Maybe this is telling the story backwards, but my first exhibit La Rose Impériale: The Development of Modern Roses came down last week after a three month run in the the Boone Gallery. The exhibit was a huge part of my life from the planning stage and final installation in January through all the special tours and dismantling in late April.
Pictured above are our Rose Docents after touring the exhibit as part of their continuing education program. These dedicated volunteers daily greet visitors, answer questions, take photographs, and provide that missing human touch when visitors tour the gardens on their own.
The biggest shock was watching my “words of wisdom” being scraped off the wall and landing in random piles on the floor! It isn’t easy on an author to see his words wadded up in a sticky ball.
Visitors were curious about how we produced the large wall panels like this “Genealogy of a Rose” chart outlining the ancestry of ‘Double Delight.’ The text panels were printed on self-adhesive vinyl strips and applied like wallpaper. An effective and artistic way to present visual messages to visitors. Jane Tsong, the show designer, designed the panels and matched the background colors to the paint she had selected for the walls by taking a light bulb from the Boone and comparing the color samples in a booth at the printers.
From the beginning when I started thinking about the exhibit I was concerned that we would be just displaying dusty old books in dusty cases. The visual panels were a great way to set the stage for the books. Jane and I developed ideas to present the story and bring visitors into the story including engaging them with scent and touch.
The books, like this second edition of John Gerard’s The Herball, or General Historie of Plants printed in 1633 with hand-colored illustrations, have been returned to the vault. One fact that surprised visitors was that all the books in the exhibit were from The Huntington Library’s collections. We did not borrow books, partially because we did not have the budget for loans and mainly because I wanted to demonstrate the depth of our library collections. The great majority of the books on display had not been exhibited in the 25 years I have been at The Huntington. It was a great honor being asked to curate the exhibit and seeing visitors enjoy our efforts was equally gratifying.
Now that the books are safely back in the vault it looks like the exhibit may have an extended life. The Huntington has asked me to write a book on the exhibit and the rose garden centennial and the exhibit may travel to the Chicago Botanic Garden next summer. They have made an informal request and are now looking into the practicalities of moving the exhibit to their institution.