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The Legacy of Imperial Beijing

A look at the Wiant Collection of Chinese Art

artifact from the Wiant Collection

Over the winter, the Arts Initiative’s Urban Arts Space, Ohio State’s 10,000-square-foot gallery downtown, hosted the exhibition The Legacy of Imperial Beijing: Selections from the Bliss M. and Mildred A. Wiant Collection of Chinese Art. The show was organized by history of art faculty members Christina Burke Mathison and Julia F. Andrews.

The exhibition included more than 100 objects from the extensive collection housed at the university, including embroidered silk, musical instruments, fan paintings and such curiosities as cricket cages and Chinese snuff bottles.

“It has been a tremendous opportunity to work in the galleries with students as they have a moment of realization of the significance of these pieces. The fact that these valuable pieces of art history are a part of the university is remarkable.”

{Christina Burke Mathison}

“The Bliss M. and Mildred A. Wiant Collection of Chinese Art captures, as I believe the educators who collected it may have intended, aspects of the unparalleled technical and aesthetic sophistication of one of the world’s great civilizations for the enlightenment of future generations of students and scholars,” explained Andrews.

In 1923, the Wiants moved from Ohio to Beijing, China, to serve as Methodist missionaries. They lived in China until 1951, teaching at Yenching University, where Bliss Wiant founded the music department. 

This was a period of tumultuous change, as China shifted away from the patterns of imperial rule towards modernization but also endured an intense period of civil strife. The fortunes of former officials and aristocrats declined, and their household antiques flooded into curio shops. Over the years, Bliss and Mildred Wiant acquired more than 600 Chinese objects, a diverse collection that reflects the legacy of imperial taste on the residents of the capital.

"Gathered during the second quarter of the 20th century by two Ohioans, this collection is a unique resource among central Ohio institutional collections, offering Ohio State students the opportunity to see and study firsthand an array of exquisite objects, from paintings and calligraphy to textiles and musical instruments," said Andrews.    

The Wiants donated their collection to Ohio State in 1978, with the hope that these objects would share aspects of Chinese culture with the university community. The Urban Arts Space exhibition supported that goal by investigating how the collection reflects Chinese imperial culture as well as the transitions of early 20th-century China. Collectively these pieces draw together the refinement of Chinese emperors and the tastes of an American educator and missionary living in early 20th-century China.

This was a period of tumultuous change, as China shifted away from the patterns of imperial rule toward modernization but also endured an intense period of civil strife. The fortunes of former officials and aristocrats declined, and their household antiques flooded into curio shops. Over the years, Bliss and Mildred Wiant acquired more than 600 Chinese objects, a diverse collection that reflects the legacy of imperial taste among the residents of the capital.

"Gathered during the second quarter of the 20th century by two Ohioans, this collection is a unique resource among central Ohio institutional collections, offering Ohio State students the opportunity to see and study firsthand an array of exquisite objects, from paintings and calligraphy to textiles and musical instruments," said Andrews. 

artifacts from the Wiant Collection

The Arts Initiative’s Urban Arts Space in downtown Columbus kicked off 2017 with an exhibition of featured items from the Bliss M. and Mildred A. Wiant Collection of Chinese Art. Painting and calligraphy, seals, textiles, musical instruments and more provided a rare glimpse of an Ohio State treasure. photo (top left) courtesy of Aubrey Elder, Arts Initiative, all other photos courtesy of Christina Burke Mathison.

The Wiants donated their collection to Ohio State in 1978, with the hope that these objects would share aspects of Chinese culture with the university community. The Urban Arts Space exhibition supported that goal by investigating how the collection reflects Chinese imperial culture as well as the transitions of early 20th-century China. Collectively these pieces draw together the refinement of Chinese emperors and the tastes of an American educator and missionary living in that time and place.

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