from The Magazine ANTIQUES, May/June 2012 |
Its name, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, pretty well covers what this singular institution in San Marino, California, is all about. But it hardly begins to tell the story. The creation of Henry E. Huntington, a man with forward-looking business sense and retrospective tastes in art and literature, the Huntington today is moving ahead in a number of adventurous ways that honor and illuminate the past. Last fall, for example, Harold B. “Hal” Nelson, curator of American decorative arts, in collaboration with The Magazine Antiques, invited seven notable California artists to explore the ways in which their work carries on and expands Huntington’s legacy.
The grand loggia along the east side of the Huntington Art Gallery remains much as it was when built, to the designs of Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey, as the residence of Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927) and his second wife, Arabella (1850-1924). The museum opened in 1928.
Before we get to these artists and their discoveries, it is useful to understand that legacy and how it came about. Having made his fortune as a railroad executive under the aegis of his uncle Collis P. Huntington-one of the “big four” who brought the railroad across the continent-Henry Huntington moved to Los Angeles in 1902, recognizing its promise as one of the country’s most important cultural, agricultural, and commercial centers. He established transportation and electric power systems, bought up huge tracts of land for development, and acquired a working ranch for himself, with acres of citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, and glorious views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The Huntington Art Gallery, which recently underwent a major renovation, now houses the institution’s European art collections.
About 1910, while building a commodious Beaux-Arts house that took in the glorious views, Huntington turned from business to his life-long passion for books. Focusing on American and British history and literature, he swept up whole libraries of rare volumes and manuscripts, often at enormous prices, including a copy of the Gutenberg Bible bought for fifty thousand dollars in 1911, then the highest price ever paid for a book. By the time he began to collect art, in 1907, Huntington was spending his time with his uncle’s widow, Arabella, one of the most important collectors of the day and the person who undoubtedly helped to sharpen his eye. The collection of eighteenth-century grand manner British portraits that Huntington assembled, as a complement to his interests in British literature, remains unequalled outside of England. In 1913 he and Arabella married and they continued to collect-broadening the collection to include her avid interest in French decorative arts.
Huntington’s third great passion was for plants, derived in part from his desire to find ones that would grow well in Southern California and so help fulfill the region’s agricultural potential. The avocado seeds he brought home from lunch at his gentlemen’s club eventually led to what is generally credited with being the first commercial avocado growth in California. Huntington and his landscape gardener William Hertrich stalked local nurseries and imported plants from around the world to mold the ranch into a botanical garden of rare and exotic specimens, creating lily ponds, habitats for palms, desert plants, and roses, as well as a Japanese Garden, the formal North Vista, and the landscaping around the house.
Before his death in 1927 Huntington developed a plan to preserve his library, art collection, and gardens, envisioning the whole as a center for research and scholarly endeavor but allowing it to grow and change over time. And so it has: the library holdings now range from the eleventh century to the present and include photographs, prints, and ephemera as well as books and manuscripts, while the gardens constitute more than fifteen thousand varieties of plants in more than a dozen principal habitats, including an Australian Garden, Subtropical Garden, Shakespeare Garden, and, the most recent, Liu Fang Yuan, or the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of private gardens designed for scholarly pursuits-a concept that would surely appeal to Henry Huntington.
While Huntington himself did not focus on American art, it is in this area that the collection has taken some of its most dynamic steps forward in recent years-a logical expansion given his interests in American history and literature. Spurred by the 1979 gift of fifty important American paintings and funds for a gallery to house them, from a foundation established by Virginia Steele Scott twelve thousand and includes notable decorative arts and sculpture as well as paintings. Virtually the entire collection can be on display, thanks to the expansion of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries in 2009 and plans to expand them further in 2014. “Since we’re a comparatively young collection there are still many gaps to fill,” says Jessica Todd Smith, the Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art, “but that is very exciting because every gap presents us with an opportunity.” The perspicacious purchase earlier this year of a large carved organ screen by Sargent Johnson deaccessioned by the University of California, Berkeley-is a notable case in point; the first major piece by an African-American artist to enter the collection, it is the work of one of the finest sculptors of the Harlem Renaissance.
It is impossible to capture in a few paragraphs the breadth of the Huntington’s holdings, and the air of inspiration and vitality found throughout its 207-acre campus. Perhaps another way to get a sense of it is to glance at the exhibition schedule-though this, too, is inadequate to the task: last year exhibitions ranged from the work of Sam Maloof and his circle to Francisco de Goya, from British Regency manuscripts and prints to aerospace in Southern California, and from ancient Chinese bronzes to the role of water in the early Spanish San Gabriel Mission. Just recently a major exhibition, Visions of Empire: The Quest for a Railroad Across America, 1840-1880, comprising letters, diaries, prints, and other rare documents, largely from the Library’s holdings, opened in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery. Its theme brings us back to Collis and Henry Huntington.
Indeed, it is the links across the collections and the creative thinking these links inspire that make the Huntington such a vibrant place. They are one reason Hal Nelson and Antiques invited the artists introduced in the following pages to explore the Huntington together. “I think Henry Huntington would have applauded this project,” Nelson says. “In creating this institution, he invited the public to share his passion for art, literature, history, science, and the beauty of the natural world. I believe he would have given a hearty thumbs-up to the artists we have chosen, and he would have been moved by the ways his legacy intertwines with theirs.”
The grand loggia along the east side of the Huntington Art Gallery remains much as it was when built, to the designs of Myron Hunt and Elmer Grey, as the residence of Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927) and his second wife, Arabella (1850-1924). The museum opened in 1928.
* See Susan Danly Walther, “The Virginia Steele Scott Gallery at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California,” The Magazine Antiques, vol. 130, no. 2 (August 1986), pp. 270-279. Gustafson.
You can use John Cederquist’s chests of drawers and sit on his chairs, but his surrealistic imagery constantly challenges the viewer. Central to his work is the tension between two and three dimensions, disorientation and delight, and confusion and surprise-with the result that his furniture is both intellectually and aesthetically engaging.
Edward S. Cooke Jr., Yale University
John Cederquist has been called a master of deception with good reason. His furniture at once delights and “trompes” the eye, balancing reality and illusion so well that you have to step back to comprehend what you are looking at and then move up close to see how Cederquist has done it. It hasn’t always been that way. When he started working in the 1970s Cederquist made “regular” pieces in the style of studio furniture introduced by Wendell Castle. But the assignment to teach a two-dimensional drawing class motivated him to rethink his direction. Challenged by questions of perspective in reconciling two- and three-dimensional forms-“why does a rectangular tabletop not look like a rectangle when you see it from a few feet away?”- he started to experiment with cardboard, combining 2-D imagery and 3-D form, and from there progressed to objects in which perception and reality collide and coalesce.
Indecision of Upholstery by Cederquist, 2010-2011. Birch plywood, pecan, maple, and Honduras mahogany; height 67, width 26, depth 27 inches. Photograph by Gary C. Zuercher.
In 1989 he was invited by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to take part in a project where artists were asked to create a piece inspired by an object in the museum’s collection. The result: Le Fleuron Manquant, which plays with “crating” a John Townsend high chest of drawers. Its success led to a commission from the Smithsonian American Art Museum for another visually challenging, almost cubist, piece that likewise conceals, breaks down, and “contains” a high chest. Cederquist enjoys pointing out the links between these pieces and the plates in Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director, which offer alternative leg, chair-back, or cabinet-front designs for a given pattern-and achieve similarly disconcerting effects. His delight in perusing the 1754 copy of the Director in the Huntington’s Library was palpable. The volume is among many important imprints of period pattern books the Library holds, including those of George Hepplewhite, William Morris and Company, and others.
Cederquist constructs his pieces fairly simply out of plywood, but there is nothing simple about the way he gives them “form.” Every molding, every shadow, every empty space, every protruding or receding surface, every “three-dimensional” detail, is actually completely flat, created with veneer and inlay, with outlines and only the smallest details drawn with a wood-burning tool. He chooses his woods carefully, and often stains them to produce different effects: for example some of his chests of drawers have “waves” crashing through them made of stained-blue Pacific Northwest maple, which has a natural chatoyance, or shimmer, that mimics water.
If the idea of waves sounds odd, they are but one of the conceits Cederquist brings to bear in his furniture. He draws from cartoon imagery, Japanese wood-block prints (Hokusai’s Great Wave at Kanagawa, for example), European marquetry, and textiles and costume. In a recent group of chairs he is working with “fabrics,” creating folds of drapery out of stripes of maple and mahogany, as in the chair shown here, wryly titled Indecision of Upholstery in tribute “to decorator friends who have to deal with clients trying to choose fabrics.”
Le Fleuron Manquant (The Missing Finial) by Cederquist, 1989. Birch plywood, Sitka spruce, Honduras mahogany, and koa; height 88, width 44, depth 15 inches. Photograph by Michael Sasso.
Cederquist asked to be photographed in front of Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Anne (Killigrew) Kirke, one of the grand manner portraits acquired by Henry Huntington, including five by Thomas Gainsborough, that constitute some of the richest holdings of such portraits in the world. The rendering of sumptuous fabrics, a hallmark of these works, makes them particularly relevant to Cederquist’s work with drapery. “It is amazing how abstract the brushwork is when you get up close to it,” he says with a grin.
Some 115 years after Paulding Farnham designed astonishing jeweled orchids for Tiffany and Company’s exhibit at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, David Freda has created enameled gold and gemstone orchids for Tiffany’s that are so lifelike one wonders if they should be pinned to the shoulder or placed in a vase.
Janet Zapata, jewelry scholar
Taxidermist, bird artist, falconer, naturalist, climber, mountain biker…fine jeweler? David Freda’s many interests start with the taxidermy, which he began in Milwaukee when he was about eleven. “I’d been collecting butterflies and bugs and my father said, ‘no,’ I could not do taxidermy. But I got a book and taught myself after school-a few small animals, birds mostly.” In high school he found a job in a taxidermy shop and then with a friend “got hooked on bird illustrations, which went hand in hand with the taxidermy.” From there he proceeded to watercolors, which, still in high school, he sold profitably at Ducks Unlimited meetings and elsewhere. That led to falconry, and pretty soon into banding the birds for tracking.
David C. Freda with an orchid display in the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science. Stein¬er-Halperin photograph.
It should probably not be a surprise, then, that when Freda saw the double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America on display in the Main Exhibition Hall of the Library at the Huntington, he exclaimed, “that’s my choice-I’ve never actually seen it, even though it has always been a touchstone of my work-wow!” Henry Huntington acquired the four volumes in 1917 from the Saint Louis industrialist and philanthropist William K. Bixby (1857-1931), whose own collection of rare books and manuscripts was one of the most important of its day; Huntington acquired additional literary manuscripts from Bixby the following year.
Lily lamp designed by Mrs. Curtis Freschl for Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), made by Tiffany Stu¬dios, after 1902. Patinated bronze and Favrile glass; height 20 ¾ inches. Freda was understandably drawn to this sculptural study of two types of lilies (field lilies for the shades and water lilies for the patinated bronze base) that demonstrates the importance of natural forms as a starting point for Louis Comfort Tiffany’s designs. Tiffany was awarded a gold medal for the pro¬totype of the lamp at the 1902 Prima Exposizione d’Arte Decorativa Moderna, in Turin, Italy. Purchased with funds from the Art Collectors’ Council.
When Freda entered the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he intended to major in painting, until he took a class in jewelry making-“to learn to make bells to put around birds’ legs for tracking. I took a class with Marcia Lewis, who was kind of a wild metalsmith in her own right, and was totally mesmerized.” Hiking in the Shawangunk Mountains as a graduate student at SUNY New Paltz, he found some snake eggs, which, through hollow-core casting, he transformed into beads for necklaces. “I started taking molds of baby snakes from nature shops and then started working at the American Museum of Natural History and they’d let me use animals in formaldehyde to make molds that I turned into jewelry.”
Freckles (Brassolaelia Richard Mueller) orchid brooch by Freda for Tiffany and Company, 2010. Enameled gold and diamonds, height 4 ½ inches. Photograph by Carlton Davis.
In New York Freda attended an exhibition of René Lalique’s jewelry at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, and here is where it all starts to come together for readers of Antiques. “I was blown away by the enameling (on my early works all the decoration was painted); I taught myself how to enamel, moved to California, and created a line of orchids in silver and enamels.” Walking past Tiffany and Company one day sparked a recollection of Paulding Farnham’s orchids, so Freda decided to walk in and show them his. “The next thing I knew they asked me if I could make the orchids in gold and enamels. ‘Sure, no problem,’ I said, but then it took me two years to figure it out. Enameling on gold is tricky-modern glass doesn’t work-you have to use old glass, from the 1940s and 1950s to make it stick.”
Roseate Spoonbill/Platalea Ajaja engraved by Robert Havell after John James Audubon (1785-1851), Pl. CCCXXI in John James Audubon, The Birds of America (1827-1838). Hand-colored engraving and etching, 25 ⅝ by 35 ¼ inches.
“I like to think my orchids pick up where Farnham left off-a contemporary very clean looking twist. I take molds of real orchids first, then do the enameling and add elements like diamonds and gold granulation. Each is one-of-a-kind and made of my own 20 karat gold alloy.”
Orchids abound in the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory, erected at the Huntington in 2005 as a cornerstone of the institution’s botanical education programs. Its design inspired in part by a Victorian-style lath house that once stood on the property to house palms, ferns, rhododendrons, and cyclamens, the sixteen-thousand-square-foot conservatory brings a twenty-first-century commitment to Henry Huntington’s passion for the plant world.
To me, Ferne Jacobs’s basket-like sculptures call for repeated viewings, in the same way that one cannot comprehend a lovely symphonic tone poem from one listening. Her coiled fiber objects are three-dimensional drawings in space. And that is their magic.
Kenneth R. Trapp, Formerly, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American ArtMuseum
Ferne Jacobs’s father wanted her to be a secretary, though in retrospect few people seem less suited to typing and shorthand. Even in high school, “I would do anything not to write a paper,” she has recalled, noting that a “lot of the teachers would let you do these art projects” instead.* A sprite of a woman, with a nimbus of gray hair and a faraway, if impish, look in her eye, Jacobs is a fiber artist who likes to say that her “life has been led by a thread”-by which she means that while it has evolved and transformed in sometimes mysterious ways, it is all connected. The same can be said of her art.
Ferne Jacobs sits by the edge of the karesansui in the Japanese Garden. Also known as a dry land¬scape or waterless stream garden, the karesansui is a Buddhist place of contemplation, where the viewer uses his or her imagination to interpret the scene. Steiner-Halperin photograph.
The non-academic (who earned an MFA even though she never graduated from college) gained her education by connecting with one leader in her field after another. She started as a painter, studying briefly with Ron Blumberg and Gabriel Laderman, and found her way to weaving after walking into a studio on a Los Angeles street. “I don’t even remember his name, but he had a loom and I was enthralled by the threads-the color and texture, and the smell of the threads.” After that she bought her own loom, and her relationships started to build, and entwine: Arline Fisch, Mary Jane Leland, Dominic de Mare, Olga de Amaral, Peter Collingwood, Jack Lenor Larsen, Joan Austin, Lenore Tawney, and the list goes on.
Cabinet by Walter Crane (1845-1915), English. c. 1875. Ebonized wood with silk-on-linen em¬broidered panels; height 32 ½, width 22, depth 12 ¼ inches. Crane was probably encouraged to take an interest in embroidery by his friend Wil¬liam Morris, whose literary manuscripts were col¬lected by Huntington. Gift of the Art Collectors Council.
Jacobs moved from flat weaving to basket shapes and then to larger three-dimensional sculptures. Today she primarily uses the basketmaking techniques of coiling and twining, practiced since ancient times and used throughout the world. Because of the size and intricacy of her pieces, the process is laborious and exhausting. A work takes about six months. “Each piece I make takes me into a mystery that I have to solve,” Jacobs says. “I become like an old Indian basketmaker, sitting with my work in my lap.” She might start with an idea or a color, but “the minute I see the actual line in front of me, the idea just fades away; it disappears and I’m left with that line in that moment.”
The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy by William Blake (1757-1827), 1795. Planographic color print with hand-tinting, 16 ¾ by 22 inches (sheet).
Jacobs’s appreciation of the mysterious-as well as of the unknown and of the ambiguities of the psyche (she reads Carl Jung)-no doubt explains her affinity for William Blake’s Night of Enitharmon’s Joy at the Huntington. A particular interest of Henry Huntington’s, the multifaceted Blake is one of the writers best represented in the extraordinary holdings of eighteenth- to twentieth-century English manuscripts and first editions in the Huntington Library. The Rare Book Collection holds a number of his illuminated volumes; the hand-colored print is one of nearly one hundred separate Blake works of art housed in the art collections.
“Blake was an explorer of images and ideas,”
Jacobs says. “He was moved to create a personal philosophy and images that made it visible to him. The colors and energy of the print remind me of my Medusa’s Collar. The figure of the woman [recently identified as Enitharmon, a repressive nature goddess in Blake’s mythology] also reminds me a little of Medusa in that she appears strong. There are all these odd or dreamlike figures, too, and the different curls that move around my work remind me of these dream figures.”
Medusa’s Collar by Jacobs, 2009-2010. Coiled waxed linen thread; height 18 inches. Photograph by Susan Einstein.
As one thought seems to thread its way to another in Jacobs’s mind it is easy to understand why many disparate aspects of the Huntington’s collection appealed to her. In addition to the Blake, and perhaps for obvious reasons, she is enchanted by Walter Crane’s aesthetic movement cabinet with its embroidered figures representing Sight and Smell. Outdoors she delights in the bamboo forest and karesansui, or dry landscape garden (where she is photographed) in the Japanese Garden-“threads, they are so like threads.” But the most astonishing object to her is an eighty-volume scrapbook in the photography department created over a lifetime by Frederick W. Nelson-“an absolute treasure.” I think everyone who saw it would agree.
For nearly four decades, Bill Hunter has been in the forefront of art created by wood turning. Not only are his works indicative of his virtuosic talents, they are elegant marriages of his inventive forms and the natural beauty of grained wood.
David Revere McFaddenMuseum of Arts and Design, New York ANTIQUES
William-Bill-Hunter’s California of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a place of bell-bottoms, long hair, and creativity-and it fitted him to a tee. Inheriting a strong work ethic from his father and the capacity to dream from his mother, he balanced the two in many pursuits, from baseball to sport fishing while growing up in Long Beach. He found his way to his art as a philosophy student at California State University Dominguez Hills, where he and two like-minded friends started a woodworking team in a garage.
Bill Hunter stands beside one of four venerable Podocarpus totara trees (native to New Zealand) planted in Henry Hun¬tington’s day along the edge of the Rose Garden. Steiner-Halperin photograph.
Soon they were taking part in the craft fair explosion that started in Los Angeles about 1970. In 1973 Hunter and several others pursuing ideals of self-sufficiency and a contemplative life, moved to the Yosemite area of Northern California, where they established a cooperative wood-turning business called Sierra Wood Design and lived, equally cooperatively, without plumbing or electricity (although they wired an abandoned building nearby to power their lathes). Living close to nature helped Hunter focus on his craft. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, flora and fauna, and invigorated by sunshine and snowfall, he studied nature to understand its energy and forces. Combining scientific observation with inspiration from myriad artistic sources, from the Bauhaus and the arts and crafts movement to Brancusi and Kandinsky, he experimented endlessly, fascinated with capturing what he has called “motionless movement” in bowl forms that ripple with the rhythms of the tides or the wind.
Inner Space by Hunter, 2003. Cocobolo; height 8, diameter 10 inches. Collection of Stephen Weinroth; photograph by Alan Shaffer.
Fast forward to 1985. At a fair in Springfield, Massachusetts, Hunter’s work attracted the eye of Jonathan L. Fairbanks, then curator of decorative arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who soon commissioned a piece for the museum’s permanent collection. In proposing its acquisition, Fairbanks observed, “turning used to be a cost-effective method of preparing and shaping wood, but…new craftsmen [such as Hunter] have taken the technology to new heights.” The idea of craft as art had come to stay. Today Hunter’s work is in numerous museum collections: the Yale University Art Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to name a few.
Evening by Paul Manship (1885-1966), c. 1938. Bronze; height 13 ½, length 21 inches. This small version of Evening, from the Moods of Time series that Man¬ship made on a monumental scale for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, was given to the Huntington with Morning and Day from the series in 1997. Gift of an anonymous donor.
“I’ve always been inquisitive about the materials I use,” Hunter says, and understanding the properties of countless different woods allows him to use each one to its best advantage, from under-grade shipments of Brazilian kingwood to ebony, cocobolo rosewood, and satinwood. Over time his aesthetic has evolved from bowl shapes to more abstract forms, many exploring the deconstruction of the vessel into helixes and other expressions of mass and space.
“In all of my series, I use my experience and knowledge to convey my feelings and interpretations of nature. I use science in the studio to help inform my technique and refine my craftsmanship.” This balance of feeling and science are expressed in the two objects at the Huntington that resonated with Hunter-a sixteenth-century Italian armillary sphere on display in the Main Exhibition Hall of the Library and Paul Manship’s sculpture Evening. “I chose the armillary sphere because it reminded me so much of my piece Free Vessel, only from the scientific side. When I saw it I immediately thought of planetary arcs and galaxy spirals that have influenced my work.” The sphere is believed to have come to the Library with Henry Huntington’s small collection of early terrestrial and celestial globes by well-known cartographers and publishers such as Willem Janszoon Blaeu and Jodocus Hondius; like his exceptional holdings of early maps and atlases, the globes reflect Huntington’s twin interests in the old and new worlds.
Detail of an armillary sphere attributed to Antonio Santucci (active 1580-1619), Italian, c. 1580.
Hunter’s words about Manship’s sculpture, on display in a glass-walled loggia of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, might be applied to his own work: “Can a work of art be perfect? Probably not, but Manship’s comes close….He is a master at accurately portraying muscular structure, proportion, gesture, and expression, while capturing spirit. He is able to express, in arrested moments, an exciting and dramatic motion that brings us into the abstract realm. To be able to convey and combine the real and the imagined worlds with this success is true genius.”
Free Vessel by Hunter, 2003. Cocobolo; height 12 inches. Private collection; Shaffer photograph.
Cecilia Miguez gathers images from everyday life to create sculptures that evoke memories of childhood dreams, tribal icons, and even narrative fantasies, all the while maintaining a light- hearted view of the real world.
Cecilia Miguez in the North Vista. Steiner-Halperin photograph.
Growing up in Uruguay Cecilia Miguez’s favorite possession was an art book her mother bought for her in an antiques store, and her favorite painting reproduced in it was Thomas Lawrence’s “Pinkie.” So enchanted was she that, at about age eleven, she copied the image in oils onto a glass lamp base that still stands on her mother’s bedside table. On her first visit to the Huntington, after moving to Los Angeles in 1985, Miguez describes walking into the Thornton Portrait Gallery: “I could not believe my eyes. I did not know that the painting was there. It brought me so many memories and emotions. It was amazing to see the details, the real colors.”
By that time Miguez, who was trained as a painter, had begun to work more seriously as a sculptor. “It was very hard to get the three-dimensionality I was looking for in a painting,” she recalls, “so one day I started working with my hands, making volumes with clay. It was so exciting because I was no longer trying to create illusions of 3-D. The piece would develop its own light and shadows. It was such a natural process for me, and such a liberation to go from two dimensions to three.”
Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton: “Pinkie” by Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), 1794. Oil on canvas, 58 ¼ by 40 ¼ inches. One of the most fa¬mous of the English grand manner portraits acquired by Huntington, Pinkie occupies the wall facing Thomas Gains¬borough’s iconic Jonathan Buttall: “The Blue Boy” of 1770 in the Thornton Portrait Gallery.
Her favorite medium is bronze, which she observes, “is very stable and very flexible, which allows me to make changes and to make multiples”-which is not to say that she creates editions. Every piece is one-of-a kind. Her figures often display the grace and proportions of ancient Greek sculpture or Renaissance portraits, although she quickly diverges from reality into the realms of the emotions and the spiritual through her use of “found” objects. “The found object is something that somebody made with another purpose,” Miguez says. “It’s very special when I hold some of those objects and think about somebody else working with them. They give incredible vibrations to my work.” When she incorporates a tiny box she has picked up at a flea market into a figure, for instance, it becomes the holder of secrets or dreams; a funnel turned into a hat in one of Miguez’s works has references to Hieronymus Bosch, to medieval helmets, or even to a “well-oiled brain,” writes scholar Abbas Daneshvari.
Madonna and Child by Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1400-1464), c. 1460. Oil on masonite, transferred from canvas, originally on panel, 20 ½ by 13 ⅝ inches. Arabel¬la D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection.
A long-time visitor to the Huntington, Miguez appreciates it not just for its extraordinary holdings but “as a calm peaceful place to think and get inspired-a very special corner of the universe.” She is photographed in the North Vista, with its long view to the San Gabriel Mountains, among seventeenth-century garden sculptures acquired by Huntington in 1922. In choosing a favorite object Miguez says she always goes back to Rogier van der Weyden’s Madonna and Child, one of a small group of Renaissance paintings collected by Arabella Huntington and bequeathed to her son Archer, who gave them to Henry Huntington for the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. “I love the delicacy of the faces,” says Miguez. “I adore the gold leaf background, so abstract, suggesting unseen spaces where light becomes transformed into an enchanting air, enriched by the vibratory effect of the thoughts the Madonna is having, a world unreachable, but beautifully suggested by the artist.”
Detail of The Blue Glove by Cecilia Miguez, 2004. Bronze, wood, and gold leaf; height (overall) 60, width 17, depth 11 inches. Photograph courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles.
At the moment Miguez is at work on a series of sculptures entitled “The Sound of the Thought,” which will explore a perhaps equally unreachable world-the silence and introspection just prior to “a thought…is it a vibration, an energy, a memory?” We look forward to seeing how she suggests these ideas in her new work.
The Recipe by Miguez, 1911. Bronze and found objects; height 20 inches. Louis Stern Fine Arts photograph.
Sharon Ellis is to be admired for her talent and her courage to speak in an unconventional language. Her works offer surface delights of electric beauty but more importantly are profound and unique visions.
Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, consultant California art
Psychedelic,” “hallucinogenic,” “magical,” “visionary”-these terms have all been used to describe the paintings of Sharon Ellis. But in the end she is a landscapist, and while her works have also been described as “expansive,” they are far from the sweeping views of an Albert Bierstadt or a Thomas Hill. Expansive in Ellis’s case means that her images seem to have an infinite depth, and glow from within.
Painter Sharon Ellis in the wisteria arbor of the Rose Garden, planted for Huntington in 1908 by his first gar¬den curator, William Hertrich (1880-1966). The dappled sunlight evokes the sprays of stars and sunbeams Ellis often includes in her paintings.
Ellis moved to California from her native Illinois as a young girl. By high school she knew she wanted to be a painter, but it wasn’t until after she received her M.A. from Mills College and moved to New York that she developed her personal style. “Moving to New York was a fabulous education for me-it allowed me to see so much ‘old’ art that I hadn’t really seen in California. I was especially taken with the medieval paintings at the Cloisters. They led me to develop my technique of layering glazes.” This is the technique that gives Ellis’s works that mysterious and expansive feeling. Using oil alkyd paints she builds up as many as sixty or seventy translucent layers on the canvas in a way that makes light as important a medium as pigment.
The Lonely Tower by Samuel Palmer (1805-1881), 1880. Watercolor and gouache on paper, 6 ⅝ by 9 ¼ inches. Though acquired after Huntington’s death, this watercolor reflects his in¬terest in the work of Wil¬liam Blake and his circle. The subject is based on John Milton’s “Il Pense¬roso.” Palmer’s mixture of watercolor and gouache creates a rich texture, glowing with soft light and expressing a magical mood.
Ellis’s view of the natural world is informed by her appreciation of the writings of Thoreau, Keats, and Wordsworth, as well as by the visionary worlds of William Blake and Samuel Palmer, whose Lonely Tower of 1880 is Ellis’s favorite piece at the Huntington. “Their intimate and emotional relationship with nature has guided my own work,” she says. “Beauty and mystery are integral parts of both creativity and nature.”
Beyond these inspirations, art critic Dave Hickey has located many other “improbable ancestors” of Ellis’s work: the “extravagant intricacies of Jackson Pollock…floral accoutrements of Caravaggio…the hallucinatory specificity of Caspar David Friedrich and Philipp Otto Runge…the complexities of Burne-Jones and Bridget Riley…the stillness of Seurat,” not to mention “psychedelic posters from the Fillmore and Technicolor films from the sixties, with the mandarin aestheticism of Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery.”*
In situating Ellis work in the context of California women painters, art historian Nancy Moure writes: “Like certain artists of the 1920s and 1930s, including Adele Watson, Mabel Alvarez, and Agnes Pelton, Ellis uses non-personal motifs to express her inner spirit. Some of her paintings have a conventional landscape format and exist as magical personal Edens. Others are symmetrical and reminiscent of religious icons although otherworldly, using light to convey spirit, sometimes to evoke a sinister or foreboding ambiance. Yet others are up-front, exuberant, all-over patterns, balancing enamel-like color and motif to project her inner joy.”
Moondance by Ellis, 2011. Alkyd on canvas, 34 by 40 inches. Photo¬graph courtesy of the artist and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California.
Ellis’s Moondance, completed last fall, is one of these last. It is the first of a group of paintings “that will share the theme of night in some way,” she says-though “it remains to be seen exactly where this theme will go!”
What I love about Adrian’s work is its combination of elegance with humor. It is sly and knowing, but at the same time pays serious homage to the traditions of both Jingdezhen in China and Sèvres/Limoges/Vincennes in France. Saxe knows how porcelain works; he knows how to control brilliant glazes; and he creates references to early porcelains that are smart and elegant.
Ulysses Grant Dietz, Newark Museum
If Henry Huntington’s ghost is at large in his old home, he’s probably familiar with ceramist Adrian Saxe, a third-generation Angelino who has been going to the Huntington since he was a boy. As early as high school he was enamored of the Sèvres and Chelsea Red Anchor period porcelains that Huntington had acquired for the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection; by college (at Chouinard Art Institute and the California Institute of the Arts) Saxe was frequenting the place both for inspiration and because his fiancé was employed there as the first woman gardener.
Adrian Saxe stands in one of the new galleries installed during the 2008 renovation of the Huntington Art Gallery. The secrétaire à abatant by Bernard Molitor (1755-1833) incorporates a large Sèvres porcelain plaque (painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin), added in the late nineteenth century by Alfred de Rothschild, who owned both the secrétaire and the porcelain-topped table in which the plaque was originally set. The Sèvres plaques mounted on the sides, dating to the 1770s and also by Dodin, were added sometime between 1884 and 1927, when Henry Huntington acquired the secrétaire. Steiner-Halperin photograph.
After working in stoneware and earthenware, Saxe turned almost exclusively to porcelain-putting him at odds with the American studio ceramics world of the late 1960s and early 1970s. On his frequent visits to the Huntington he studied the range of decorative techniques on the Sèvres soft-paste wares and was particularly drawn to a garniture with idiosyncratic forms of cannons and turrets that appealed to his sense of quirkiness (and remains his favorite thing at the Huntington). He also began experimenting with animal and plant forms especially those in the Huntington’s Cactus Garden.
Centerpiece of 1-900-Zeitgeist by Saxe, 2000. Porcelain, stone¬ware, and mixed media; approx¬imate height (of tallest vessel) 34 ¾, overall width 55 inches. Not pictured are two additional vessels made as part of this take on a traditional garniture, cre¬ated for an installation at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Collection of the artist; photograph by An¬thony Cunha, courtesy of Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California.
In 1983 the French Ministry of Culture awarded Saxe a fellowship and six-month residency at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres. As he puts it, “when Mitterand came in he wanted to revitalize Sèvres and sent out a committee to find ceramists to come work there-and they found me!” He was allowed to use the original eighteenth-century molds and models, but rather than seeking to idealize a form in the French manner, he was spurred to experiment further with molds taken directly from nature-“I would buy vegetables in the local markets and use them,” he says. (Later, he would grow his own gourds: “the double-gourd form has been around in ceramic traditions for thousands of years,” he observes. “We sent Japanese seeds for some to my father-in-law in Oklahoma, and they grew like mad! I used them a lot.”)
Garniture, Sèvres, 1762-1763. Soft-paste porcelain, with over¬glaze and enamel decoration, and gilding; height of center vessel 20 ½ inches. These three vases are among the largest and most extravagant ever produced by Sèvres. The central vase with goat-head handles is painted with a battle scene; the side vases, in the form of fortified towers, bear military trophies, garlands, and wreaths. These details suggest that the set was made for a military hero, per¬haps a veteran of the Seven Years’ War, which ended in 1763. Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection.
Inspired by the extensive use of gilding on the French wares (Saxe was awarded a second fellowship at Sèvres in 1987), he increasingly employed it in his own work. “Each gold is different,” he says, “they have to be burnished in different ways.” He developed his own form of craqueleur to enhance the effect.
Untitled Ewer (Acorn Squash) by Saxe, 1990. Porcelain; height 7 ½, width 9 ½ inches. Frank Lloyd Gallery photograph.
In the tradition of fine eighteenth-century porcelains, Saxe’s works are intended for display, and they almost always make a point through punning titles, juxtaposition of materials, or other devices. He has even created his own takeoffs on Sèvres garnitures, sometimes using anagrams to order and reorder his vessels: One group, called ELVIS/LIVES, has finials of quartz crystal, the largest component of the earth’s crust, which, according to Saxe, “plays on the notion that Elvis, if his remains have been committed to the earth or his ashes to urn-like jars, is ever present.”
Which brings us back to Huntington’s ghost, who, if he haunts his house, probably finds much that is familiar and much that has changed, since the building underwent a major renovation in 2008. Several rooms are furnished much as they were in Huntington’s time to reflect his style of life among the British portraiture and French decorative arts that were his and Arabella’s passions. In addition, new galleries were built to provide educational displays of the European fine and decorative arts in the collection, most acquired by Huntington for the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. Saxe is shown in one of these galleries, beside three cases of eighteenth-century Sèvres garnitures and an early nineteenth-century secrétaire à abattant by Bernard Molitor.