Art Guide Northwest

Exploring Seattle's Asian Antique Galleries

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By Matthew Kangas

The Crane Gallery, Honeychurch Antiques Ltd., Kagedo Japanese Art, Chidori Asian and Ethnographic Art, and Elliott Bay Antiques are now the oldest and best known of a long tradition of Seattle stores offering authentic (often published and documented) Asian art objects at a wide range of prices. In a series of interviews with the owners, each stressed the availability, quality and affordability of Asian antiques and an easy willingness to work with individuals interested in beginning or building such collections.

Elliott Bay Antiques (165 S. Jackson) opened in 1995. Proprietor Stephen Croft, who studied biology at the University of Wisconsin, began by selling old French furniture in New Orleans in the 1970s. Once settled in Seattle, however, he developed a passion for early twentieth-century Chinese furniture. While the gallery concentrates on older Chinese furniture, along with Japanese prints, Buddhist stone carvings, and perforated wooden folding screens, Croft's expertise grew out of encounters with a noted authority, Curtis Evart, and numerous trips to the People's Republic.

"When I first came to the West Coast, Chinese furniture seemed poorly understood. First, I learned about sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Chinese furniture and then, eventually, came to know a particular segment, southern urban furniture of Nanjing, Canton, and Shanghai. These were status symbols for the upwardly mobile classes of the 1920s and 1930s; it came to be called Shanghai Deco." The gallery is filled with sleek, dark armchairs, settees and tables of blackwood and ironwood, some with rare burl insets. (One pictures the Duchess of Windsor seated in such a chair during her 1931 visit to Shanghai.) Coupled with its current availability, Croft notes, "It's affordable and is an interesting blend of Western hip and Asian tradition. The French didn't realize until recently how profoundly Chinese the sources of Art Deco are."

Daniel Stalcup, of Chidori (108 S. Jackson) learned most about Asian art while living in Germany, London and Morocco in the late 1960s after leaving the U.S. Army. A Seattle native who studied Chinese language and religion in Los Angeles at the University of Oriental Studies, he opened Chidori in 1985. Stalcup has perhaps the widest range of objects from different countries of any of the dealers discussed here. Along with Chinese and Japanese art, he also favors the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, some African art, central Asian textiles, and even ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, Phoenician, and Cypriot artifacts.

Co-authors of three books, Kagedo owners Jeffery Cline and William Knospe opened Kagedo in 1982 (520 1st Ave. S.). Cline majored in Japanese language and art history at the University of Washington after a crucial high school foreign-exchange year in Yokohama. In 1978, he borrowed $10,000 from his father and returned to Japan determined to learn everything he could. "I visited junk dealers, learned from experts, attended auctions and began by buying cheaper materials," all of which was helped by his "turning Japanese."

Now he and Knospe go to Japan four or five times a year to bring back objects of a forgotten period, the Japanese Fascist or "Imperial" era, 1929 - 1944. "Major collections of older material that were formed then did not emerge until recently and European museums -- except for Mussolini's Italy -- snubbed Japanese art after the rise of the military dictatorship under Hirohito," Cline, 48, said.

Kagedo requires a buzzer to be pressed for entry, but Cline hastens to add, "The perception is that this is where collectors ultimately end up but we think this is where they should begin!" Prices begin at $2,000 but many purchases involve comfortable time payment plans. By specializing in early 20th-century Japanese art, Cline and Knospe have found troves of previously overlooked but high-quality paintings, sculptures, baskets, scrolls, screens, ceramics, and stone objects.

John Fairman's parents' gallery in Hong Kong has been open since 1968. He opened their Seattle branch, Honeychurch Antiques Ltd., in 1977 (411 Westlake N. after Dec. 5; 1008 James St. until Nov. 30) followed by a larger shop named after his stepfather, Glenn Richards (964 Denny Way) in 1998. With his new 3,500-square-foot space designed by architect Steven Sullivan, Fairman, 50, is vying for top-dog status among local Asian specialists.

Asked what under appreciated areas are left for beginning collectors, Fairman listed "Chinese folk art such as tools, puppets, farm implements, rough pottery and ethnographic jewelry -- as well as Japanese furniture circa 1900 and Tibetan furniture from 1800 to 1900."

Tibetan sutra trunk

Tibetan sutra trunk. Yak leather painted in red pigments with gilded details and brass corner fittings. 19th century, 15"w x 12"h x 10"d. From Honeychurch Antiques.

Steve Croft

Steve Croft

Daniel Stalcup

Daniel Stalcup

Jeffery Cline

Jeffery Cline

Amitayus Buddha

Amitayus Buddha, Tibet, c. 15th century,
Courtesy Chidori Antiques.

Cheney Cowles

Cheney Cowles

The Crane Gallery (104 W. Roy), begun in 1975, moved to its current location in 1997. Owner Cheney Cowles, does not travel to Asia much but, rather, prefers to buy from individual collectors, dealers and auctions in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain. Concentrating more on small-scale objects than furniture, Cowles, a Yale alumnus who attended Hastings law school in San Francisco, calls himself a "mid-range dealer."

While noting "One-quarter to one-third of everything in Seattle is Japanese," he also sells ceramics and other things from India, China, Korea, Southeast Asia and Thailand. I saw an extraordinary third-century A.D. Gandhara sculpture from Pakistan. Influenced by Hellenistic marbles brought over with Alexander the Great, it is the most Western-looking of Indian art with classical Greek torsos topped by Indian heads.

Cowles made the practical comment that people "should inform their feelings by studying and looking." As to areas to collect today that are desirable and affordable, he concluded by recommending that "Japanese art is the most available it has been in ten years. The baskets, paintings and ceramics are better now. Chinese glass is also under-appreciated, especially the carved pieces. And finally, Chinese archaeological materials are a lot more affordable than in the 1980s. Start with what you like and work from there."

Matthew Kangas, frequent contributor to Art Guide Northwest, wrote about the history of Seattle antique shops for the magazine in 1991 and is also the author of a history of Seattle art dealers, "Merchants, Mavens and Money," published in 1986 in Argus Openings. He is a fourth-generation Washington state native. Copyright © Matthew Kangas, 2003

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