Never Underestimate the Power of a Librarian

A regular ritual when I visit my father in Los Angeles, is to go to my much beloved Huntington Library. This week in a quest to organize my life, I reshelved some of my most precious books. Two books my Dad bought me on our most recent trek to The Huntington Library make the cut as precious. Before they went back on the shelf, I sat down and reread them. Then phoned my father.

Fond Memories of The Huntington Library

My parents were divorced when I was very young.  At five, I started to join my sister on airplane trips down to California from Vancouver, B.C. every summer.  Trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Sunday morning rounds to the hospital to see Dad’s patients before church, and visits to the Huntington Library became favourite rituals.  I liked trips to the Huntington Library because my stepmother would buy me new dress-up outfits to wear for the outings.  As a very little girl, I gravitated to the two paintings of the prints that my mother had bought with white French provincial frames to match my bedroom suite.   I called them “Pinkie” and “Bluey”.  The prints of the famous paintings, Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence, and The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough were positioned over our beds in the room I shared with my sister in Vancouver.  I got Pinkie over my bed.  The paintings were also displayed in the same room in The Huntington Library.  I assumed the artist was the same and that the kids were friends.  I wanted a dress like Pinkie’s and I liked the shiny blue outfit “Bluey” was wearing. 

When I was 8 years old, one of my Dad’s patients, Lyle H. Wright, was grateful to my father for saving his life.  However, post brain surgery, he was no longer able to manage the altitude of 7500 feet above sea level and trips to his precious cabin.   We became the proud owners of our Silver Lake cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Lyle left all his books.  Cabin time lent itself to reading along with blackjack, hiking and fishing. 

As I got older, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and The Gutenberg Bible printed on vellum captivated more of my interest on trips to the Huntington Library. I found it amazing that there was a time when books were written, decorated by hand and printed on animal skins. I was amazed that the little metal squares needed to be placed individually in the printing press. I was part of the modern world with the typewriter. My mother’s claim to fame was that she was a private and confidential secretary who could type over 90 words per minute. The dimly lit room in the separate building that houses these literary treasures creates reverent attitude. Or am I simply living out my life as a slave to literacy?

Huntington Library Treasures

It wasn’t until I talked to my father the other day, that I understood why he wanted to leave the book collection in the cabin untouched. Lyle was a reputed librarian at the Huntington Library who had amassed the significant collection of American fiction. Who knew? After our phone call I followed the process for so many of us living in the COVID-19 era. I logged into my Amazon account and made my desperately required purchase. Another piece of the puzzle will arrive on Sunday.


In the meantime, I am feeling infinitely indebted to who I remember as a gentle, old man with white hair, a very big moustache, and a kind smile. Someone who liked me. It was in fact Lyle who cultivated my love for a good murder mystery.  I had thought it was Jessica Fletcher on Sunday nights.  It was Lyle who provided the opportunity for my Dad to reach for the Edgar Allan Poe collection and terrify me with his suspenseful rendition of “The Pit and the Pendulum”.  It was Lyle who fed my quest for social justice when he put Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning within my grasp for repeated readings over the years.  Never underestimate the power of a librarian, even long after death.  Thank you, Lyle.  I just wish I could to talk to you about books!

The Huntington Library Opens My 7 Year old Eyes

As a kid, I lived in Vancouver with my Mom and did the trek down to Los Angeles every summer to visit my father.  Going to the Huntington Library was as predictable as going to Disneyland and Knots Berry Farm, albeit, not quite as anticipated.  My step-mother chuckles every time she recounts me as a little girl with ringlets and my look of frustration and the memorable quote ” Not Bluey and Pinky again!”  And yet, this experience as a child and future experiences with museums around the world, are now highly valued.  This summer I was amazed with the additional gardens and exhibits, and that Huntington Library is now a tourist attraction.  I entered the room with The Blue Boy and Pinky and delighted.  The Ellesmere Chaucer and the Gutenberg bible were reunions with familiar friends.

It certainly led me to reflect on the childhood experiences that helped me to learn how to look at art.  I remember that my childhood eyes saw two friends.  Pinky was obviously just having a lot more fun that Bluey.  After all, they were in the same room.  I remember my surprise when I learned that they were painted by different artists and that when I looked at them more closely, it was obvious.  In order to draw kids into art, they need to be exposed to it and taught that they too can engage in the process.

The summers that I taught teachers in Fuyang, China, I was amazed that ALL of the teachers knew how to draw.  Part of their education included art instruction by teachers with training and proficiency in the area.  They all understood and practiced the basics of drawing which emerged to real talent in many.  When my own children were young, they regularly took classes at Place Des Art in the French Quarter of Coquitlam.  Once a month, The Vancouver Art Gallery had a Super Sunday filled with sessions to get families engaging in art and interacting in various ways with the work of Emily Carr, The Group of Seven and featured exhibits.  On their first trip to Europe, at 7 and 9 years of age, they went in the Roman ruins, the Leaning Tower, the Uffizi, Galleria Dell’Accademia and the Duomo in Florence with their sketchbooks.  That fall our daughter came home from school to tell me that she shared her drawing of The Birth of Venus at school because she didn’t think the kids were ready for David.

I am wondering about how we engage kids in all of the aspects  in the world of art.  I unfortunately didn’t grow up well developed drawing skills.  I remember one of my Kindergarten students snickering as I was using my Ed Emberley book to draw something on the board.  Another protective 5 year old, turned around and exclaimed “Knock it off! She’s doing her best!”  I am creative and can help students to develop artistically in some ways but need to draw in the talents of others as well.  Fortunately in my school, we have amazing number of talented teachers who share their skills with their students.  I’m wondering how we get children to connect what they are doing in schools with that of the artists of the past and of the present?  How do we get them to see themselves as artists?  How do we open up the possibilities for their continued professional or leisure activities as artists?