The More Things Change
NOV/DEC 2014 - In the Chinese Garden, the fluid elements of lake, meandering streams, and thundering waterfalls represent the ever changing. The solidly imposing sculptural rocks symbolize the opposite: the continuity of life, the eternal. I’m reminded of this by the transition that’s been happening within the garden this year. June Li, the founding curator of Liu Fang Yuan, retired in July after a decade of exemplary service. The garden is the manifestation of June’s creative output and intellectual drive at The Huntington, coupled with her extraordinary ability to teach, to bring us along on this cultural journey, and to open our eyes to the many possibilities that lie ahead.
With her first exhibition in 2006, “Chrysanthemums on the Eastern Hedge,” we began to see some of those possibilities in the relationship between our garden and the Chinese painted scrolls, textiles, texts, and ceramics of the 11th and 12th centuries. In her second exhibition, “Treasures Through Six Generations,” June introduced Huntington audiences to spectacular masterworks of Chinese painting and calligraphy from the Weng Collection, one of the most important holdings of Chinese art held in private hands in the United States. The exhibition was a stunning achievement and yet another way of more deeply connecting our garden with Chinese history and culture. I'm happy to say that June continues on here as curator emerita, developing new ideas for exhibitions and activities.
Further, and with extraordinary vision, June and her husband, Simon Li, a Huntington Overseer, have provided the funds to endow the position of curator of the Chinese Garden and director of a new Center for East Asian Garden Studies. Their generous gift of $2 million will build upon the cultural programming already begun under June’s leadership as we more formally establish the program with a nod toward the future. There are plans to create research fellowships and international exchanges that further enrich dialogue and scholarship on the garden traditions of China, Japan, and Korea.
Duncan Campbell took the helm this fall as the first June and Simon K. C. Li Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies and Curator of the Chinese Garden. Duncan is a first-rate Chinese scholar who has been a past participant in our Chinese Garden lecture program here. We are delighted to have him on board; you’ll get a chance to see him in action when he presents his first lecture on Nov. 18.
All the while, the garden itself continues to thrive, with new pavilions and other features now in place, rounding out the lakeside vistas. Still in the planning stages are a small display gallery space (an important feature of classical Chinese gardens), a penjing court to display miniature trees, and additional pavilions. There are a multitude of ways to use this garden to teach about Chinese history and culture, art and architecture, and landscape traditions. And we aim to do just that in a continuously evolving program of activity. I am ever grateful to June and Simon for their generosity. But I am, and will forever be, especially indebted to June—for her patience as a teacher, for her style and her flair, and for her gentle perseverance. If you look carefully at many of the clay roof tiles in the Chinese Garden, you’ll see her “fingerprints” there in the form of a chrysanthemum design. This floral symbol was chosen by June and is unique to this particular garden. It represents nobility, elegance, and perseverance. How magnificently appropriate. Thank you, June.
Steve Koblik, President