Exploring The Huntington, Inside and Out

Dec 29, 2021

The Trust spent the first weekend of December enjoying the warmth of Southern California with a special program at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. The Huntington is a well-visited site, but, as always, there were ample opportunities to learn more. Our guide for the day was Dennis Carr, the Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art, and a Trust member.

We spent the morning in the galleries, beginning with the Grand Manner portrait gallery and continuing to the “Borderlands” installation, a newly debuted American Art installation focusing on artwork crossing physical and intangible boundaries. A highlight of the morning was a close look at Portrait of a Young Gentleman by Kehinde Wiley, a new acquisition commissioned by The Huntington for the 100th anniversary of their purchase of Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy. Wiley grew up in Los Angeles and remembers The Blue Boy distinctly from his formative visits to The Huntington’s galleries. Wiley’s vibrant portrait celebrates the European tradition while making space for a global understanding of who we immortalize in these portraits. Our members enjoyed exploring details from the William Morris and Co. wallpaper enveloping the sitter to the Vans shoes Wiley’s Senegalese model sports, a shoe brand synonymous with Southern California’s iconic skateboard history.

In the afternoon, we moved outdoors to enjoy The Huntington’s more than 130 acres of cultivated gardens, touring the Chinese, Japanese, and Desert Gardens. Phillip Bloom, Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director for the Center for East Asian Garden Studies, advised approaching the Chinese Garden like a book you read and contemplate. The featured installation, A Garden of Words: The Calligraphy of Liu Fang Yuan, demonstrates this linguistic thoughtfulness with a detailed look at how calligraphy is made and appreciated. We wandered through the garden taking in the vignettes created from different viewpoints and appreciating the materials of the garden’s features, such as how a metal beam inside the wooden frame adapts the traditional Chinese structure to withstand California’s frequent earthquakes.

Upon reaching the Japanese Garden, we were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the reassembly of a 17th-century Magistrate’s house being relocated from Marugame, Japan. Through the tour of the construction site, Robert Hori, Gardens Cultural Curator and Programs Director, reminded us that “a garden is never finished” and this is one of many projects underway to preserve and enhance the experience and educational offerings for The Huntington’s visitors. The Huntington acquired this home, inhabited by a single family for more than 300 years, along with a wealth of furniture and objects used by the family. This collection provided a delightful interpretation challenge for Hori and fellow curators. With generations of objects used by the family, such as four generations of bridal chests which cannot all be displayed at once, determining which objects will be shown and which period will be highlighted are challenging curatorial questions. We are eager to visit again when the completed house is unveiled.

Thank you to all our members who joined us for this special program at The Huntington. The Calendar of Events page on our website lists upcoming symposia, Study Trips Abroad, special programs, and virtual programs, and we encourage all to sign up for our e-newsletter for program registration updates. We hope you can join us next year when we return to enjoy more of Southern California during a two-day program focused on design and craft in Los Angeles!

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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