While Marking 100 Years, Huntington Library Focuses on Future

The Huntington Library
Photo courtesy Huntington Library
The Huntington Library’s new full name looms above the lectern from which President Karen Lawrence addresses guests at an event kicking off the institution’s centennial celebration.

The Huntington Library will take on a (slightly) new name to usher in its next 100 years.
Unveiled last Thursday during the institution’s centennial celebration kickoff, the new formal name — the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens — adopts a simple word switch, with “Museum” taking the place of “Collections.” Nevertheless, the change is meant to reflect the Huntington’s evolving attitude for the future.
“With the word ‘museum,’ we underscore our mission as a collections-based institution that not only collects art but interprets, displays, researches and conserves it, interacting with our varied audiences and showcasing our collections’ relevance to the public,” Huntington President Karen Lawrence said last week.
This mission supports a pledge by the Huntington to broaden its audience beyond its physical location, utilizing digitization to capture and present the institution’s vast collections to devotees worldwide in ways that won’t necessitate the time and expense of travel and reduce the extent to which valuable items are handled — by scholars examining documents, for example.
It also represents opening the
Pandora’s box a little bit more, evidently. Judging from the kickoff celebration and the Huntington exhibitions planned to occur throughout the yearlong centennial, the institution appears willing to
unveil more of its collections that were kept safely under lock and key for decades.
As part of the kickoff program, the Huntington brought in a musical trio to perform one of a set of Harold Bruce Forsythe compositions that were only just brought out of storage. The upcoming exhibition “Nineteen Nineteen” — signifying the year Henry and Arabella Huntington signed the paperwork transforming their estate and collections into the Huntington Library — will include a variety of objects not publicly seen since their acquisition in this millennium.
“Together, they stand out with the likes of their peers in bringing together objects of the past to actively shape the future,” said Christina Nielsen, director of the Art Museum, of the institution’s founders.
It will be another 100 years before one of these exhibitions is shown: The Huntington recently invested in a share of the Future Library project in Norway, where 1,000 spruce trees being planted for harvesting in 2114 will be used to print a series of books that are being or will be written during that time.
“This little acquisition is a vote of confidence in the future of the environment, of art, of books, the written word, and the future of libraries,” Sandra Brooke, director of the library, said at the event last week. “Yes, we are confident our librarian successors will not fail to claim the Huntington’s copy of the long-awaited anthology, but between now and 2114, we are equally confident that millions of other texts, images and objects undiscovered and as yet uncreated will cross the Huntington’s threshold to join this great past, present and future library.”
In building a partnership, the Huntington also will share a portion of the Hammer Museum’s upcoming biennial exhibition, “Made in L.A. 2020,” that begins in June. Visitors to the Hammer will receive day passes to the Huntington to enjoy the other part of the exhibit, an endeavor made possible by the Bank of America.
Among other donors, Lawrence highlighted the contributions of three local couples — Andy and Avery Barth, Lisa and Tim Sloan, and Jerry and Terri Kohl — for helping to make the Huntington’s centennial celebration possible.
Addressing guests at the event, Lawrence detailed how a decade’s worth of correspondence from astronomer George Ellery Hale — a founder of Caltech and the Mount Wilson Observatory — “politely badgered” Henry Huntington to share his vast and growing collection with the world and to see it for the cultural significance it carried.
“As I look out at you — the leaders of Southern California’s and, particularly, L.A.’s cultural, academic and civic institutions — Huntington’s prescience is demonstrably in evidence,” Lawrence said. “Although these two men couldn’t possibly foresee what was produced during those hundred years, it’s a testament to their legacy and Arabella’s that the Huntington annually attracts 1,700 visiting scholars in addition to over 750,000 visitors from around the world.”
Brooke emphasized the importance of the library in documenting the human experience.
“For special collections libraries, all three dimensions of time are always and ever palpably present,” she said. “Our obligation as a library is to all three dimensions of time. Librarians are guardians and champions of the past, collectors of history’s documentary accumulations — from the grand to the quotidian, the laudable to the execrable, the antique to yesterday’s email.”
Nielsen explained how the Huntington’s art galleries have served to inspire artists — including the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Kehinde Wiley, both of whom were enamored with “The Blue Boy” — and reflected on continuing to do that throughout the digital age.
“We’re thinking very deeply about how to unlock more epiphanies from people in our galleries and through expanded online resources,” she said. “How do we share our collections beyond our walls?”
For those who do make it onto the grounds, Jim Folsom, the botanical gardens director, highlighted the individual focus that comes with each planting and how it factors into building and maintaining the Huntington’s acreage.
“For trees, we look further into the future — 80 to 100 years, easily through the end of the century— but in all of our actions, even short-term plantings, we should build soil and capacity,” he said. “Every act can be viewed as an investment. Through immersive experience and programming, gardens also plant ideas and inspiration.”
The kickoff event began with a video showcasing all that the Huntington can offer for visitors, a montage that could as easily be a movie trailer as a promotional clip for those unfamiliar with the institution. The video ended with a simple message that nevertheless captures the spirit of the institution moving forward.
“Make it yours.”

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