Maridon Museum celebrates 10 years of Asian art, culture in Butler

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The late Butler philanthropist, Mary Hulton Phillips, turned her personal love of art into a public avenue to Asian culture and history with the opening 10 years ago of The Maridon Museum in Butler. Since then, thousands of visitors have perused a collection of hundreds of pieces, some of which date back 4,000 years.

The decade anniversary of the museum’s opening on May 8, 2004, will be celebrated with a fundraising dinner Feb. 15 as museum officials seek to grow the museum’s connection to the community.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” said Roxanne Booser, executive director of the museum. The public is invited to "Celebrate Ten Years of The Maridon with Year of the Horse" from 5:30 to 11 p.m. with dinner, dancing and an auction at the Butler Country Club for $125. Information: 724-282-0123 or www.maridon.org.

The museum hosts an annual fundraiser, generally raising $25,000 to $35,000, and this year’s will focus on the decade since the Maridon opened.

The museum, just blocks from the center of the downtown business district on North McKean Street, draws about 1,000 visitors each year from all over the world, including China, Japan, Korea, Germany and England. More than 800 items are on display, most of which is Asian art but about a quarter of the collection is German Meissen porcelain — one of the largest private Meissen collections in the United States, with several pieces dating to the company’s earliest production in the 18th century.

Mrs. Phillips had been collecting art for 40 years when she decided to share her acquisitions and her love with the public by creating the museum.

In addition to the permanent collection, temporary additions are exhibited on occasion. For example, a doll festival will be held in March during which the museum’s popular Hina Matsuri dolls, Japanese dolls, will be on display.

Most of the museum’s collection has remained stable over the years but some pieces have been added, Ms. Booser said, including two wall-mounted brass soldiers. The sculptures were donated by patron/​artist Fumino Hora, who had lived in Pittsburgh but who moved to Japan two years ago. Another addition about two years ago was a commissioned painting by Young-Ran Kim of South Korea.

The oldest piece at the Maridon dates back 4,000 years and is a “Bi” — a flat, round disc with a hole in the center. Carved from stone, it is a symbol for heaven.

Ms. Booser calls the collection “priceless,” saying that it is valued for insurance purposes “in the millions.”

“I think we provide a cultural and educational experience that is unique,” she said, noting that one of the museum’s slogans is “Where East Meets West,” a reference to the collection’s extensive connection to Asian art but also its extensive display of Meisson porcelain.

The museum is directed by a 12-member board and has an annual budget of about $250,000, made up of a combination of Ms. Phillips’ trust, grants, admissions and fundraising.

Ms. Booser said the goal for the coming years is to “strengthen and expand our programs for the public.” The museum has offered a variety of such programming, including classes in Japanese brush painting, introduction to Chinese language, an Asian film series, and guest lecturers who speak about their travels around the world.

“We want to educate and entertain the public in more and more ways,” Ms. Booser said.

Hosting more temporary exhibits is another way of keeping things fresh, she said. An exhibit of oil paintings by Ran In-Ting of Taiwan, who lived from 1903 to 1979, will be loaned to the museum from June through August.

The museum is regularly open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Special openings can be scheduled for groups. The meeting room can be rented for business sessions and parties. “That’s something that has been picking up in popularity as people learn that this is a beautiful setting to gather in and the option is open to them,” Ms. Booser said.

The museum’s name honors its benefactors: “Mari” for Mary Hulton Phillips and “don” for her husband, Donald Phillips, whose grandfather founded T.W. Phillips Gas & Oil Co. The Phillips had no children. Mr. Phillips died in 1994. Mrs. Phillips oversaw the design and opening of the museum and served as the museum board president. She died Jan. 19, 2009, at the age of 88.


Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or at 724-772-9180.

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