Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Rejuvenating Huntington

This past Thursday I had the invigorating experience once again of visiting the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens with my wife and a "house guest". We hadn't been for quite awhile and had recently renewed our membership. What was extra special about this visit was the grand reopening of the main gallery/residence of the Huntingtons. It had been closed for the past two years for renovation.

We were not disappointed in any way. We got there about noon and found out it had been open since 10:A.M. This is also new. Normally, on a weekday, the complex is closed to the public until noon to allow busloads of school kids to have docent-guided tours from 9:A.M. I used to be one of those teachers with a busload of students. I loved it and mostly the kids did too. It was and is an inspiring place for many reasons. Even now, my wife and I come away from the place with renewed vision and purpose for our lives, even in retirement. She is an artist hobbyist and loves gardening and flowers. I am still an "semi-active" "guest teacher" for students/teacher in local schools kindergarten through eighth grades. I like to specialize in "the arts". This time, our "house guest" was our daughter-in-law who has an Arts Degree. She was thrilled to see this wondrous place for the first time.

It wasn't that crowded yet as we slowly strolled our way through the two-storied former residence of the railroad/real estate magnet and his art-collecting, English wife, Arrabella. The freshness and scale of the gallery is what first impresses. Then the new color coordination of the background walls is exquisitely complementary. Rich, yet muted greens and beiges which almost look like tapestries themselves surround the massive pictures, landscapes and portraits. Pinkie and Blue Boy are back in their same room but at opposite ends, further away from each other. They are still stunningly beautiful. There is more use/display of furniture, pottery and object collections than in the previous exhibitions. With such a vast storehouse of choices this is the current mix and it is truly well done. New to us was the display of the Stained Glass Windows of the ten virtues in a darkened hall stairwell. "Humility, Mercy, Generosity, Charity, Justice, Liberty, Truth, Love, faith and Courage are all depicted in life-sized human forms. It was awesome just to stand there and absorb them all. Diana, the Huntress, graces the entrance hall in all her naked beauty.

We then walked to the Japanese Gardens through the Rose Gardens and were surrounded by living beauty and design. We chose our favorite bonsai displays and touched the stones in the rock garden. We were tempted to sit and meditate in the Zen Garden. The japanese maples were especially fresh and delicately pruned. The ancestor stones place throughout were peaceful reminders of our own destinies sooner rather than later. The bamboo forests were whispery and gigantic. The wisterias were not yet in bloom and gave us a reason to return soon.

We then kept our reservations at the Rose Garden Tea Room. We had three different teas and "tons" of scones, finger-sandwiches, mini-salads, cheeses, and petite desserts. We were stuffed when we waddled out. My wife was slightly disappointed when she found out they were no longer serving a "creme freche" (frosting-like) dip for the strawberries and cookies. Oh well...we did notice that they had raised the price of the tea/ was worth it.

We visited the Scott Gallery next and found it was still unchanged. It holds some of our favorite Impressions i.e. Mary Cassatt. We went to the Boone and found it was closed for renovation so we headed to the new Chinese Gardens. We had watched them being conceived. What a peaceful and serenely beautiful place. We sat and just soaked it all in. We noticed the wood-carved buildings and displays that will be exposed to the weather. A docent named "Ask Me" told us that it was such hard wood and so well preserved with layers of varnish that it would do just fine. This is where the largest lake is located with several stone, hand-carved bridges. Every object, including the bridges and areas are poetically named, first in Chinese and then in English equivolents. ie. "Island of Allighting Cranes" (peace cranes?) There were several venues for refreshment and iced teas were being served and a small shop. The pine trees, which have been growing in this area for years, made this new place very authentic and mountain-forest like.

We then slowly walked over to the Conservatory, a gigantic glass house where we again experienced a "rain forest and cloud forest" It was very humid and close. Parts were closed for renovation and some of the displays needed cleaning and renewing or service attendants. There were no children running around but then, when we went to the Children's Garden, we saw a few younger (non school age) ones. The picture above is from this garden and is one of the favorite fountains of our grandchildren. We plan to bring them again this summer and have their crocks and bathing suits available. There are two or three "cloud/steam" displays where they can get pretty drenched. We worked our way back to the entrance through the camilia gardens all shaded by the live oaks along the side of the massive front yard of the mansion. This is outlined with statues of the Greek and Roman gods. The camelias were passed their prime and bloomed out.

We had to visit the darkened library which is probably the oldest building other than the residence. We saw the original Canterbury Tales Manuscript and The Guttenburg Bible. My wife likes the Jack London display and we actually talked to a docent/guard about the scholars who come daily and use this facility and all its written resources in vaults behind the scenes. (even the "stacks" up above on the railinged second floor). We made a brief stop at the gift shop next door and found we were able to resist any major purchases. (I got a booklet of 10 pirate tatoos for "Camp Gramma/Pa" coming up this summer)

We walked to the car in "cactus III" with very weary feet, full tummies, and exhausted eyeballs, but we were renewed and rejuvenated. For me, and I suspect for many a teacher/student, this kind of "field trip" is necessary and very needed periodically; especially at this time of year. I had just subbed in a class that had some very challenging issues and individuals. I was a bit depressed by their behaviors and lack of discipline and/or training. I was beginning "to take it personally" which was not very wise or productive. I had gotten a "complaint" about the class's behavior and my reaction to it. This is why I knew I needed "a renewing break". The Huntington has done just that over the years and now it was doing it again. Eureka! RRR

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