the huntington estate: rodents and naughty bad bads

This weekend I had the interesting privilege of visiting the Huntington Botanical Gardens in…uh, somewhere. It’s actually somewhere near Pasadena. Anyway, I’m not even sure where it is, because if I’m following somebody down the freakin’ freeway, then I’m not thinking much about global positioning and objective direction, am I? Anyway, to the left is a picture of some kids who were there. Do I know them? Nope. Did I take this picture? Nope. They have matching hats, though, and that’s bad-ass enough in my book. Why, I can’t deny just how freakin’ righteous the duality of the matching hat combo is! They deserve to have a book published to commemorate their dodger-blue-bonnet-brilliance. Anyway, so, WHY would I go to a “botanical garden”, you ask?

Why, to observe all the amazing foliage, of course! In the participation of any creative effort, it is important to GO out in nature and find observational parallels that can be applied to the scheme at hand. This involves doing things like looking at plants all day!

Oh, yeah, I saw this mother Duck and her babies, and mom jumped up on a ledge and her babies couldn’t make it, cause the ledge was steep. I went over thinking, “Awwww, cute wittle ducky….!” She, on the other hand retorted with a “SSSSSSSS…” I took even and cautious steps backwards before crying to myself. Then I POUNCED on the duck and GNAWED on it’s BEAK. Here I am on a tangent again. Let’s get back to the lesson, shall we? The prologue to the conception of this beautiful creation involves a wealthy landowner and a taste for repositioning physical realities to other locations, of course!

Mr. Huntington’s Ranch: A Century of Transformation

A Special “Estate Centennial” Exhibition January 31, 2003 – January 4, 2004

“I tell you, Hertrich, there is no place as nice as the ranch!” So Henry Huntington enthused one spring day to William Hertrich, superintendent of the gardens from 1905 to 1949. January 2003 marks the 100th anniversary of Henry Edwards Huntington?s purchase of the J. de Barth Shorb estate , the ?San Marino Ranch?, the site of what has evolved into The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. This ?estate centennial? is being celebrated with a special year-long exhibition, on view beginning Jan. 31 in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery.

The collection of images and materials in this special exhibit celebrates the evolution of The Huntington over the past century from a working ranch to a residence to the world-renowned collections-based research and educational institution it is today. Henry Huntington was a businessman and a collector, and the one activity underwrote the other. His collecting interests spanned rare books and manuscripts, botanical specimens, and 18th and 19th century British and American art the latter cultivated by his marriage in 1913 to Arabella Duval Huntington. He loved Southern California and found his greatest pleasures here.

The exhibit comprises three sections: one detailing the grounds and their evolution over the past century; one devoted to the buildings that have existed on the property; and one focusing on the people staff, scholars and visitors who have made the institution what it is today. The growth of the Huntington has occurred the way most things grow: in fits and starts, and at different speeds depending on the seasons and the amount of available light. While the full scope of The Huntington?s endeavors is too large to tell in any one show, the exhibit does, however, illustrate the transformation which has taken place here: an evolution of thought, purpose and deed.

Grounds for Celebration: The Evolution of the Gardens and Green Spaces

“Land really is the best art,” Andy Warhol once noted, and in the Huntington’s case, some of the most artful views are to be found outdoors. The size of the estate has changed (from over 600 acres in Huntington?s time) to its current 207 acres, and the number of gardens has increased substantially (from four during Huntington?s lifetime to the current eleven gardens, with the first phase of a new Chinese garden scheduled for completion in 2006).

Building for the Future: The Structures of the Huntington

The buildings, like the grounds, have been transformed over the past century: the Huntington residence is now an art gallery, the Tea Room was once a bowling alley and billiard room, and the Boone Gallery was once the Huntington?s garage. Some buildings are no longer here Arabella Huntington?s large aviary is gone, for instance, as are a number of the cottages which used to house employees on the grounds. Other new buildings have been designed to stand in for old ones: the large lath house, used for growing and propagating plants, has been replaced by the shimmering new Conservatory, which has been designed with the same outline and symmetry as the original Lath House.

The Engine of Success : The People of the Huntington

The Huntington would not exist without its visitors, its body of scholars, and its dedicated staff. At least 20 million people have passed onto the Huntington property since it first opened to the public on March 18, 1925. Scholars at the Huntington over the decades have included some 20 Pulitzer Prize-winning historians, scores of award-winning authors, writers and researchers, and thousands of scholars working on doctoral dissertations, articles, books, and other blog. The institution has also been a professional ?home? to some remarkable people over the decades. Frederick Jackson Turner, among the most important of American historians, was the Huntington?s first research director. Former President Herbert Hoover was a member of Board of Trustees, as were renowned astronomers Edwin Hubble and George Ellery Hale. And there have been many hundreds more ?unsung heroes,? the men and women who have worked behind the scenes to acquire, inventory, organize, protect, and make available to scholars and visitors some of the world?s great treasures.

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All in all: this place is MOST exceptional! There is such an onslaught of sensory glory! What I find most fascinating, of course, are all the microcosms of culture that thrive and pulsate on the tip of a plant’s branch. There was this one plant, though, it was funny looking because it was a furry cactus with eyes like a hoot-owl.

We spent about 3 or 4 hours hiking through just a 25% of the surrounding garden area! The gardens shift in make and visual combination without boundary, complete with a Japanese bamboo forest, garden, and Koi the size of human children! I was recording everything with my video camera, just to have the thing poop out right when I was entering into the Bonsai tree garden. You can bet I was a bit POed by this, but no sweat: I’m getting a MEMBERSHIP!

The Huntington also makes refuge to one of the most “…comprehensive collections in this country of British and French art of the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition to being home to Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Lawrence’s Pinkie, the gallery also has special changing exhibitions. The Virginia Steele Scott Gallery of American Art brings together American paintings from the 1730s to the 1930s, a permanent exhibition devoted to the work of early 20th-century architects Charles and Henry Greene, as well as changing exhibitions…..

During the course of the afternoon, I was able to visit just one of the many sprawling exhibits that comprise the estate’s collection of imagery and manuscripts. Speaking of which, they have some totally SWEET and original documents inked by none other than Mark Twain! Also on display, original artwork done for the Audubon Society! Man, those books are HUGE! They’re about 4 feet high by 4 feet wide, at LEAST! I felt like a little kid again, miniaturized by the breadth of those colossal libros !

Now, to wrap up this totally superb trip, I must explain the tale of airborne number-one from the rodent family. I walking underneath this cactus, it was a pretty large cactus, approximately 25 feet high, but that’s not the point. The POINT IS, there was a squirrel up in this cactus, and he was taking a WIZZ out of the cactus ONTO the ground. If he had turned a few degrees MY direction, I bet he could have made ME his biological target of choice! I, mean, if I were a squirrel and had nothing to do, while hundreds of unsuspecting targets were milling about below ME, I sure as HECK would commence on the golden shower for sure!….Wizzz!….Ping! Ping!……And then scurry up into an area of the foliage invisible to the public and laugh! LAUGH! LAUGH!!! HAHAHAAA!

The moral of this story?

Visit your local conservatory, breath and absorb the rich aroma of existence, and stay alert for bushy-tailed sharpshooters in dense clusters of western landscape.