• Phase II of The Huntington’s Chinese Garden Supported by Former Docent


    A stint as docent  has led to a major gift in support of the ever-evolving Chinese Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, enabling the institution to move forward on the second phase of development.

    Former San Marino residents Judy Yin Shih and Joel Axelrod, now of Ashland, Oregon, recently offered a gift of $2 million to help fund construction of the Clear and Transcendent Pavilion, a traditional Chinese structure that will be one of the focal points of the attraction’s cultural life.

    Located at the edge of a lake on the now-undeveloped north side, the new 1,129-sq. ft. pavilion will serve as an open-air performance space for presentations of Chinese music, opera and dance.

    Shih and Axelrod were residents of San Marino from 2005 to 2011, but it was not until Shih retired in 2008 and started volunteering as a docent at The Huntington that the couple began to explore the institution’s cultural and intellectual offerings.

    “My experience as a docent not only raised my awareness of the varieties of Chinese gardens, but helped me develop a deeper appreciation for the understated grace and subtle meanings within a scholar’s garden,” Shih said.

    Citing a rich lecture program that provided in-depth learning experiences in Chinese art, music, literature and horticulture, Shih said she “found a place where I can let my own garden grow.”

    The couple now lives out of state, but have not forgotten the “wonderful spirit of the Chinese Garden,” says Shih. Helping support it was high on their list of philanthropic priorities.

    “It is a place that has enriched our lives and that so beautifully represents the best of Chinese culture and its heritage,” the couple said. “We’re especially honored to be associated with the building of the Clear and Transcendent Pavilion, which will be at the heart of Chinese cultural and performing arts.”

    “The generosity of Judy and Joel enables us to move forward toward our long-term goal of completing this spectacular garden,” said Steve Koblik, president of The Huntington. “Chinese gardens are meant to be dynamic places for performance, for gathering and socializing, as well as for quiet contemplation. This gift helps us create a space that will accommodate a wide range of programmatic activities. We are deeply touched and very excited by the possibilities.”

    Known as the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, The Huntington’s classical Chinese landscape opened to visitors in 2008 on a wooded 12-acre site north of the Japanese Garden. Five acres were completed in the initial stage of construction at a cost of  $18.3 million, funded by more than 350 local and international donors.

    Since the garden’s debut, design partners in China have been developing plans for Phase Two.

    The name of the Clear and Transcendent Pavilion is meant to “evoke the crystal purity of music gently floating out across the lake,” according to a release from The Huntington. The pavilion’s south-facing stage will overlook the water, “allowing music played there to be enjoyed throughout the garden.”

    Additional structures at the Chinese Garden yet to be funded include a boat-shaped pavilion, a hillside viewing pavilion, and a terraced courtyard for the display of penjing, the Chinese form of bonsai.

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