The Huntington Library struck gold in Pasadena last week.
The centenarian institution joined forces with a fellow California hallmark — the Rose Parade — on New Year’s Day, making its first appearance in float form in the last half-century. Its return was well received: the library earned the Golden State Award from the Tournament of Roses, bestowed on the float for “most outstanding depiction of life in California.”
“It was a beautiful day and the float turned out exactly as we hoped,” said Randy Shulman, the Huntington’s vice president for advancement and external relations, in a phone interview. “I think it reflected the Huntington that people know and gave people some laughs. It reflected the beauty of the Huntington’s attractions and also the great variety of the collections from all areas of the Huntington. Everything was represented, which was nice.”
The decision for the Huntington Library to return to the Rose Parade is part and parcel of its ongoing centennial celebration, which ushered in a look to the future for the cultural oasis.
“As we seek to broaden our audiences at the Huntington, what better way to do it than through the wide exposure of the Rose Parade?” explained Huntington Library President Karen Lawrence, in response to an email inquiry. “It offered an ideal opportunity for the Huntington on this momentous occasion of its 100th birthday — truly a once-in-a-century endeavor.
“It was an honor to receive the Golden State award,” Lawrence continued, “and one that makes sense given that the Huntington is an exceedingly important cultural resource in the state, and in fact holds one of the largest collections of historical materials on California and the West.”
The Huntington Library’s float from 50 years ago came by way of the city of San Marino, and included the iconic “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie” paintings as part of the decor. This year, the float — titled “Cultivating Curiosity” — included a variety of cacti and rose props in addition to real Huntington landmarks: the Pavilion of the Three Friends from the Chinese Garden, the Rose Garden Tempietto; the Japanese Moon Bridge from the Japanese Garden; the paintings “Breakfast in Bed” and “Long Leg”; a backdrop of the Ellesmere manuscript of “The Canterbury Tales”; and a depiction of the famed corpse flower, which most recently bloomed in July.
In working on a float in-house, Shulman explained that inspiration came from the usual source: the library employees’ and volunteers’ first introduction to the Huntington’s wonder.
“There were almost a thousand people working on this float,” he said. “Everybody who worked on this float had a story about how they were involved or connected to the Huntington, and they are all charming and wonderful stories. The real joy of working on the project was seeing all the ways in which these people are involved with the Huntington.”
Lawrence, who took on the role of president in 2018, described her inaugural Rose Parade ride as “rewarding and truly unforgettable.” She also remained mum on whether the Huntington Library had aspirations to return next year, or in future years.
“We are still very much feeling the magic of the 2020 float experience, and with a whole raft of activity left in our Centennial celebration — which runs through September — we want to concentrate on 2020,” Lawrence said. “This was an absolutely amazing experience and a banner moment that we want to savor.