the office of the Examiner of Plays. The Examiner assessed the suitability of new dramatic manuscripts for public performance in patent—that is, royally licensed—theaters. Reporting to the Lord Chamberlain, the Examiner had quite remarkable power to determine what might be consumed by audiences.

John Larpent (1741–1824) is the best known Examiner of Plays. Formerly a clerk at the Foreign Office, he took up the position in 1778 and held it until his death in 1824. Fortunately for us, his wife, Anna Larpent, sold his papers—which included most of the plays submitted to previous Examiners from 1737—and they eventually made their way to The Huntington in 1917.

The Larpent Collection comprises more than 2,500 separate manuscript items, many of which contain the various excisions and emendations introduced by the Examiners. While it was rare that a play would be prohibited outright, a significant portion of the collection items have lines or speeches marked “unfit for representation,” “to be omitted,” or are simply scored out, boxed, or marked with an “X.” (Our conference will bring the rich archive of the Larpent plays at The Huntington into dialogue with the British Library’s Lord Chamberlain’s Plays, a repository of theater manuscripts after 1824.)

A censored page of John O’Keeffe’s Jenny’s Whim; or, The Roasted Emperor, 1794. Larpent Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The introduction of the Stage Licensing Act in 1737 formalized a censorship regime that had operated on an ad hoc basis since the restoration of King Charles I in 1660 and the subsequent reopening of the theaters. The genesis of the act is complicated and variegated but the repercussions were certainly potent and long lasting: the censorship of the British stage by the state did not cease until 1968.

One might imagine that there would have been widespread opposition to the Stage Licensing Act in 1737, a time when Britain prided itself on the “liberties” its mixed government (where monarchy was tempered by parliament) was believed to facilitate, so different from the “tyranny” of Continental absolute monarchies. But while there was some unease, notably from politician Lord Chesterfield (1694–1793) and writer Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), the general view was that censorship of the theater was a benign way to ensure the morality, stability, and well-being of the nation and its people—an indication of the centrality of theater to Georgian cultural life.

What might raise an Examiner’s hackles? For the most part, censorship was related to political matters. Then, as now, leading political figures became incensed at satirical impersonation. The introduction of the Stage Licensing Act was motivated partly by prime minster Robert Walpole (1676–1745), who became increasingly irked by the mockery he endured at the hands of the novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding (1704–1754) and others. The first play refused a license was Henry Brooke’s Gustavus Vasa (1739), ostensibly a paean to a 16th-century Swedish patriot, but which was really a visceral attack on the perceived self-interest, ambition, and greed of Walpole’s ministry.

Playwrights occasionally protested their outrage at censorship. In this extract from the preface to Killing No Murder (1809), Theodore Hook insists he had no intention of maligning Methodists in his play. The preface is annotated by an equally irate John Larpent, marking up the falsehoods in Hook’s account of their meetings. Larpent Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Political censorship can be traced right through the years 1737 to 1843, particularly at moments of national crisis: the French Revolution provoked a fraught debate on political reform in Britain which increased nervousness about what might be staged in front of “the people.” John O’Keeffe’s Jenny’s Whim; or, The Roasted Emperor (1794) gives us some idea of contemporary sensitivities. Although the play takes aim at the Emperor of Morocco, the rather frenetic marks on the manuscript make it clear that a satirical attack on any dramatic representation of monarchy was not to be tolerated in the wake of the execution of France’s King Louis XVI.

Matters of sex, religion, and economics were also likely to furrow the brow of an Examiner.  Suggestions of lewd behavior on the part of the upper classes, mockery of religious figures, or references to harsh levels of taxation were systematically excised from the theatrical repertoire. The Larpent manuscripts provide a remarkably revealing narrative of the sensitivities of British society in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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

David O’Shaughnessy is assistant professor in 18th-century studies at Trinity College Dublin. He is the author of William Godwin and the Theatre and co-editor of The Diary of William Godwin. He is currently editing Ireland, Enlightenment and the English Stage, 1740-1820 for Cambridge University Press.

Deep Learning about “Visual Voyages”

Eighth-graders from the Arroyo Seco Museum Science Magnet School in Los Angeles view maps at the exhibition “Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin.” Photo by Martha Benedict.

Last fall, roughly 100 sixth-graders from the Charles W. Eliot Arts Magnet Academy in Altadena, Calif., and 75 eighth-graders from the Arroyo Seco Museum Science Magnet School in Los Angeles came to The Huntington to take part in daylong learning experiences inspired by the exhibition “Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin,” which is on view in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery through Jan. 8, 2018.

Teachers familiarized students with the exhibition ahead of their visits through The Huntington’s “Visual Voyages” instructional tool, an online resource of images and text drawn from the exhibition catalog and labels, and studded with compelling questions intended to stimulate discussion and critical thinking.

Unknown artist, Relación geográfica map of Santiago Atitlán, 1585, ink and watercolor on paper, 24 3/16 x 31 7/8 in. (61.5 x 81 cm.), Joaquín García Icazbalceta Manuscript Collection, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin, JG xx-10.

Once at The Huntington, the students participated in the Visual Voyages Deep Learning Day Program—a learning experience co-facilitated by The Huntington’s education staff and docents, as well as an art educator. During the day, the students enjoyed a cross-collections tour, showcasing “Visual Voyages” and the related exhibitions “Sonic Botany” and “Nuestro Mundo,” as well as a range of complementary stops in the gardens. Then, during the tour, they pondered several provocative questions as they reflected, in particular, on the roles played by indigenous people and women during the time period covered by the exhibition.

Inspired by the tour, the students afterward engaged in hands-on art-making, creating a personal map to share with others. Students also had the opportunity to reflect on and showcase their knowledge of the exhibition through the crafting of a “found poem” in English and Spanish.

“Connecting what they see in the morning with what they do and learn in the afternoon is the key to the program,” says Louise Hindle, public school specialist at The Huntington. “They learn how to engage with the collections and better understand what it means to curate and collect through creative responses.”

Denise Seider (second from right), an art educator at Eliot Arts Magnet Academy, leads an art-making project as part of a Visual Voyages Deep Learning Day at The Huntington. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Denise Seider, an art educator at Eliot Arts Magnet Academy, led the art-making part of the afternoon—the creation of personal maps prompted by maps in the exhibition, such as the 1585 map of Santiago Atitlán, a municipality in present-day Guatemala.

This map was painted in response to a survey distributed by the Spanish Council of the Indies in 1577 to town officials in Mexico and Central America. The goal of the questionnaire was to compile information about each town, including its infrastructure, geography, landscape, flora, fauna, and minerals.

Local artists painted maps that showed both the continuity of native traditions and the radical changes introduced by Europeans. Elements from indigenous art include pictographs providing place names, footprints indicating roads, and wavy lines and whirlwinds marking bodies of water. Such maps presented local visions of the landscape at a time of rapid cultural and social transformation.

Students crafting their “found poem” in English and Spanish from words that appear in the “Visual Voyages” catalog and exhibition labels. Photo by Martha Benedict.

After students studied the maps, Seider led them in a discussion about how contemporary maps, digital and printed, differed from maps in the exhibition. She then taught them how to create a mixed-media collage representing a personal journey. They could take their inspiration from their daily travel to school, their trip to The Huntington, or a journey made by themselves or their ancestors. Students used cut images, maps, and oil pastels to create their artwork.

In addition to personal map making, all students used a collection of words, taken from the exhibition labels and literature, to compose free-verse, found poems. Just like the exhibition labels, the words were in English and Spanish, and opened up the opportunity for students to write a dual-language poem, while simultaneously giving them a moment to reflect, make meaning, and find their creative voices.

A “found poem” by one of the participants in The Huntington’s Visual Voyages Deep Learning Program. Photo by Louise Hindle.

When asked what was the most interesting thing they did or learned on the field trip, several students responded that they liked creating the art and poems. Others enjoyed touching a taxidermy armadillo, looking at a feathered cape, or learning how cacao is turned into chocolate.

And one student summed up the experience like this: “The most interesting thing I did was walk around The Huntington, looking at amazing art and nature.”

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

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.