For the first time, the Berman Museum is hosting its own Chinese New Year celebration. On Saturday, a day before the actual new year begins, there will be live snakes, storytelling, arts-and-craft demonstrations and the museum will preview its new Asian Library, a collection of more than 400 books on Chinese history and culture donated over the course of a decade by longtime benefactors Dr. Oliver Foo and his late wife Pei-hwa.
“With the last acquisition from Dr. and Mrs. Foo, we thought it was appropriate to offer this opportunity to the community. Hopefully this will be the start of an annual celebration,” said program manager Gina Morey, regarding the collection that Dr. Foo and his late wife Pei-hwa donated over the course of a decade.
Morey filled us in on what to expect Saturday, what it took to bring the collection home and why you could be just steps away from your next cultural experience. And by the way — 12 different animals are represented as part of the Chinese zodiac, so if this isn’t your year, don’t worry — it’s not all about the snakes.
Q: Over several years, the museum has benefited heavily from the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Oliver Foo, who donated books, antique furniture, marionettes and more related to Asian culture. How are the books and antiques donated being used to both celebrate their legacy and educate the public on Asian arts?
A: Many of the pieces donated by the Foos were once owned by their ancestors, passed down through generations of family before coming to us. Other pieces were collected over the years as they travelled across the U.S. and abroad.
Pei-hwa had become quite well-versed in antiques and was an active educator, collector and donor of Asian arts. She served as guest curator, lecturer and brochure author for an exhibition on Chinese furniture at the Asian Art Center Museum of Towson University, Maryland.
[Her] passing late in 2011 left a great hole in the lives of her husband and two daughters. Her legacy and her passion for the art and culture of her native China will live on forever in the halls of Berman Museum [and] in the beautiful pieces she and Oliver collected and chose to share with us over the past decade.
Q: The development of the new Asian library dates back to last summer. How did it make the journey from Maryland to Alabama, and were there any surprises?
A: Berman Museum volunteer Joel Denney [drove] to Maryland to pick up Dr. and Mrs. Foo’s final donation of items. [It was] bittersweet for both Dr. Foo and the staff. The contents of the truck nonetheless dazzled the staff and volunteers selected to unpack and catalog the new acquisitions. What they found were amazing treasures ... ornately crafted pieces of furniture, beautiful paintings and wall hangings, bold architectural elements and over 400 books, many which are rare.
These books will be available for scholarly research by appointment. The centerpiece of this donation, which will be displayed in the lobby through February, is a massive hand-carved antique Chinese canopy bed dating back to the 1700s.
Q: You’ve worked with both the Berman and Anniston museums for nearly 18 years. What is a special element of your job that you enjoy in particular?
A: Working with museum volunteers is a part of my job that I have enjoyed through the years. They bring such diversity of ideas to the table as well as a vast knowledge of people and resources in our community. Their accomplishments and dedication has amazed me!
The Chinese New Year Celebration is the brainchild of our Berman volunteer group called Berman Alliance. This volunteer group meets monthly, plans and works many hours to present programs and offer fundraisers for the Berman Museum.
Q: What can visitors to Saturday’s celebration look forward to this year?
A: This will be a day at the museum filled with storytelling by local librarian Kim Westbrooks, traditional paper folding by art history professor Dr. Karen Henricks, demonstrations of Chinese brush-strokes called “sumi-e” by local watercolor artist Jack Hadder, and children can have their names written in Chinese characters by local university librarian Hanrong Wang.
Each visitor can choose from a fortune cookie or a lai see (traditional red envelope) with a “chocolate” good luck charm. In honor of the Year of the Water Snake, there will be a few live snakes on display where our educational specialist will share information on some of the snakes found in China and their United States counterparts.
Q: This is a day where people can really immerse themselves in a new culture. What do you want them to get from it the most?
A: We have an Asian population in our area that we would like to reach out to and work with at the museums. Many of our volunteers work with and have friends in the Asian community and would like to encourage them to get involved with the museums, to offer their ideas for programming, share this amazing collection of Asian antiquities and glean knowledge from them about their culture.
Q: How can we continue to embrace and learn from holidays around the world?
A: Our community is a diverse area with people from many cultures and walks of life. It is very important that we learn from each other. Our mission is not only to preserve, manage and collect historical objects for education but to bring people and history together. Understanding of the past enriches people’s lives and helps us better understand one another to build a better future.
The Chinese New Year Celebration will be held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Berman Museum. The fest is included in regular museum admission.