Fellows Visit to “Nineteen Nineteen,” the Centennial Exhibition at the Huntington Library

Curator James Glisson gave a very informative and fascinating lecture to the Fellows of Robinson Gardens on the exhibition, also curated by Jennifer A. Watts, “Nineteen Nineteen” at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens on October 29, 2019. This major exhibition of more than 250 objects celebrates the Huntington Centennial, as the museum was founded in 1919. James said, “The Huntington houses 11 million items. With a few exceptions, the show exhibits items that were acquired, exhibited, made, copyrighted, or altered in 1919.”

Loosely organized into five sections depicting themes of Fight, Return, Map, Move, and Build, “the exhibition strives to re-create the experience of history as you move through it,” explained James. With the war ending, and the presence of a flu epidemic, high inflation, race riots, and labor strikes everywhere, 1919 was a turbulent year.

In the first section, Fight, German Revolution posters, photos of women wearing surgical masks during the flu epidemic in Pasadena, and other items are shown. “All is not gloom and doom, however,” added James. “The happy part is represented by the suffrage material in the magazines we have.” Suffragists cheered the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women voting rights in all elections.

In the next section, Return, there are photos of soldiers returning from the war, and a nostalgic look back at the past through charming illustrated books, posters and sheet music. In the Map section, photos of the moon and star clusters taken by the telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory depict the mapping of the skies. There is also Lawrence of Arabia’s autograph album from the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, signed by David Lloyd George, Clemenceau and others, which led to the drawing of new national boundaries.

One special item that has never been displayed before is a 39 foot hand drawn map that shows the route of Henry Huntington’s Pacific Electric Railway with adjacent real estate parcels. “A land and real estate developer, Huntington made a lot of money from the selling of the subdivided plots directly along the railway. Particularly in Pasadena, you see how much Huntington shaped Los Angeles down to the lot lines we have today,” said James. In the Move section, automobile and aeronautic material is displayed. James said, “Because the war is over and people start to have money and resources, the automobile ownership rates go through the roof.”

In 1919, Huntington showed his favorite books at the prestigious New York Authors Book Club to a group of his book collector friends. “This material is fantastic,” James enthused. “We have the only copy that exists of Benjamin Franklin’s manuscript from his autobiography. We have John Ruskin’s hand drawn illustrations in his book The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and we have the cabinet minutes of George III’s confidential meetings about the War of Independence where he says we lost the war.” Also showcased in the vitrine are Aaron Burr’s journal when he was in exile in Europe and the memoirs of the great Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Next to this remarkable case, there are three striking paintings of George Washington, handsomely displayed on navy blue colored walls.

On August 30, 1919, Henry and Arabella Huntington signed the trust document that created the Huntington as a public institution. In the last section, Build, there is a beautiful illustration by the architect Myron Hunt of the Library. There are also photos of the library staff and some of the 70 gardeners that Huntington employed. One of the photos is of the very organized and meticulous first director of the gardens, William Hertrich. He was hired in 1906 and worked at the Huntington for 50 years. For a short time, Hertrich worked with Huntington to grow oranges commercially. There is a lovely Huntington Packing Association citrus crate label depicting a toucan.

Superintendent Timothy Lindsay told the attendees that when Henry Huntington visited Robinson Gardens, he brought Virginia a gift of a cutting of the Organ Pipe Cactus. This plant that blooms in the Front Garden at VRG is a lovely reminder of the connection between the Huntington and the Virginia Robinson Gardens.

Be sure not to miss this remarkable and unique exhibition which will be on view through January 20, 2020. There is an excellent and richly illustrated catalog written by Watts and Glisson that accompanies the show.

The group then enjoyed a wonderful three-course luncheon at Arbour restaurant in Pasadena. A big thank you to our amazing Fellows Chair Jeanne Anderson who organized such a marvelous and memorable outing for the members!

Post and photos by Linda Meadows
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member



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