Wine horn with gazelle protome

Wine horn with gazelle protome; Iran, Sasanian period, 4th century CE; silver and gilt; Gift of Arthur M. Sackler, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, S1987.33

Volunteer Month: Revisiting Asia

More than thirty years ago, I returned to the United States after living in Japan for seven years. I had become immersed in Asian culture and missed it from the moment I left. As a relative newcomer to the Washington, DC, area, I wanted to become involved in art and cultural opportunities. My aunt suggested I consider volunteering with the Smithsonian and, following training for Visitor Information Specialists, I was thrilled to be assigned to the almost-new Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. It afforded me the privilege of revisiting “Asia” at least every couple weeks and feeling a part of the culture that had taken hold of me.

Having enjoyed a few years at the Sackler information desk, our VIS assignment was expanded to include the Freer Gallery when it reopened after a three-year closure in the 1990s. I continue to look forward to Saturday mornings, when I can arrive long before the first visitors to wander through the galleries and have them all to myself to enjoy.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with visitors from all over the world. I have been delighted to share the history of the Freer|Sackler and to introduce visitors to the stunning collections and exhibitions. I’ve also had the privilege of working with many dedicated and interesting volunteers and staff members, at the information desks as well as during the museums’ many festivals and celebrations.

As the Freer|Sackler was preparing to reopen in October 2017, I realized with a growing sense of excitement and anticipation how much I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the museums. And in spite of the fact that I was on crutches with a broken foot, there was no way I would miss playing a small role in the celebration.

With each new exhibition, I learn something new about the arts and the cultures of this vast and diverse region called Asia. There are so many things in the collections to which I am drawn that it is difficult to select only a few. The Japanese collections in the Freer are very special for me, including the woodblock prints, the screens, and the ceramics. The Chinese porcelains, ceramics, and scrolls take my breath away. I’ve grown to have a deep appreciation for the Persian miniatures and the South Asian sculptures.

Detail image, ancient Chinese bells, from the exhibition "Resound: Ancient Bells of China"
Resound: Ancient Bells of China, open through mid-2020

I am particularly thrilled that some of my favorite pieces have returned to the galleries; some have been on exhibit all along, while others had been off-exhibit and greatly missed! The iconic objects that were so prominent during the opening years of the Sackler remain my favorites: the Iranian metalwork now highlighted in Feast Your Eyes, and the ancient Chinese bronzes. My absolute favorite pieces are the silver spouted gazelle vessel (top) and the Chinese bronze bells (above). It is a thrill to have the bells on exhibit once again, in the stunning setting of Resound.

Kathleen Morris

Kathleen M. Morris is a longtime volunteer for the Freer|Sackler.

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