Hummingbird Case History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Are the specimens you used old or new?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can listen to the conference presentations on SoundCloud.

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

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

COLLECTION/S: WCCW/five at The Huntington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deliberate Omissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Lectures: Sept. 5–Nov. 1, 2017

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of five recent lectures and conversations.

The Originality of Milton’s Paradise Lost (Nov. 1, 2017)
David Loewenstein, Erle Sparks Professor of English and Humanities at Penn State, discusses the daring originality of Milton’s Paradise Lost. This year marks the 350th anniversary of the great poem’s first publication in 1667. This talk is part of the Ridge Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Calder: The Conquest of Time (Oct. 30, 2017)
In his groundbreaking biography of American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898–1976), author Jed Perl shows us why Calder was—and remains—a barrier breaker, an avant-garde artist with mass appeal. Perl is joined in conversation by Alexander S. C. Rower, who is both the chairman and president of the Alexander Calder Foundation and Calder’s grandson.

 

Seeing and Knowing: Visions of Latin American Nature, ca. 1492–1859 (Oct. 16, 2017)
Historian Daniela Bleichmar, co-curator of the exhibition “Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin,” discusses the surprising and little-known story of the pivotal role that Latin America played in the pursuit of science and art during the first global era. This talk is part of the Wark Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Isherwood, Auden, and Spender Before the Second World War (Sept. 25, 2017)
Author and sculptor Matthew Spender talks about the friendship between his father, Stephen Spender, and Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden, from the late 1920s until Auden and Isherwood emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. He focuses on the intense relationships between these three British writers, their homeland, and Nazi Germany. This talk is part of the Isherwood-Bachardy Lecture Series at The Huntington.

 

Cartographic Traditions in East Asian Maps (Sept. 5, 2017)
Richard Pegg, Asian art curator of the private MacLean Collection in Chicago, discusses the similarities and differences in representations of space, both real and imagined, in early modern maps created in China, Korea, and Japan. He also examines the introduction of European map-making techniques into Asian cartographic traditions.

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

Celebrating Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

The title page of the first edition of Paradise Lost, 1667, by John Milton (1608–1674). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Ridge Lecture in Literature, which I’ll deliver at The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall on November 1, 2017, is an opportunity to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the first publication of John Milton’s Paradise Lost in 1667. It also gives me the opportunity to assess the daring originality of the greatest epic poem in the English language and one of the most influential works of English literature—a brilliant reimagining of the Bible’s story of the fall of humankind and its tragic consequences.

Milton first published Paradise Lost in 10 books. He then published another edition in 1674 consisting of 12 books, the version familiar to most readers. I’m currently editing a new Oxford University Press edition of Paradise Lost, which will include, for the very first time, versions of both. The first edition rarely receives the attention it deserves. The Huntington possesses no less than 13 copies of the poem’s 10-book edition.

When I discuss the differences between the poem’s two earliest editions, I’ll stress what was revolutionary about the poem. Its focus was not on national, legendary, or martial British history, as one might expect from an epic written in English, but on a topic of broader appeal—the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve.

The opening lines of Paradise Lost, 1667, by John Milton (1608–1674). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

As a godly republican writer who resisted the English monarchy, Milton became increasingly disenchanted with national politics. Yet when it came time to put his thoughts into verse, he settled on a more universal theme based upon the Bible. The story of the temptation of Adam and Eve allowed him to transcend contemporary and topical political controversies (or at least treat them more obliquely), while enabling him to explore, in imaginative ways, major political and religious issues, including political tyranny and religious freedom. His biblical subject was not only historically sound, but international in interest.

This explains why Paradise Lost could appeal to a more general readership—after all, what had greater appeal for Milton’s Protestant audience than retelling the biblical story of humankind’s first fall? It also spoke to religious Dissenters, like Milton himself, who felt they too had “fallen on evil days” (Paradise Lost, Book 7, line 25), when the Stuart monarchy and Church of England were restored in 1660.

By the time the poem was published in its richly illustrated fourth edition of 1688, Paradise Lost had demonstrated its capacity to speak to divergent audiences. Milton’s unorthodox sacred epic, written by a blind and visionary radical Protestant poet, was now bestowed with the cultural authority of an English classic that rivaled its ancient models.

This illustration of the temptation of Adam and Eve, by John Baptist Medina (1659–1710), goes with Book IX in the first illustrated version of Paradise Lost, the 1688 edition. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

My lecture will emphasize the originality of Paradise Lost in two senses: its highly experimental revision of the epic genre, whose martial, imperial, and aristocratic values it subverts; and its exploration of our human origins in its depiction of the domestic life of Adam and Eve.

By placing Adam and Eve at the center of Paradise Lost, Milton gives the epic a much more domestic focus. Going well beyond the terse details of the Bible, Paradise Lost dramatizes the extraordinary intimacy and tensions between them, the tragedy of their fall, and their struggles to recover their strained marriage—all related by Milton with great psychological and emotional nuance. The poem’s originality consequently owes much to its probing and realistic depiction of human intimacy, frailty, and perseverance.

Today, 350 years later, that originality still holds tremendous power.

Illustration of the poet John Milton (1608–1674) in the frontispiece of the 1688 edition of Paradise Lost. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

You can see a copy of the first edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost in the permanent exhibition “Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times” in the Library Exhibition Hall.

You can listen to David Loewenstein’s lecture on SoundCloud.

David Loewenstein’s Nov. 1 lecture, “The Originality of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost'” will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Rothenberg Hall. The event is free and open to the public; no reservations required. Pre-lecture dining: small plates and beverages will be available in the Rose Hills Garden Court outside Rothenberg Hall beginning at 6:30 p.m. (The 1919 café will be closed.)

David Loewenstein is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and the Humanities at Penn State. He is the editor of John Milton, Prose: Major Writings on Liberty, Politics, Religion, and Education (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013); author of Treacherous Faith: The Specter of Heresy in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (Oxford University Press, 2013); and coeditor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion (Cambridge University Press, 2015). He is also an Honored Scholar of The Milton Society of America.

From the Word to the World

Papal indulgence issued by Pope Leo X, Florence, 1515. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, The Huntington is mounting an exhibition that explores the power of the written word as a mechanism for radical change. “The Reformation: From the Word to the World” is on view in the West Hall of the Library from Oct. 28, 2017, to Feb. 26, 2018.

On Oct. 31, 1517, German priest Martin Luther (1483–1546) is said to have posted a document on the door of a church in Wittenberg to contest practices of the Catholic Church. With these “95 Theses,” as his disputes are known, Luther was looking to stimulate thoughtful debate that would clear away corruption and pomp, and thus reform the Church. What followed was a flurry of arguments and ideas put forth by scholars, clerics, and statesmen that fueled a movement called the Reformation.

Horace, Works, Venice, 1483, annotations by Martin Luther (1483–1546). The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“This was an act of protest, yet it was also an act of faith,” says Vanessa Wilkie, the William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington, and the curator of the exhibition. In selecting the 50 items for the exhibition, Wilkie delved into some of the earliest holdings in The Huntington’s vast collection. A papal indulgence issued by Pope Leo X in 1515 emerged, as did an edition of Horace’s Works published in 1483 and heavily annotated in Luther’s own hand.

Papal indulgences, targeted as an abuse by Luther and other clerics, promised the buyer remission of the punishment of sin and raised money for the church. The example on display—a pre-printed form completed for a specific purchaser—lists the blessings to be received by a mother and her sons and notes that the income would go toward building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The annotated Horace, an incunable (a book printed before 1501), indicates not only what Luther read, but also what he gleaned from his reading and how he shaped his arguments. A graphic blow-up of a heavily annotated page from this book greets visitors as they enter the exhibition.

H. Breul and H. Brückner, Life of Martin Luther and Heroes of the Reformation, 1874, hand-colored lithograph, H. Schile; New York. The Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Also on display is a large lithograph from 1864, Life of Martin Luther and Heroes of the Reformation, which valorizes Luther, depicted in the dominant center panel, brandishing his theses. But the lithograph also shows, in miniature portraits in the lower corners, the 14th-century dissidents John Wycliffe (1320–1384) and Jan Hus (1369–1415). “Many see the Reformation as Luther finishing their fight,” says Wilkie. “In his own time, Luther was tied into larger debates taking place across Europe and was not the only cleric to publish justifications for his beliefs.”

The spark of the Reformation spread through reading, writing, and printing practices of the period. Texts were widely disseminated to articulate beliefs, ignite reforms, and attack adversaries. European governments and religious councils, anxious to regain control, banned books to minimize the spread of works they deemed dangerous. Words, texts, images, and prints blurred the divisions between thinkers, heroes, and martyrs. “The Reformation did not just play out in pulpits and on battlefields—it lived on the page,” says Wilkie.

Proclamation signed by Queen Elizabeth I in 1573, requiring the use of the Book of Common Prayer. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Other items on display include early 16th-century prints by Albrecht Dürer, one of the most influential artists of the Reformation, and the 1573 original manuscript proclamation, signed by Queen Elizabeth I, requiring the use of the Book of Common Prayer.

Long after the arrival of the printing press, a handwritten manuscript, by law, served as the original from which proclamations should be printed and distributed. Queen Elizabeth I’s Royal Proclamation against despisers of the Books of Common Prayer of 1573, bearing the monarch’s bold and elegant signature, is a rare surviving example.

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was one of the most influential artists of the Reformation. Pictured here, his engraving of St. Jerome in his Study, 1514. Edward W. and Julia B. Bodman Collection. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A 1514 engraving by Albrecht Dürer, St. Jerome in His Study, stands in contrast to a rendering of this perennially well-loved subject from a lavishly decorated 15th-century Flemish Book of Hours. Dürer reflects the shifting perspectives of his age (he was among the first European artists to inject his own ideas into his work), creating a meticulously detailed portrait of an individual in contemplation. In Dürer’s The Knight, Devil, and Death, the steadfast knight, fired by his moral courage, rides onward despite his lethal pursuers.

A hand-drawn image in a jocular vein, William Bowyer’s “The Voracious Abbot,” from the manuscript collection Heroica Eulogia (1567), skewers the corruption of some clergy. The monk caresses a suckling pig that he’s about to devour.

A public statement from our own age, Shepard Fairey’s Prison Reform poster (2015), applies an older graphic style to a current issue, reminding the viewer that it has a lengthy history.

Shepard Fairey, Prison Reform, 2015. Illustration courtesy of Shepard Fairey/Obeygiant.com.

“The voices of the Reformation had lots of formats to express their views,” says Wilkie. “We have even more today: podcasts, social media, fashion, protest posters.” Visitors can mirror Luther and his peers by writing or drawing on cards that can be affixed to the exhibition’s Gothic door or shared on social media using the hashtag #WordtoWorld.

The exhibition poses questions that can stimulate conversations about how we encounter these themes in our own lives. Wilkie asks, “What is so important to you that you’d nail a statement about it in a public place for all to see? It’s an opportunity to think deeply about how we reinterpret and transform words and images from the past to engage in debates of our own time.”

What do you want to tell the world? And how do you want to share your message?

“The Reformation: From the Word to the World” is on view in the West Hall of the Library from Oct. 28, 2017 through Feb. 26, 2018. The exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Robert F. Erburu Exhibition Endowment.

The related conference, “Globalizing the Protestant Reformations,” which takes place Dec. 8–9, 2017, in Rothenberg Hall, examines how Protestantisms spread across the globe.

You can watch a video of Vanessa Wilkie talking about the significance of one of the items in the exhibition—a private, handwritten version of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer—on YouTube.

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

Artists in the Gardens

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

During the past two months, artist-botanist Zya S. Levy has made 300 plaster casts of cacti. Photo by Kate Lain.

“I’m interested in rarity and abundance coexisting in the same sphere,” says artist-botanist Zya S. Levy. It is late afternoon in August, and Levy and her longtime collaborator, artist Kaitlin Pomerantz, are working at a big table in a backyard in Highland Park, covering cacti with silicon to make molds. Pomerantz is visiting from Philadelphia, where she’s still based, helping Levy with these molds that will eventually become an army of plaster plants.

When Levy and Pomerantz founded their project WE THE WEEDS in Philadelphia a few years ago, they started giving urban tours, showing how natural and human-made environments interacted.

This year, as part of her Huntington residency, Levy has been exploring the tangible, urban effects of collectors who brought exotic plants back to cities like Los Angeles, where they can be found growing on medians or in sidewalk cracks. “These collections have infiltrated our daily lives,” observes Levy.

Levy takes notes on the golden barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii) in The Huntington’s Desert Garden. Photo by Kate Lain.

Levy regularly spots in L.A. yards the same non-native cactus species that she sees in The Huntington’s Desert Garden, even though certain species are now nearly extinct in their places of origin—in some cases due to Western collectors and in others, such as the golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), largely due to habitat destruction. “There weren’t as many cultural constructs around caring for nature,” she says. In a curious twist of fate, the collector has become the conservator, a reality that also informs Levy’s project.

During the past two months, Levy has made 300 plaster casts of cacti, based on models found at Home Depot and Sal’s Cactus Mart in Filmore, California—or discarded on street corners. A total of 150 casts will appear in a group exhibition featuring The Huntington’s seven artists-in-residence in November. Levy built a stair-step structure on which to exhibit them and painted it white. Cast cacti occupy each step, and a display case sits at the top. Additional casts will occupy white-painted crates on the gallery floor. “A cascading display of preciousness,” Levy calls the installation. A parabolic speaker will hang above the installation, broadcasting ambient sounds recorded in Eaton Canyon, on L.A.’s streets, in The Huntington’s gardens, and in New Mexico. These sounds narrate the movement of species from wild to urban settings, from uncultivated to cultivated environments.

A total of 150 of Levy’s cacti casts will appear in a group exhibition featuring The Huntington’s seven artists-in-residence in November. Photo by Kate Lain.

In November, Levy will lead a trio of hour-long walking tours for the public. (All three tours have sold out.) “This interest in ubiquity and rarity leads into the tours,” she says. “I want to highlight plants that are rare in the wild that might be among us.” She will give one tour in downtown L.A.’s Grand Park, another along the streets in Highland Park, and a third in The Huntington’s Desert Garden. She’ll highlight the origins and uses of certain plants. For instance, the Canary Islands dragon tree, Dracaena draco, grows in the Desert Garden. “The red resin sap was used for incense, and its resin was used for embalming people,” she explains, though this is just one example. “All plants have great stories.”

A different tree has become a protagonist in both Sarita Dougherty’s painting and Olivia Chumacero’s video work. The two artists had been working on a collaborative project in an uncultivated part of The Huntington’s grounds not open to the public, when both connected with the Oaxacan weeping pine, Pinus patula, an elegant tree with drooping limbs and long needles that fall downward, like threads held in an invisible hand. “I remember this pine tree because I used to come rest and eat under it,” says Chumacero, who worked on the grounds in the mid-2000s, when she helped Metabolic Studio transplant trees from the now-razed South Central Farm to The Huntington.

Artist Sarita Dougherty paints in an uncultivated part of The Huntington’s grounds. Photo by Kate Lain.

“I was looking more for an oak tree,” says Dougherty, sitting on a blanket, painting as she speaks. A stand of mugwort between an oak tree and the pine will be the centerpiece of her painting. “But every time I saw the pine, I just thought it was so beautiful that I had to paint it as well.” Earlier in the spring, she painted a California lilac in full bloom. Chumacero filmed this plant, too. Both were drawn to it, even though they hadn’t discussed it.

Dougherty and Chumacero come early on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when it’s quiet, and work in a lightly trodden area of the gardens. Both artists study the healing and nourishing properties of plants—Chumacero’s livelihood comes from leading workshops on indigenous and medicinal species. Since their Huntington residency began, they’ve been interested in the contrast between the cultivated and uncultivated land, and in different definitions of collecting.

Artist Olivia Chumacero records the sound of a waterfall in The Huntington’s Japanese Garden to include in her video work. Photo by Kate Lain.

At first, in the spring, the two artists tried making work in the public, more closely tended gardens. Dougherty finished a few small paintings of plants in bloom, but none of these will be in the group exhibition in November. “We found that the plants back here have so many more stories to tell, maybe because they aren’t as tended to,” Dougherty explains. “So, they’ve made complex relationships with each other. We’re able to see that they’ve been here a really long time.”

“They’re not manicured and cultivated like the rest of the garden,” says Chumacero. She shot video both of the spring bloom and the dormant season. Now she’s editing the footage. The videos, each around five minutes long, will loop on a single monitor installed near Dougherty’s paintings, when the exhibition opens. Chumacero also harvested some long needles from the weeping pine and gave them to basket weaver Cindi Alvitre of the Tongva maritime Ti’at Society. The resulting basket will be in the exhibition as evidence of the symbiotic relationship between humans and plant life.

“Just being back here painting is the best thing,” says artist Sarita Dougherty, as she works in quiet in a lightly trodden area of The Huntington’s grounds. Photo by Kate Lain.

“Just being back here painting is the best thing,” says Dougherty, the pine tree still the most prominent figure in her in-progress painting. “It’s gorgeous, and the plants are so vibrant.” In addition to two paintings, she’s designed a wallpaper that she calls Domestic Flora, based on the native plants and animals in the garden. A strip of it will be installed in the galleries in November. “The idea is that someone could decorate their home based on native flora,” she explains, “because that’s our hope, that we can increase the visibility of these plants and ecosystems.” She continues, “In the eyes of many collectors, the native plants haven’t really had the same value as exotics from other places. So, we’re pulling attention to the amazing beauty of all of these plants that support each other.”

Says Chumacero, “The native flora has evolved on these lands for thousands if not millions of years, and they continue to feed us, keep us in good health, as well as feed all the native pollinators, of which there are thousands here. I am willing to do as much as possible so that they can survive.”

Related content on Verso:

Artists in the Library (Sept. 11, 2017)
Art Inspiring Art (Aug. 9, 2017)
Engaging with the Collections (June 29, 2017)
Women Making Art (March 30, 2017)

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

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

To Paint without Thinking

The exhibition “Frederick Hammersley: To Paint without Thinking” runs from Oct. 21, 2017, to Jan. 22, 2018, in the Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. Co-curated by James Glisson¸ the Bradford and Christine Mishler Associate Curator of American Art at The Huntington, and Alan Phenix, scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute, the exhibition is accompanied by a catalog from which this excerpt is taken.

Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009), Study for Seedling, #4 1967, Page 20 of Notebook #3, Bound fabric-covered sketchbook with graphite and ink, 8 1/16 x 6 1/2 in. Getty Research Institute. Copyright Frederick Hammersley Foundation.

Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009), a longtime resident of Los Angeles and later of Albuquerque, is best known for his geometric paintings, which the critic Jules Langser in 1959 grouped with other works he called “hard edge” paintings. The elegant simplicity of Hammersley’s paintings, however, was the result of a rigorous process of refinement, worked out in a set of sketchbooks and archival materials now at the Getty Research Institute. These Notebooks, as he designated them, reveal him running through possibilities until he happened upon the solution.

Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009), Studies for Adam & Eve, #2 1970, and Seedling, #4 1967, Page 25 of Composition Book, Sketchbook with graphite and colored pencil, 10 7/8 x 8 1/4 in., Getty Research Institute. Copyright Frederick Hammersley Foundation.

The page where he tests out options for the composition of Adam & Eve shows that he used the Notebooks to resolve the precise geometric composition and to establish a basic color scheme, which he fine-tuned later as he mixed and applied paint. Although he still had to make choices as he executed his paintings, the studies in the Notebooks, like a set of instructions, largely guided him. By figuring out the big decisions before he began the paintings, Hammersley could sit down and focus on applying the paint with a palette knife to achieve his fantastically crisp edges, which he did by hand without the aid of masking tape. In the “geometrics,” as he called his geometric paintings, he could “paint without thinking” because the thinking, so to speak, had been done in the Notebooks. The questions of what to paint was settled, and he had to worry only about the how.

Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009), Seedling, #4 1967, Screenprint, ed. 17/29, Sheet: 17 x 12 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gift of the Frederick Hammersley Foundation. 2015.10.26. Copyright Frederick Hammersley Foundation.

When I first saw the Hammersley archival material at the Getty in January 2014, I immediately wanted to organize an exhibition around it. On that afternoon I looked, in a rush, through hundreds of small lithographs, examined dozens of color swatches, leafed through the artist’s Notebooks, and passed my eyes over his sheets of titles. The sheer quantity of materials and the evident care the artist had lavished on creating and preserving them impressed on me that they were neither mere records nor material ancillary to his paintings. This exhibition is the first to highlight the archival trove Hammersley left in his home/studio at the time of his death, and to argue from its abundant evidence that the artist was profoundly concerned with the process by which he created artworks—the technical elements he used (canvas, paints, and varnishes and their application) and the decision making, all the choices that, little by little, bring an artwork into the world.

Frederick Hammersley (1919–2009), Adam & Eve, #2 1970, Oil on linen on Masonite, 44 x 44 in., Collection Palm Springs Art Museum, Gift of L.J. Cella and museum purchase with funds derived from deaccession funds. Copyright Frederick Hammersley Foundation.

To complement the exhibition, The Huntington has published Frederick Hammersley: To Paint without Thinking, an illustrated catalog edited by James Glisson, with contributions from Alan Phenix, scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute; Kathleen Shields, executive director at the Frederick Hammersley Foundation; and Nancy Zastudil, administrative director at the Frederick Hammersley Foundation. The catalog is available for purchase online at the Huntington Store.

The presentation of the exhibition “Frederick Hammersley: To Paint without Thinking” at The Huntington has received generous support from the Frederick Hammersley Foundation and the Susan and Stephen Chandler Endowment for Exhibitions of American Art. The exhibition catalog has received generous support from the Frederick Hammersley Foundation.

James Glisson is the Bradford and Christine Mishler Associate Curator of American Art at The Huntington.

The Rise of the Newspaper

Manuscript newsletters from London, 1689–1710. Huntington Manuscript 30659, f. 115. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Between 1600 and 1900, the newspaper began to occupy a central position in the modern societies of Europe and North America. These publications helped make information current and critical, legitimate and public. They served as the focal point of daily reading, as the frame for opinion-gathering and opinion-making, as the inevitable site of publicity.

To explore the emergence of the newspaper and its eventual monopoly on public information, we have organized a conference titled “The Rise of the Newspaper in Europe & America: 1600–1900.” The Huntington Library has major holdings in periodical writing—both newspapers and journals—from 17th-century manuscript “news-letters” to the mass circulation dailies of 19th-century Britain and the United States. The conference will take place on October 13 and 14, 2017, in The Huntington’s Rothenberg Hall.

It is only now, in the early 21st century, with the newspaper’s gradual but steady loss of dominance, that we are finally beginning to calculate our debt to it and see more clearly its historical trajectory. By going back to the epoch when the newspaper rose to media centrality—aided by new printing technologies, the postal system, the railroad, and the telegraph—we can better understand the basis of its importance and value and its widespread impact, both positive and negative.

The Morning Post, and Daily Advertiser, No. 1190, August 17, 1776. London: Printed by R. Haswell. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Here are a few of the topics that our conference will explore.

The Newspaper’s Invention
Although many early print forms, from royal proclamations to broadsides and ballads, transmit news in an occasional way, the newspaper is characterized by reliable, periodic publication. How is the newspaper at its origins linked with commerce, politics, and events of enormous consequence, including the American and French Revolutions? Is the newspaper’s claim to truth fundamental or specious? How is it implicated in one of its most familiar features, the advertisement? And how did readers deal with the introduction of the newspaper, which, according to the scholar Andrew Pettegree, “offered what must have seemed like random pieces from a jigsaw, and an incomplete jigsaw at that.”

Fashioning the Reader Interface
Over its long history, newspapers went from a two-column to an eight-column layout; introduced the headline; pushed ads off the front page; systematized the byline; and then incorporated more and more subgenres, such as book reviews, human-interest stories, excerpts from books, and advice columns. Then, with the penny press, they became pocketable and inexpensive. What were the factors that produced the changing face and steady expansion of the newspaper?

The Spectator, London, England, March 13, 1711. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Sensation vs. Objectivity
ISIS videos are just the latest examples of the news appeal of gruesome acts and disasters of all kinds. While crime and collective disasters were present in the earliest newspapers, the introduction of the telegraph and the news services that used it allowed disasters from around the world to become part of the daily read. Charles Dickens, among others, condemned this aspect of 19th-century American newspapers. Have newspapers—perhaps in some eras more than others—engendered a sense that we live in uniquely dangerous times? On the other side of the spectrum, how should we understand the newspapers’ mid-19th-century turn from partisanship to “objectivity”?

Readers as Agents and Consumers
Newspapers have a complex and inconsistent relationship with their readers. They both influence and reflect public opinion. They may welcome reader participation (letters to the editor) or exclude it (by race, gender, class, and overt censorship). Does the newspaper build or damage community? Does it create “imagined communities” or foster social fragmentation? How can the serious aims of newspapers (such as criticism of culture) be reconciled with their use primarily as entertainment?

The goal of the conference is to foster dialogue among scholars of the newspaper from history, literary studies, and media studies. Can the historical study of the newspaper give us terms with which to parry strident accusations of “fake news”?

You can listen to the conference presentations on SoundCloud.

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

William Warner is professor of English at UC Santa Barbara. Rachael Scarborough King is assistant professor of English at UC Santa Barbara.