Library, garden, gallery

I posted a quote a month ago, which said “If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need.” If you add the word “gallery” to that, you have The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California (near Pasadena).

The 207-acre grounds encompass the former estate of Henry E. Huntington, an early 20th century railroad and real estate magnate, who had an interest in books, art, and gardens. During his lifetime, he collected rare books and works of art, and laid out a series of botanical gardens with plants from different parts of the world.

When he passed away in 1927, the estate was turned over to a private, nonprofit educational trust, and The Huntington evolved into a world famous cultural institution.

The Library

The library, built in 1920, is the repository for Henry Huntington’s passion for book collecting and now holds 9 million books, manuscripts, maps, prints, and photographs, including such rarities as a copy of the Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio. The collection is only accessible to vetted scholars, but two areas open to the public show samples of the treasures within.

When I was there, a new exhibit in the main Exhibition Hall called “The Library Re-Imagined” included books and letters by famous authors and historical figures, including Mark Twain, Jack London, Susan B. Anthony, and John James Audubon.

As the library is currently one of the leading archives of scientific literature, The Dibner Hall of the History of Science was another display space that described the evolution of medicine, astronomy, and light through books.

Because this is a rare book library, it is more of a museum than the type of library most people are used to (the books are displayed as artifacts and cannot be touched). Possibly to overcome this barrier, there was a curious display in the Trustees’ Room, which showed projected hands on a table opening books and taking notes, as if to give visitors the vicarious experience of using the library.

The Art Collections

Henry Huntington collected European and American art, including works by John Constable, Joshua Reynolds, and Thomas Gainsborough (most famously his Blue Boy). The European pieces are displayed in the main gallery, located in the Huntington’s former Beaux-Arts mansion (an architectural gem in itself).

A second building was opened as the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art in 1984 (expanded in 2009) to showcase American artistic excellence and is currently undergoing a second expansion this year.

The Botanical Gardens

The grounds are landscaped as a series of gardens in different styles linked by curved pathways. They were laid out in the European manner with camellia gardens dotted with statuary and anchored by a grand fountain, rose gardens amid wisteria arbors, and an impressive Japanese Garden (one of the earliest examples in North America). There is also a conservatory, desert gardens, and a new Chinese garden.

However, I didn’t realize how extensive the botanical gardens were (120 acres and 14,000 different plants) and ran out of time to enjoy them. Next time, I’ll go earlier and have the entire day to drink in and savour the beauty of the place.

Find out more about The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.