Who We Are: Sunny Stevenson

Sunny and GaneshAs we’ve shouted from the rooftops, we’re celebrating our 40th Anniversary this year! Much of the programs and exhibitions of 2011 are focused on Pacific Asia Museum’s past, present and future. So in honor of that, this week’s Who We Are post is spotlighting a woman who has been a part of Pacific Asia Museum from the very beginning: our Volunteer Coordinator, Sunny Stevenson. Below is an interview with Sunny where she shares her memories of establishing a museum and the many roles she’s held over the years.

PAM: How did you become a part of Pacific Asia Museum?
I came when the museum opened, in 1971. I think I actually came earlier as a child because my grandmother was across the street, so I probably even knew Grace Nicholson [the original owner of the building], I just can’t remember it. But in 1971, I came because I love Asian art. One of the things that interested me was the Arts Councils– we didn’t have much art in the beginning, so we had a lot of meals and programs in what are now the galleries. I was also heavily involved in the Chinese Arts Council, which has been doing fascinating things to this day. We’ve had some incredible things happen here that have had a great impact on my life. I love the art, but it’s been the people who have kept me here all this time. It’s been such a fabulous thing to watch it grow.

PAM: How did it look when it was all getting started?
Empty. It had been stripped of everything. And so we started from scratch. Down where the store is now is where they had the membership office, and they called it the “black hole of Calcutta” because it was all painted black! That’s how the Pasadena Art Museum had left it.
Sunny's favorite bowl

Sunny's favorite bowl: Click to enlarge

PAM: How is this building different today?
We have exhibitions and collections now! But also, the garden is different. When Grace built it, the courtyard was just a long garden down the center. It’s truly more Chinese now. What we do has changed a great deal too– we happened. We came in, there were wonderful ideas, but now as time has gone by, we’ve evolved from a community-run organization to an accredited museum. We’ve always had heart, but now we have head as well… which helps!

PAM: What’s the best part of being our resident storyteller?
Our museum started because we wanted people to learn that different cultures can be very much alike. The Japanese will fly the carp kite because they want their boys to go upstream against adversity. Well, we want the very same thing, we just don’t have the fun of flying the carp! And so when we look at different cultures and they may look so “quaint” or “exotic”, when you go beneath you find that “hey, this is someone just like me!” and so in Storytime, I try to do just that.

PAM: What’s your favorite piece in the collection?
I LOVE the Ganesha statue. I love to tell the story of how he got his elephant head, and how he gets around– that surprises everyone, because you wouldn’t think that an elephant would go around on a rat! Another piece that I dearly love is the beautiful white jade bowl in the Imperial Ceramics gallery. It has lovely gold detail inside, but if you twist your head a bit, you can see the gorgeous landscape on the outside of the bowl. But it’s pretty hard to pick– I love it all!

You can visit Sunny’s Ganesha friend in our South and Southeast Asian Gallery, and her favorite jade bowl is in our Chinese Ceramics gallery. Sunny always welcomes new volunteers, too!

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