Asian art finds elegant home in downtown mansion

May 06, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

Kung-Lee Wang applauded as a 75-foot golden silk dragon wove through the cobblestone streets in front of the Hackerman House to celebrate yesterday's grand opening of the Museum of Asian Art at the Walters Art Gallery.

He called the dragon, an Asian symbol of pulsating energy, a fitting mascot for yesterday's celebration. To him, the new museum demonstrates the increased pride and activity of the state's growing Asian-American community.

"We are starting to speak out and get involved with culture and politics," said Mr. Wang, a Rockville resident who is a founder of the nationwide Organization of Chinese Americans.

"It is time that people learned about our culture. This country is only a couple hundred years old, but our culture goes back thousands of years.

"And if we understand each other's past, then we can appreciate each other more."

The Hackerman House, an 1850 Greek revival mansion with an elegant spiral staircase and a brilliant cupola, contains 1,000 pieces of Asian art owned by the late William Walters.

It opened yesterday with a grand celebration, including a parade and performances by various Asian dancers, musicians and martial arts experts.

"It's a beautiful museum, and it's nice to see the recognition of Eastern culture," commented Gil Schlossberg-Cohen.

"I've lived in Baltimore all my life and I've always seen Asian people, but I've never really have had an opportunity to learn about them."

"The home is magnificent and Victorian, and the artwork is delicate and colorful," added his wife, Helen. "It really brings East and West together well."

The museum is named after Willard Hackerman, a Baltimore philanthropist who purchased the mansion in 1984 and turned it over to the city.

William Donald Schaefer, then mayor of Baltimore, gave the mansion to the Walters after hearing proposals for the house's use from various cultural groups.

The Hackerman House contains several galleries displaying such artwork as delicately crafted porcelain and turquoise Chinese vases, a lacquer-covered wooden image of Buddha dating back to A.D. 618 and iron Japanese warrior helmets.

In the entrance to the Indian and Southeast Asian gallery is a schist sculpture of Ganesa, the elephant-headed Hindu god.

Yesterday, after the governor toured the $7 million museum, he looked out over the thousands of people gathered below at the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon and said, "This is what the city needed right now -- a parade and people of all races walking together through the streets smiling.

"You know, times are tough," Mr. Schaefer added. "And usually when things get tough, the first thing that's cut -- especially in the schools -- is arts and culture. Don't let that happen. We need to keep those things that make our state and nation great."

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