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Yours truly with associate publisher Susan Winiecki
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Susan Winiecki and Sonia Vlahcevic
Yesterday, I went to Japan and China, or rather the Japanese gardens of Hillwood, the estate of philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post (now a museum), and the U.S. Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, all in Washington D.C.
The occasion was a presser for the upcoming Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibition “Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures From The Palace Museum, Beijing.” It’ll run Oct. 18 through Jan. 11, 2015. The importance of this is several-fold. Richmond will be the only city in the nation hosting this show of work from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It’s the first time, too, that the VMFA is presenting work brought here directly from China. And there’ll be a number of exchanges — in staff and knowledge — but also the Fabergé collection will go to the Palace Museum in Beijing. Which, by the way, as we were told by director Alex Nyerges, is the most highly visited museum in the world. The museum felt the foot treads of 15.34 million visitors in 2012 and more than 14.56 million in 2013, according to China Daily.com.
But I went up to D.C. with a busload of museum board members, supporters and staff, and our associate publisher, Susan Winiecki.
Our trip up went quicker than anticipated — not a common occurrence — and the VMFA pre-arranged to have us stop at Hillwood to meander the grounds. Due to the polar vortex-induced splendid weather, this was a welcome diversion.
I took the opportunity to walk the grounds around the Colonial Revival mansion almost alone. The falling waters of the Japanese garden put me in a meditative manner. I wondered what would've been made of this Japanese-inspired landscaping by Sallie May Dooley, who hired one Mr. Muto to make her Maymont gardens.
By the dacha that Post built for her Russian collection is a cemetery for her many pets. There are several pairs of sphinxes, though their top halves resemble the blush-cheeked women of Fragonard — but with animal bodies.
I also by chance wandering came to the monument where Post’s ashes are interred, set amid a stunning array of roses.
Then came time to get back aboard the bus and head to the embassy, where a red carpet and conviviality awaited.
The building, designed by two sons of renowned architect I.M. Pei, possesses an austere, I suppose, Zen lack of embellishment. The soaring interior and grand terrace impressed, where the sculpture Bamboo Forest blended in with who stood by it and the silhouettes reflected onto the walls of the Cloud of Fortune suspended above the grand stairwell recollected the shadows of clouds moving across open ground.
We ate buffet style — I was partial to the dumplings, well, everything, really, as I consumed two heaping plates. One of the most delightful aspects of the excursion was time spent with Virginia Commonwealth University music theory professor and pianist Sonia Vlahcevic.
Chairs appeared from somewhere to the relief of a number of the assembled. I wandered, though not too far, and met and exchanged cards with Zhao Jianhua, the embassy’s first secretary of culture. I mention this because, should this ever happen to you — the cards are presented by holding the corners with both hands and you examine both sides. And the Chinese put their surnames first, as he explained the characters on the obverse side of his card. He explained to me how the design of the windows looking out onto the terrace break up the quadrants of the sky like paintings. And indeed, with the setting sun flaring against dramatic clouds, it was like a living Maxfield Parrish.
Thus we were presented and the first round of introductions accomplished, we departed for the three-hour trip home — caused by a traffic snarl. Cookies were passed out to ease our anxieties and we arrived at the VMFA without international incident.