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Huntington Library sets shows on American history, Chinese mirrors

September 1, 2011 | 10:00 am

Railroad Two American history shows -- one looking at the sweeping changes spawned by the transcontinental railroad and the other at how Civil War photographs influenced the ways the nation grieved -- will highlight the 2012 exhibition season at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

"Visions of Empire: The Quest for a Railroad Across America, 1840-1880" will run April 21 to July 23. The show -- which taps into the Huntington's trove of letters, diaries, tourist guidebooks and other material -- will tell tales of engineering and entrepreneurship and examine the Iron Horse's social, political and economic impact. The subject has special resonance for the Huntington because its founder, Henry E. Huntington, was the nephew of Collis P. Huntington, one of the "Big Four" of American railroading.

"A Strange and Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War" will run Oct. 13, 2012, to Jan. 14, 2013. More than 150 photographs by Mathew Brady, George N. Barnard, Alexander Gardner and Andrew J. Russell will be presented in the first show drawn exclusively from the Huntington's collection of Civil War-related images.

The Huntington also is announcing Thursday an addition to its 2011 calendar: the first public display of a group of Chinese bronze mirrors spanning 3,000 years. "Ancient Chinese Bronze Mirrors from the Lloyd Cotsen Collection," which will run Nov. 12 to May 14, will feature about 80 intricately decorated items from the Qijia Culture (c. 2100 to 1700 B.C.) to the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234).

"From the earliest periods of China's history, bronze mirrors have played a significant role in reflecting, both literally and symbolically, the face of the Chinese people," says June Li, curator of the exhibition and of the Huntington's Chinese Garden.

The pieces are on loan from the collection established by Cotsen, a Los Angeles businessman, philanthropist and member of the Huntington's Board of Overseers.

Besides the railroad and photography shows, the Huntington's 2012 schedule will include:

Mirror "Al Martinez: Bard of L.A.," a salute to the former Times columnist, which will run March 17 to June 25, and will feature his work as a journalist, author and television writer and some of his letters. (The archive of Martinez's papers resides at the Huntington.)

An exhibition of works by American Regionalist artist Roger Medearis, which will run June 16 to Sept. 17.

"A Just Cause: Voices of the Civil War Era" -- a look at the wartime debate over the conflict's causes and mission -- which will run Sept. 22, 2012 to Jan. 14, 2013 as a complement to "A Strange and Fearful Interest."

In April, the Huntington's Japanese Garden will reopen in time for its centennial after a yearlong renovation. Also this spring, the Library Exhibition Hall will close for renovation. Highlights from its permanent collection will be displayed elsewhere at the Huntington.

The rest of the 2011 lineup consists of "The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945-1985" (Sept. 24 to Jan. 30); "Dreams, Disasters, and Reality: Goya's Prints from the Huntington's Collections" (Oct.1 to Jan. 9); and "Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California" (Oct. 8 to Jan. 9).

-- Karen Wada

Top image: "Group of Workmen on the Union Pacific Railroad" (1867), Harper’s Weekly, T. Davis, engraver. Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Bottom photo: "Eight-lobed Mirror with Vines, Birds, and Mythical Animals," China, Tang dynasty (618–907), cast bronze with silver amalgam. From the Cotsen Collection. Photo credit: Bruce M. White.