“Remarkable Works, Remarkable Times: Highlights from the Huntington Library,” is a permanent exhibition featuring some 150 rare objects drawn from the Library’s extraordinary collections. The exhibition begins in the 15th century with the spectacular Ellesmere manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and ends in the mid-20th century with materials intended to provide insights into the diversity and development of California and the American West. Arranged chronologically around highlighted key works, the sweeping exhibition provides thematic juxtapositions and unexpected insights into the collections, and into history itself.
For example, a First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays, published in 1623, is displayed alongside books that inspired the Bard and rare items that reflect the world he lived in. Items related to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War are seen together with materials that illuminate two other major events that occurred in the United States during the war: the passage of the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 and the preservation of Yosemite as a wilderness area in 1864. Susan B. Anthony and her pioneering fight for women’s suffrage anchor a section in which the works of her contemporary, Mark Twain, are featured.
Additional thematic groupings showcase great treasures such as Audubon’s masterpiece, The Birds of America, and Mr. Huntington’s prized copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in the West from movable type, as well as the original manuscript of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.
The Exhibition Hall itself—a space that first opened in 1920—provides a beautiful setting for these highlights while reflecting the building’s historic past. Along with the 2012 restoration of the original marble and cork floor, three dramatic chandeliers have been fabricated based on archival photographs of the original fixtures (and updated with state-of-the-art LED lighting) to evoke the space as it looked in Henry Huntington’s day. A former “Trustees Room” off the entrance foyer offers a multimedia look at day-to-day Library activities that are hidden from public view, including scholarly research and conservation activities.