24.Fellowship At The Met 1953-54

24. Fellowship at the Met (1953-54)

As I finished up my Masters degree at U. Mich. in Ann Arbor and prepared to go off and write my doctoral dissertation (originally to be on all four of the Four Great Masters of Yuan landscape!), someone brought to my attention a one-year museum fellowship offered by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; I applied, and was accepted. I learned when I arrived that we were called "miniature fellows" because the money came from sales of Metropolitan Miniatures, reproductions of famous paintings the size of postage stamps which children were to paste into albums. I, someone else whose name I forget, and Mario del Chiaro (who wasn't there—working elsewhere) were the three recipients for that year. The first half of the year was spent in going around the museum working with the various departments and groups of workers to learn how they operated. I climbed with the electricians in the ceilings, helped the exhibition mounters (I remember one of them, about to push a pin perilously through a filagree gold object to secure it to its base, saying "Here, you push it—they can't fire you") and spent time in the Registrar's section, among other things correcting some of their cards for Chinese paintings which had wrong dates etc. Nobody told me that this should be done only through the Department—Alan Priest, when I met him later, said "So, you're the young man who has been correcting our registration cards!" One of the electricians, a black guy those name I don't recall, invited me for an overnight to his place on Long Island, with a trip to the beach—I tried later to get Dorothy (then my wife) to invite him and his family in return, but she wouldn't.

The second half of the year was spent in the East Asian Art office. Since there were only two curators' offices, one occupied by Alan Priest and the other by Aschwin Lippe, Priest gave me a desk at the far end of his office, so that I was able to watch and hear him in action, and meet visitors—

Georgia O'Keefe. Charles Laughton, others. Alan Priest was a crusty, malicious character modeled on the then-popular image of the lovable rogue who insults everybody (see "The Man Who Came to Dinner: etc.) and played the part well. Aschwin (properly Ernst Aschwin, Prinz zur Lippe-Biesterfeld, brother of the Crown Prince of Holland) was more serious and the better scholar; it was he who helped me in my research. This was the year he prepared his exhibition of Nanking School painting (first such regional exhibition?) for China House. He scarcely spoke with Priest; they were of different minds on just about everything. Priest was pushing the acquisition of the Bahr collection of paintings, or had just bought it; Aschwin opposed this, and was trying to buy good Ming-Qing paintings for the collection, which Priest wouldn't OK. Priest argued that any Song painting, even if not really of that date, was more beautiful than any Ming-Qing painting. Very little of real museum quality was in the Bahr collection, and they paid a big price for it, an amount that could have virtually cleaned up the market of good Ming-Qing paintings.

Lots of other things were happening. Dorothy and I were spending one evening a week with C. C. Wang, she taking painting lessons from him, he and I looking at paintings in his collection and talking. I also got to know H. C. or Wango Weng (then living on Long Island) and Fred Wang (Wang Fangyu), then teaching at Yale, during this time. Also, through Alan Priest, Alice Boney, still active as a dealer in NYC (she later lived in Japan, where I saw her often.) I attended lectures by Nelson Wu (see above). An early Kurt Weill enthusiast, I went to the Theatre de Lys performance of Mark Blitztein's new translation of "Threepenny Opera", with Lotte Lenya singing Jenny. I wrote her a long fan letter, and got a wonderful in reply, which I still treasure somewhere.

Part of our training was to travel to other art museums to observe their methods of registration, exhibition, etc. This was valuable to me in various ways, not least because I met important art historians. In the Boston-Cambridge area for some days I got to know Dick Edwards (stayed with him and Vee) and Michael Sullivan as well as older specialists such as Ben Rowland, Kojiro Tomita and Robert Paine at the Boston MFA, and (only briefly) Langdon Warner. And of course I saw the collections—great pieces that I knew from Max Loehr's lectures. Among New York collectors, Johnny (properly Myron) Falk and his wife Pauleen, a very hospitable couple with whom I spent happy times, and Frederick Mayer, who did not collect paintings but had a wonderfully refined eye for objects.

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