The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens has been undergoing a series of major renovations. The newest additions are the Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory for Botanical Science, which opened its doors to the public on Oct. 7, and the Lois and Robert F. Erburu Gallery, which opened in May.
The conservatory is more than just a hothouse to keep a few interesting plants. This facility is a state of the art education center staffed by more than 100 specially trained volunteers who will assist the public and students alike in interacting with the hands-on "learning stations" designed to give them a broader sense of the world of flora.
"The educational mission of the conservatory," said Conservatory Project Manager Kitty Connolly, "is at the forefront of the conservatory’s goals. An education in botany is hard to come by these days in schools and universities, and it’s not that there isn’t an interest in the subject. It’s that there isn’t a lot of opportunity to study it. Most schools tend to have more of a concentration on the micro level."
The botanical center will feature hundreds of plants from regions around the world. Several varieties of the Huntington’s famous "Stinky Flower," the Amorphophallus titanum, whose scent resembles that of a corpse, will be housed in the new center.
"There are actually different scents among the flowers from the same family, as that of the Amorphophallus titanium. One of them, I’m told, even smells like carrots!" Connolly said.
The many varieties of plants will be representative of three different types of environmental regions. The sections of the conservatory are the Cloud Forest, the Carniverous Plant Bog and the Tropical Plant Rotunda.
The idea of building a botanical conservatory at the Huntington came about after an initiative to raise funds to renovate and improve the existing collection of gardens. A Chinese Garden is currently under construction on the grounds and will be the largest one of its kind outside of China.
"The initiative lasted for five years beginning in 1995 and raised enough funding from patrons and donors, including the Rose Hills Foundation, which had an educational interest in the project," said Connolly.
The educational portion of the exhibit will be funded by a $1.75 million endowment from the National Science Foundation.
The new conservatory is a smaller steel and glass replica of the lathe and plaster greenhouse built by Henry Huntington for his private enjoyment around the turn of the last century when he resided on the grounds.
The Lois and Robert F. Erburu Gallery is the newest art gallery to be added to the sprawling grounds of the Huntington. Designed by Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher, the new gallery is a 16,000 square-foot modern classical facility with 8,000 square feet of exhibition area and an additional 8,000 square feet of storage space. The building fits in nicely with its surrounding structures, taking much of its architectural influence from them.
The new gallery is playing temporary host to the Huntington’s European collection until 2008 while the Huntington Gallery, the mansion of Henry and Arabella Huntington during their lifetimes, undergoes renovation.
The Erburu is an exciting addition to the complex of gardens and museums in that it is not only aesthetically pleasing on the exterior, but visually appealing inside as well, giving patrons a fresh look at artwork that has been in the collection for years.
"We have docents who have been here at the Huntington for years who are taking notice of paintings that have been on display that they simply never took notice of," said John Murdock, director of art collections. "Some of them were saying we never knew we had that Canaletto, or that Gainsborough, and these are some of the people who know the collection best."
The unique construction of the gallery is what provides visitors with a new perspective of the artwork. Along with a glass-encased loggia that runs along the north side of the building and allows for outside light to stream in are the sky lights constructed in the ceiling of each of the nine rooms in the interior of the gallery.
"The skylights are specially designed to track the sun from east to west," Murdoch said. "It diffuses the light into the center of the room."
"This carefully blended system of lighting is also in use by other modern galleries. However, we have the benefit of not having to rely on skylighting with moving parts like at the Getty which give audio consciousness of their mechanical systems each time they move," Murdoch added.
The placement of the paintings in the Erburu at eye level provides for a closer look at their detail. "The height enables people to look at them reasonably intimately," Murdoch said. "You are meant to see them as if you are in the front row of a theatre with the figures coming forward toward the footlights."
The new botanical center and art gallery are at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino. Hours are noon to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $15, $12 for seniors, $10 for students, $6 for children ages 5 to 11 and free for children under 5. Admission is free to all visitors the first Thursday of each month. Call (626) 405-2100, or visit www.huntington.org.