The Maridon – Western Pennsylvania’s Newest Museum
Western Pennsylvania, USA
My friend Teresa and I were on a road trip when all at once she exclaimed, “I’m going to be a docent. I’m volunteering at the Maridon. You should be one too.” I replied, “I’ve always wanted to be a docent.” Being efficient and also a cell phone junkie, she hit speed dial and the next thing I knew, I was scheduled for docent training during the following week.
Now, do you know what a docent is or what a docent does? Don’t feel bad if you don’t, because I have recently discovered that most of my friends and acquaintances have never heard the word, let alone have used it in a sentence. Since I love my friends, I think that puts you in good company.
It does make me wonder though. Didn’t my friends’ parents see the value of going to museums? Or perhaps their schools thought that field trips should be to amusement parks? Whatever, I am glad that Teresa not only knew how to use the word in a sentence, but knew that I might be interested in being a person who leads guided tours through a museum or art gallery – especially at the Maridon, western Pennsylvania’s newest museum. This was exciting. I had been watching the construction for over a year, and I knew that the building would house jade and ivory pieces. Since I have enjoyed multiple trips to Asia, I had garnered a little knowledge and a whole lot of appreciation for Asian art.
Rose Quartz Dog
Little did I know that when I walked in the door for the first day of training, a moment’s glimpse out of the corner of my eye would make my mouth fall open in awe. I was looking at two ornately carved jade peacocks that stood about 4 feet tall. They were magnificent – equal if not better than pieces I had seen in Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Taipei.
Located in Butler, Pennsylvania, 50 minutes north of Pittsburgh, this museum houses Mary Phillips’ private collection. The curator, Edith Frankel from the EJ Frankel Gallery in Manhattan, says that of all museums, this one is especially unique because it not only illustrates a journey through 40 years of one person’s evolvement in collecting, but at the same time illustrates the journey of Chinese and Japanese art as it evolves from Neolithic to contemporary forms.
There are about 800 pieces and some will be rotated. Both historical and contemporary pieces of jade and ivory comprise the bulk of the collection, but there are silk scrolls, rose quartz, porcelain, landscape paintings and a large rosewood Budai (Hotei in Japanese), the rotund laughing Buddha usually surrounded by children.
Jade Swimming Carp Sculpture
The Asian art display begins with the 20th century pieces – very large, very showy, knock-your-socks-off jade sculptures. You see carp swimming through fishing nets, and intricate birds and flowers – the design abraded into the stone so that each feather and each petal is separate from the other. The designs reflect the natural shadings and coloration of the stone.
As you move through the exhibit there are netsuke and whole tusk Mandarin figures. There are Neolithic pieces; there are Ming pieces. There is even a beautiful, perfect Tang horse.
A timeline carries you from Neolithic time through the dynasties to the Blanc de Chine porcelain export period and the Meissen porcelain room. This illustrates the influence that the art of China and Japan had on 18th century European porcelain making. The Maridon Museum even has some actual pieces that were owned by Augustus the Strong, who started the Meissen factory in Germany.
Throughout the museum, you are struck by the beauty of the collection. Mrs. Phillips chose her pieces not so much for value or history as for what was pleasing to the eye.
The Maridon is working with the University of Pittsburgh’s Asian Studies Center and will be providing educational programs, temporary exhibitions, workshops, lectures, and other events to entice both the casual browser and the academic scholar. Some programs will be oriented toward family participation.
A long time philanthropist, Mrs. Phillips, is hoping that her donation of both the collection, which until just weeks ago was in her Butler township home, and the building which displays it will help in the renaissance of Butler as a cultural center.
The Maridon is located at 322 North McKean Street, Butler, PA 16001
Operating hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11-5 and Sunday 12-5
Students and Seniors: $3
Children under 8: Free
Take Route 8 North to the town of Butler where Route 8 turns into Main Street. Turn right on East Brady St. At the first stop sign turn left onto North McKean St. The museum is a half block on the left.
From the Pennsylvania turnpike
Take Exit 39 (Butler Valley) proceed north on route 8 and follow the above directions.