Asian Splendor at the Walters

May 05, 1991

The opening of Hackerman House as a wing of the Walters Art Gallery gives the nation a major new museum of Asian art. It adds a dimension to the great museum belonging to the people of Baltimore. It restores and makes public one of the great Nineteenth Century houses. And it brings vitality, including the first sheltered view, to one of the great public squares of America. Four birds with one $7 million stone.

The Walters Asian collection of some 7,000 pieces is not new. But only 125 pieces were on view in the fourth-floor Asian gallery of the 1974 wing. Now, some 1,000 pieces are. This includes one of the nation's foremost collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. The addition also affords the greatest prominence to non-Walters-collected art in the museum's history, particularly the Alexander B. Griswold collection of Thai art.

For the out-of-town visitor to whom the Walters Art Gallery meant a two-hour tour, it is now a three-hour museum. Fortunately, the former back yard of Hackerman House has been replaced by a surprisingly majestic dining room. The generosity of Willard Hackerman in buying the house for the city not only allowed the magnificent restoration of the first floor and stairwell, but also made that gem public for the first time. The cupola built above the carriage house affords views of Mt. Vernon Place and Washington Place that no one had before.

With the growing importance of Asia to the world in which all Baltimoreans live, with the debate among educators on the importance of non-Western culture, with the growing Asian community in the region, with the growth of travel, the coming of this major museum addition to Baltimore is a blessing.

And it need not take three hours to see. For members and those able to take advantage of free Wednesdays, the treasures may be taken, like the richest of desserts, a little at a time. Both the house and the collection were here all along. But now their owners may properly inspect them.

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