Tag Archives: The Huntington Library

Natural Discourse: Fire! 9/30 & 10/1/16

I’ve lived long enough to have experienced the dispersal of information about plants move from paper to the computer screen, and it seems I rarely have the sense anymore that I’m cut off from an essential stream of information on one of my favorite topics. But in other important cultural, scientific, and political matters, I often feel that with the digital floodgates open on seemingly every topic and opinion, many vital issues fall prey to a lack of inflection or emphasis and are thereby deemed irrelevant in the popular imagination. Yes, platforms like the TED talks help give marginally popular issues a voice, but for those of us always scanning the sky, the land, thermometers and rain gauges, I do feel our concerns are woefully underrepresented in popular media. And what’s incredibly frustrating is that these concerns of ours are not narrowly personal but important and central to everything we love (life!). So when programming like Natural Discourse came along back in 2012, I immediately sensed this is the focus that’s been lacking.

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Photo above taken by photographer George Bennett, when fire was threatening the 747 Wing House in the Malibu hills.
The house, designed by architect David Hertz from the wings of a decommissioned Boeing 747, is on the site of Tony Duquette’s Ranch, which itself was destroyed in a brush fire in the 1990’s.
When fire was menacing the Wing House in 2013, George was on site with his camera. He has been invited him to show us these stunning images and recount this close brush with destruction.

Shirley Watts has brought Natural Discourse, an “ongoing series of symposia, publications, and site-specific art installations that explores the connections between art, architecture, and science within the framework of botanical gardens and natural history museums,” this year to the Huntington on September 30 and October 1, aiming her intensely curious, curatorial mind on a subject of both regional and timely importance. Apart from record drought continuing in the West, July has been pronounced the hottest month on record, and our notorious fire season has leaped its usual seasonal boundaries and has morphed into an ongoing conflagration. The subject of fire is, well, hot. If ever there was a time to shout Fire! — this is it. Fire in all its guises, destructive, regenerative, inspirational, will be discussed by a fascinating group of scientists and artists at this year’s Natural Discourse at the Huntington September 30th and October 1st:

Friday evening from 7:30 to 8:30:
John Doyle, Jean-Lou Chameau Professor of Control and Dynamical Systems at Caltech. His talk Fire and Life, will highlight Southern California’s particularly complex relationship with fire.
Mia Feuer, artist, Assistant Professor of Sculpture at CA College of the Arts, will talk about her work at the tar sands in Alberta, CA.​​​

Saturday from 9 to 4:
Thomas Fenn, Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Ancient Pyro-technology. Tom is an archaeologist who specializes in examining early technologies. His research combines chemistry, geology, archeology, cultural anthropology and history. He will talk to us about the history of man’s discovery and use of fire.
George Bennett, photographer, will talk about fire at the Wing House in Malibu
Erica Newman, fire ecologist will talk about biodiversity in chaparral and what to expect with fire and climate change
William L. Fox, Director of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art, will talk about fire as an outdoor spectacle and as art in the environment.
Sara Hiner, musician and Eric Elias, pyro-technician, will talk about their collaboration on the fireworks at Hollywood Bowl
Mark Briggs, river ecologist with the World Wildlife Fund’s Rio Grande/Bravo Programs will talk about controlled burns on the US/Mexican border

I do think it’s incredibly important to support this unique programming (written in my best, silkiest NPR/PBS-solicitous voice), and it’s just been made easier to do so.
Prices have been reduced; tickets can be ordered here.

Los Angeles, if ever there was a discourse designed specifically with you in mind, this is it. Come support Natural Discourse. I’d love to see you there.

Another Look at the Huntington

I promise this will be the last post on my recent visit here.
Unless I get around to writing about John Frame’s exhibit, which I urge any steam punk aficionados in the LA area to get to post haste before it closes on June 27.
And there just may be one of these left in the exhibit’s gift shop. There were only three, and MB Maher and I each bought one.
An egg-shaped wire cage. Simply irresistible.


The “Huntington” to me has always meant the botanical gardens. Properly, it’s The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens. There’s never enough time in one visit to see it all. For example, when time constraints force a choice between the Desert Garden and the Japanese Garden, I skip the latter, which is for many visitors the raison d’etre of the entire trip. And, honestly, sometimes the interest just hasn’t been there for some of the loot Mr. Huntington scoured the world for. I think I’ve checked out the Gainsboroughs maybe a couple times. But an odd result I’ve noticed of getting older is, instead of my interest becoming more focused, it’s become omnivorous, voracious, wanting to devour everything in its path.

I usually skip the furniture galleries — I get my fill on the Antiques Roadshow — but wandered in this last visit on May 28 and spent so much time in front of this chair the security guard was getting nervous. A bentwood chair from 1808, this shimmered a timeless modernism amidst the heavy, ornate tallboys and chest of drawers.
But a closer look revealed odd idiosyncrasies, like goat hooves for chair feet and a peacock motif along the top rail. The security guard rightfully sensed that I seriously coveted this chair. I wanted to feel its weight in my hand. I’ll bet it’s amazingly light.

The Elastic Chair.


Back to plant photos after the jump.

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