Workin’ in the Garden

April 26, 2013

In honor of Arbor Day and National Volunteer Week, we’re bringing back this post originally published on August 9, 2012. We’re proud of our beautiful courtyard, the flourishing trees within it, and the volunteers who make it all possible! A note: since this was published, our Korean Gallery has opened to rave reviews! You can learn more about it here and here.

As our curatorial team is hard at work renovating the new Korean Gallery, another group of staff and volunteers are also restoring and maintaining our courtyard. For several months a dedicated group of staff, trustees, docents and volunteers have done weekly gardening maintenance and are working toward a comprehensive knowledge of the various plants and other features of our courtyard. In addition, restoration of the roundel, the beautiful doors and other features has been a top priority.

As this group does the essential work of keeping our garden in good shape, they’re also learning. With the help of guest experts from local gardens and nurseries, they hope to identify every plant and research its cultural connections. For example, after identifying the camellia japonica, the group found that the seed pods of the tree have historically been ground up and applied to the face as a beauty treatment in Japan. Today, essential oils and other extracts from the plant are still used in beauty products. Learning not only about the plants but also their cultural significance will help the museum share even more about Asian culture with our visitors.

We’ve also brought in specialists to return our big blue doors at the entrance to the courtyard to their former glory. Longtime supporters Robert and Susan Bishop have generously funded the effort to inspect and restore these “Doors to Education.” Made of wood and wrapped in tin, the doors are original to the building (built in 1926!) and have weathered quite a bit. To prevent the wood from rotting, our specialist Mike had to expose it first– he cut through the tin and pulled it off to apply a resin to the wood itself. He then fitted a new sheet of tin onto the door and painted it over to match the original color. There’s still more work to be done on the opposite door and on the iron metalwork, but we’re taking great steps to preserve our building for future generations.

Interested in learning more? We can always use more volunteers Tuesday morning when our gardening group meets to maintain the grounds and do research. Check out our website and get involved! ~CM


Workin’ in the Garden

August 9, 2012

As our curatorial team is hard at work renovating the new Korean Gallery, another group of staff and volunteers are also restoring and maintaining our courtyard. For several months a dedicated group of staff, trustees, docents and volunteers have done weekly gardening maintenance and are working toward a comprehensive knowledge of the various plants and other features of our courtyard. In addition, restoration of the roundel, the beautiful doors and other features has been a top priority.

Seed pod on our camellia japonica

As this group does the essential work of keeping our garden in good shape, they’re also learning. With the help of guest experts from local gardens and nurseries, they hope to identify every plant and research its cultural connections. For example, after identifying the camellia japonica, the group found that the seed pods of the tree have historically been ground up and applied to the face as a beauty treatment in Japan. Today, essential oils and other extracts from the plant are still used in beauty products. Learning not only about the plants but also their cultural significance will help the museum share even more about Asian culture with our visitors.

Wood exposed as Mike restores the doors

We’ve also brought in specialists to return our big blue doors at the entrance to the courtyard to their former glory. Longtime supporters Robert and Susan Bishop have generously funded the effort to inspect and restore these “Doors to Education.” Made of wood and wrapped in tin, the doors are original to the building (built in 1926!) and have weathered quite a bit. To prevent the wood from rotting, our specialist Mike had to expose it first– he cut through the tin and pulled it off to apply a resin to the wood itself. He then fitted a new sheet of tin onto the door and painted it over to match the original color. There’s still more work to be done on the opposite door and on the iron metalwork, but we’re taking great steps to preserve our building for future generations.

Interested in learning more? We can always use more volunteers Tuesday morning when our gardening group meets to maintain the grounds and do research. Contact Sunny Stevenson, our Volunteer Coordinator at 626-449-2742 x 30 and get involved! ~CM


Who We Are: Sunny Stevenson

August 4, 2011

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!

Introducing the Getty Interns

June 30, 2011

Pacific Asia Museum has been lucky to have two Getty interns for the past several years to learn more about our curatorial and collections departments. This year, Emily and Kelley have been hard at work helping us prepare for the many exhibitions we have slated for the rest of the year! We sat down with them to see how they’re doing so far.

PAM: So what’s your background?

E: I’m about to be a third-year at UCLA studying Art History with a possible minor in Anthropology.

K: I also was at UCLA. I just graduated a couple days ago, and my major was in Art History. I want to specialize in modern and contemporary South Asian Art, so this whole year will be dedicated to studying for the GRE and researching schools. And I’m definitely coming back after this internship, in any way I can!

PAM: What have you been working on so far?

K: In the curatorial department, we’ve been working on the database, modifying and editing the exhibition list [for 40 Years of Building the Pacific Asia Museum Collection], physically taking the objects into the exhibition space, and doing a lot of research for the labels– that’s been one of the most interesting things. I’ve especially enjoyed learning about Chinese foot binding and netsuke. I want to start my own netsuke collection– they’re such amazing little pieces and they’re all so different and creative.

E: I mostly help [our Registrar] Annie inventory and get things ready to be shipped, and today we’re doing condition reporting. I’m also working on the upcoming exhibition, pulling out the objects that will be in the show from basement storage.  What I really enjoy about this internship is that I’m not focused just on collections management. Kelley and I have both gotten to see both sides.

K: Our first day was actually inventory condition reporting, getting into storage and pulling out objects. I went home the first day thinking to myself “this is just awesome!” because it was so hands-on. When Bridget [our Curator] said in our interviews they were going to treat us like staff, she really meant it.

PAM: Why were you interested in coming to Pacific Asia Museum for your Getty internship?

E: What the museum stands for really drew me in. I come from a background where there wasn’t much ethnic diversity, so the chance to work with objects from the Pacific Asian region was really interesting to me. Also, there’s a Korean exhibition coming up that really drew me in.

K: I had visited here a few times and actually wrote papers on the museum itself. Beyond the Page and China Modern just blew me away– they’re both about specific fields that I’m so interested in. I attended a lecture at UCLA with Hammad Nasar [guest curator of Beyond the Page] and he talked all about the show and I went to see it the next day. There’s just not a lot of museums that cater to contemporary, non-Western art, and that’s why I really wanted to be here.

Emily and Kelley will be with us through mid-August, and we feel so lucky to have them! Their hard work will be on display on July 8 when 40 Years of Building the Pacific Asia Museum Collection opens. ~CM


Meeting Lady Harrington

April 29, 2011

Earlier this year we had the great pleasure of learning more about  the fascinating career of Lady Harrington, our eldest volunteer at Pacific Asia Museum, through an interview held by Bridget Bray our museum curator. Lady Harrington is a UCLA graduate in the field of Archeology and a pilot of many years. Throughout her life Lady has had the pleasure of traveling to many different countries like the UK, Mexico, Italy, and China,  just to name a few.

As an archeologist, Lady’s most memorable experience took place in a remote location in Guatemala as she had a first-hand experience documenting hieroglyphs in a massive cave complex. Guatemala not only provided Lady with an experience of studying early human culture and her first opportunity at a dig site outside of the US, but also the opportunity to be in the co-pilot’s seat flying into remote locations, and landing on dirt runways.

Lady has retired and leads an exciting life as a volunteer, currently helping to inventory the museum’s art collection as well as volunteer commitments with other organizations. As the interview closed Lady gave thanks to Pacific Asia Museum for the manner in which the staff welcomes and encourages each volunteer to keep moving forward in their own work, and making volunteers feel  part of the museum during their projects.

We thank you Lady, for sharing your life story and being an inspiration to both volunteers and staff. Thank you. Just in case you were wondering, we did ask Lady the one question many people have on their mind, “Are you a member of the British aristocracy?” A question she gracefully answered, but one that you will have to find out, next time you see her.


Inventory of the Museum Collection

April 8, 2011

Given the task to organize and safely store objects in the museum’s art storage areas has proven to be quite a challenge, one that is detail oriented and a test of our own Cesar Santander’s true Tetris skills. Though it’s a tedious task at times, the project is very rewarding, as he gets to be up close and personal with each piece of artwork. Being able to hold an artifact that has been dated to the Han Dynasty is something that keeps him excited as the days go on. Though he never really touches the objects since he’s wearing gloves all the time.

This project involves the relocation of 300 ceramic objects in storage. The process is somewhat short. Each object is measured for its dimensions (height, width, depth), any conditions noted (losses, cracks, soiling etc.) After each object has been recorded, Cesar lightly dusts its surface if necessary to prepare it for storage . Objects are then stored in microenvironments using special acid-free materials to protect them from degradation. Each object is then held in place with the use of foam cutouts; in the same manner that flat screen TV’s are packed for stability and as an extra layer of protection from external forces. Then the game of Tetris begins, storing different size boxes in one shelf can be a challenge at times, but Cesar has by now figured out the pattern.


Behind the Scenes: Who We Are

March 15, 2011

Our dedicated docents and volunteers are the backbone to almost all of our public programs; without them we couldn’t do all that we have been able to accomplish over the past 40 years as an institution. One of these fabulous volunteers is Ray Jan, a dynamic Angelena who finds time in her busy work and social life to support the museum both as a member and a volunteer. She joined the museum as a member in 2008 and became soon involved with the Chinese Arts Council by 2009. Since then, Ray has worked tirelessly in support of museum events especially our Fusion Fridays summer night series and our Lunar New Year Festival. For Ray, PAM is not just a museum, it is a little oasis in the midst of the hectic L.A. life. It is also a great place to socialize with like-minded urbanites, especially at the summer weekends night of Fusion Fridays. Most importantly, it is a place where cultural exchange and friendships are forged over a lifetime of volunteering.