New Exhibition will Explore the Making of the Huntington’s Chinese Garden

“Crafting a Garden: Inside the Creation of Liu Fang Yuan”
Published on Jul 6, 2022

From left: The Paving Patterns of Liu Fang Yuan (detail), 2021–22; Black pine (Pinus thunbergii), 2022; Stargazing Tower ceiling, 2022. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Visitors to the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens will have the chance to gain insight into the design and construction of its Chinese Garden in the “Crafting a Garden: Inside the Creation of Liu Fang Yuan” exhibition. Opening Oct. 22, 2022, and running through May 29, 2023, in the Studio for Lodging the Mind 寓意齋 art gallery, the exhibition will delve into the complexities and inspiration behind The Huntington’s renowned garden.

Liu Fang Yuan 流芳園, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is one of the largest Chinese gardens outside of China. Built between 2004 and 2020, Liu Fang Yuan was designed and constructed in collaboration with architects and artisans from Suzhou, China. Initially, the garden was about 3.5 acres; built in phases, by the time it was completed in 2020, it encompassed 15 acres. The complex includes a lake, several pavilions, rockeries, bridges, and an extensive penjing court. Indoor spaces include a traditional scholar’s studio and the art gallery where “Crafting a Garden” will be on display.

“Liu Fang Yuan is more than what meets the eye,” said Phillip E. Bloom, the June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies. “With its tiled roofs, wooden columns, and inscribed placards, it appears to be a replica of the 17th-century Suzhou gardens that inspired its design. But underneath those traditional elements are complex materials and ideas that keep California’s unique seismic issues and building codes in mind. The goal of this exhibition is to heighten the visitor experience by shedding light on the intricacies of the Chinese Garden while strengthening the appreciation of all it contains.”

With objects related to the building of the garden on display, “Crafting a Garden” will be organized around five fundamental aspects of the making of Liu Fang Yuan: Building, Paving, Mountain Making, Planting, and Writing.

Building: Historically, Chinese garden architecture required the collaboration of stone masons, carpenters, wood carvers, and tile workers. Liu Fang Yuan’s structures were built similarly and in collaboration with Chinese and American architects, artisans, and tradespeople, who worked to ensure that everything would meet California seismic safety standards while also having a seemingly traditional appearance.

Paving: Artisans used pebbles and tiles to create the intricate mosaic features in the pathways and courtyards of Liu Fang Yuan. Visitors can see the skill required to create the paving as well as the tools and inspiration used in its construction.

Mountain Making: This section covers the construction of the garden’s distinct rockeries. Rather than simply replicating peaks and valleys, The Huntington’s artisans attempted to embody the spirit of these landscapes by studying Chinese paintings. By learning principles of composition, they created sculptural forms that seem to supersede nature.

Planting: Chinese plants and native California flora flourish together in the garden. Visitors can learn the cultural and literary significance of such plants as bamboo, pine, and flowering plum.

Writing: Naming a garden’s components—pavilions, vistas, and the overall garden itself—was a principal element in historic Chinese garden building, often drawing on poetry. Chinese scholars frequently adorned windows and doorways with poetic couplets. With a nod to this tradition, The Huntington incorporated the work of more than 30 contemporary calligraphers throughout the garden, who helped develop the names and couplets for the structures, drawing on Chinese literary history.

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