As 2022 draws to a close, we invite you to look back at some of our favorite Verso stories from the past year. Below is a selection of posts, one from each of the past 12 months, highlighting what makes The Huntington such a remarkable place.
In January, journalist Lynne Heffley provided an update on the Japanese Heritage Shōya House. The Huntington’s reconstruction of this 17th-century Japanese magistrate’s house—which was shipped to the United States in pieces in 2020 from Marugame, Japan—has made remarkable progress since a formal Shinto roof-raising ceremony marked the historic building’s early stage of reassembly in May 2021. Read “Reconstructing the Japanese Heritage House.”
Alyssa Collins, assistant professor of English language and literature and African American studies at the University of South Carolina, became The Huntington’s first Octavia E. Butler Fellow for the study of the renowned science fiction writer. Butler (1947–2006) was the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur “genius grant” and the first African American woman to win widespread recognition writing in that genre. The Huntington holds Butler’s archive. In February, Collins talked about how she became interested in Butler, what led her to The Huntington, and her experience as a research fellow. Read “Interview with Octavia E. Butler Fellow Alyssa Collins.”
For The Huntington’s 2022 Founders’ Day celebration, acclaimed writer Charles Yu joined Huntington Trustee Simon K.C. Li in conversation before a live audience. Yu won the National Book Award for his most recent book, Interior Chinatown, which he has been adapting into a series for Hulu. He and Li discussed Yu’s experiences writing in multiple genres, the role of fiction in constructing identity, and the current dialogue about identity and race in America. Read “Charles Yu in Conversation.”
About 500 Valencia orange trees are growing at The Huntington. Some of the fruit is harvested by and donated to Food Forward, a Los Angeles–based nonprofit organization that brings fresh surplus produce to people experiencing food insecurity. Other oranges are transformed into sweet marmalade. In 2003, the Huntington Store and the Botanical Gardens teamed up with E. Waldo Ward & Son to produce the sweet orange marmalade sold in the gift shop—a bestseller since it was introduced nearly 20 years ago. Read “History with A Peel.”
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of time that people, particularly youngsters, spent focused on screens was an issue of concern. When California issued its stay-at-home order in March 2020, this only exacerbated the issue. That summer, Sarah Wilson, the director of education at the Autry Museum of the American West, had an idea: bring together key museum education staff from cultural institutions throughout Los Angeles to find an innovative way to serve the needs of children and families beyond online learning. The Betye Saar Art Box is a collaboration among the Autry Museum, the California African American Museum, the Hammer Museum, The Huntington, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Read “Thinking Outside the (Art) Box.”
Curator of Photography Linde Lehtinen and Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art Dennis Carr wrote in June about American photographer Laura Aguilar (1959–2018). Often featuring her own body in compositions, Aguilar’s photographs explore a variety of themes and subject matter—from lesbian and Chicana identity to interventions with the Western landscape to cultures and subcultures of Los Angeles. Through a collaboration with Aguilar’s estate, The Huntington acquired a significant group of the artist’s photographs. Read “Laura Aguilar’s California.”
In the botanical world, the Amorphophallus titanum, or Titan Arum (nicknamed the Corpse Flower), has been an A-list celebrity since the first specimen in cultivation bloomed at London’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 1889—an event that drew thousands of spectators from Britain and abroad. Indeed, growing these tropical giants has become immensely popular at many botanical gardens. The Huntington first acquired one in March 1999, and five months later, the Scott Gallery Loggia was the site of the first recorded flowering of Titan Arum in California. Since then, 21 more have bloomed at The Huntington. Read “Titanic Mysteries.”
In August, Olga Tsapina, the Norris Foundation Curator of American History, wrote about a letter by President Abraham Lincoln that was known as the first condolence letter of the Civil War. In the predawn hours of May 24, 1861, the 11th Regiment of New York Infantry disembarked from steamers in Alexandria, Virginia. The men, commanded by Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth (1837–1861), who was only 24 years old, met no resistance. Ellsworth had sent two companies to occupy the railroad depot and telegraph office before he spotted the Confederate flag that had been clearly visible from the White House ever since Virginia had joined the Confederacy on May 7. The flag was affixed to a pole on the rooftop of a three-story hotel called Marshall House. Ellsworth, unarmed, ran up the stairwell to the roof. As he was descending the stairs, with the flag in his hands, he was shot, point-blank, by the hotel’s owner. The next day, Lincoln sat down to write a letter of condolence to Ellsworth’s parents, and that letter is currently on display in the Library’s Main Exhibition Hall. Read “Beyond All Earthly Power.”
Famed British novelist Hilary Mantel died suddenly on Sept. 22, 2022. Mary Robertson, The Huntington’s former William A. Moffett Curator of British Historical Manuscripts, remembers Mantel’s extraordinary talent and their shared interest in Thomas Cromwell (ca. 1485–1540), King Henry VIII’s powerful and notorious chief minister. In 2005, Mantel decided to write about Cromwell, who had been the subject of Robertson’s 1975 doctoral dissertation at UCLA. From that time onward, they corresponded about their mutual interest while Mantel produced her award-winning trilogy of novels based on Cromwell’s life: Wolf Hall (2009), Bring Up the Bodies (2012), and The Mirror and the Light (2020). Mantel’s papers are housed at The Huntington. Read “Remembering Hilary Mantel.”
In 1865, the El Nuevo Mundo newspaper of San Francisco invited its readers to join in toasting Mexico’s heroes and roasting its imperialist enemies by printing brindis, or toasts, performed by women of the Zaragoza Club of Los Angeles and the Patriotic Club of Mexico of Virginia City, Nevada. Vanessa Ovalle Perez—assistant professor of English at California State University, San Bernardino, and a 2022–23 Barbara Thom Postdoctoral Fellow at The Huntington—writes that members of these clubs were mostly lower- and middle-class Mexican and Mexican American women. The Huntington’s El Nuevo Mundo collection contains details of lively fundraising parties, organized by the clubs, where the brindis were given. Read “Toasting Mexico, Roasting Imperialism.”
The Huntington supports strong conservation horticulture with a staff that includes experts in taxonomy, seed collection, research, and propagation techniques. Together with other botanical gardens, The Huntington also helps maintain populations of plants that are particularly threatened in their natural habitats, so if they become extinct in the wild, they will not be lost entirely. In addition, The Huntington hosts the U.S. office of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), which connects it to the largest network of botanical gardens and plant conservation experts in the world. Read “Rooted in Conservation.”
What can architecture aspire to be? Award-winning architect and educator Billie Tsien has some ideas and shared them in conversation with Huntington President Karen R. Lawrence as part of The Huntington’s “Why It Matters” series. Tsien and husband Tod Williams are the founders of the New York–based firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, and she is the Charles Gwathmey Professor in Practice at Yale University. Among her firm’s projects is the Obama Presidential Center, underway in Jackson Park, Chicago. Tsien and Williams’ firm was chosen from among 140 architecture firms worldwide to design the center. Read “Making a Better World through Architecture.”
Thank you for your interest in Verso. We look forward to sharing another year of wonderful stories with you in 2023.
Kevin Durkin is the editor of Verso and the managing editor in the Office of Communications and Marketing at The Huntington.