There's nothing fancier than an afternoon of high tea to boost the spirit, cleanse the aura, and recalibrate the chi. We at Museeum decided to head over to Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens to do just that.
A few weeks ago, an article emerged about the Huntington which left me intrigued. As an art historian, a curator, and an art business professional, I feel safe at museums, I feel welcomed and included; a museum, after all, is a space for me, one that my career gravitates around. As a woman of color, however, it's concerning to walk into a predominantly white space sometimes. Race politics play a huge role in this, I have light skin and therefore can get away with not acknowledging race concerns on daily basis. Mark Bradford said it best in a recent lecture at CAAM (California African American Museum) "Black walks into a room before I do," personally my race sometimes stays at home.
The article referenced a negative experience by a woman of color. Reading this intrigued me as I have never felt like that before, but it also inspired me to want to see this for myself; maybe it was empathy, maybe I needed a counterbalance, maybe I just wanted to witness this reality for myself. My love for tea blossomed into reservations for the Rose Garden Tea Room (reservations are not needed to enter the museum), as I had personally only been to Huntington once a few years back. The predominant reason for my staying away has to do with distance (I live roughly an hour away), and its focus on classical art (I gravitate toward contemporary).
The Huntington grounds are beautiful, vast, and breathtaking. This private non-profit has roughly 120 acres of specialized botanical landscapes which include its Japanese Garden, Chinese Garden, and Desert Garden, aside from three galleries that house a massive collection of classical artworks (18th- and 19th-century British and French art), American art (works from the 1690s to the 1950s), and even a few contemporary pieces, as well as a library of rare books and manuscripts focusing in the fields of British and American History. This small empire was founded by Henry & Arabella Huntington in 1919.
I reached out to a few friends who I know work there in preparation for my visit, a few of which offered to give me some insight into the museum. One of them answered questions about the history and grounds, another took a few minutes from her busy schedule to show me around a few points of interest. I spend the whole day nurturing my soul at Huntington, somewhere along the endless acreage of greens, I was able to disconnect from the world around me. It made me take a moment, a pause, I encountered what seemed to be an endless exploration of the grounds, and it was magic!
Each gallery I walked into, the docents were wonderful, they answered my questions when possible and referred me to alternative sources when needed. Each of them was courteous and kind. I stumbled upon the herb garden and bumped into a few ladies who instructed me on how to best enjoy my experience; I ended up scratching and sniffing a handful of bushes and managed to lose myself in this sensory experience, later to be only topped off by the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Chinese Garden. I ran out of time before I could head to the Desert Garden, but I shall return.
Aside from stumbling upon the beauty of the collection, getting lost in the rose garden's scent, or trying to remember where the contemporary collection room was, the zenith of this entire wonderful experience was the Rose Garden Tea Room which is managed by Bon Appétit. I made an appointment for later in the day and stumbled into a little slice of heaven that lives at the heart of Huntington much to my surprise.
My tea experiences before had been predominantly Asian, Russian, and Middle Eastern, so this was a much-welcomed surprise. From what I gathered speaking to various people, Mr. Huntington smoked, but Mrs. Huntington hated it. She had him built a cigar lounge of sorts away from the main house, where he could enjoy his smelly habits on his own. She also surrounded the space with roses from all over the world in every color. Mr. Huntington in response built his cigar lounge and a small bowling alley, which later was transformed into the Huntington Rose Garden Tea Room.
The magical experience includes a tea service that comes in a variety of packages and may include wine, rose or Mimosas. This lavish experience includes selected tea from the Huntington Signature blend (a few available for purchase at the store, and yes I did bring some home with me), and has flavors such as Earl Grey Crème, White Tip Jasmine, Pacific Coast Mint, Caramelized Pear, and what I gravitated toward that day Raspberry Nectar, a delightful blend of berry and citrus infused with natural ambrosia, and oh so much more. It was heavenly!
Aside from the great tea selection, the service includes house-made scones (which came freshly made and warm to the table), avocado sandwiches, cheese quiche, smoked salmon and caviar, chocolate raspberry ganache tarts, mango cupcakes, rose cookies, strawberry cheesecake, and a few other delicious treats. I can keep going, but we will all be hungry if I continue.
So I digress, the staff at the Tea Room was wonderful, pleasant, accommodating, funny, and made sure that at every step along the way I would have anything I needed at my fingertips. They were engaging, and pleasant, and were also wearing the cutest floral ties on the planet (which I was informed were also available at the shop). The room was decorated with rose motives, and I felt at peace in this space for a few hours. The service was great, the place is beautiful and the experience was not at all what I was expecting. I was so pleasantly surprised.
Everything was delicious, I think I even left with a food-coma of sorts (lots and lots of left overs came home with me as well). The tea was addictive, it was smooth and rich, I must have had a dozen cups. Every single aspect of my visit was above and beyond.
I think I fell in love with Huntington, somewhere in between the beautifully scented roses ever present all around, Orbit Pavilion which is a temporary installation that allowed me to listen to a playlist coordinated by Satellites courtesy of NASA. That adorable shopping store in the entrance home to the tea and the ties. The Japanese and Chinese gardens which proved to be an immersive exploration of flora, or the various people I encounter along my day. My friends, the docents, the ladies at the shop, John at the Tea Room, I had the most spectacular day! Oh yes and that tea! YUMM!
I had only ever thought of Huntington as a museum acquaintance, someone I briefly knew about but rarely got a chance to see, someone I heard some harsh news about not long ago. I am glad however that I decided to head over and witness this for myself, I am happy that I started to solidify my relationship with this space, and I am certain it won't happen overnight. I will not head out there as often as I visit the Getty for instance, but I am also looking forward to their upcoming Pacific Standard Time Los Angeles/Latino/a, for which they borrowed plants that are now visiting the grounds as a part of the exhibition, so I know I will be back soon. I am certainly fascinated by the space, and the potential, and look forward to many more encounters.
Definitely much more tea... so much more tea! (I type as I take a sip of the Huntington Rose Blend loose leaf that came home with me).