- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

The intriguing exhibit "Asian Arts at Tudor Place: An American Passion to Collect" is the first in a series leading up to the 200th anniversary of the historic home and garden in Georgetown.
Tudor Place and its collections may be among the best-kept secrets in Washington. The stately neoclassical house was built in 1805 by Martha Washington's granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and Thomas Peter, a tobacco merchant and the first mayor of the port of Georgetown. It remained in the family until 1984. The house, a National Historic Landmark, became a museum and garden four years later.
The Peter family amassed an impressive collection of Asian decorative arts over 178 years. Several Peters, including Martha Peter and Armistead Peter III (the last family member to own Tudor Place), were passionate collectors. Like most collectors of their times, they were not connoisseurs of Asian art per se but bought what appealed to them aesthetically and added objects that complemented the family's treasures.
George and Martha Washington had succumbed to the rage for the new and exotic goods available through the China trade. Martha Peter and her husband bought household and decorative objects, including Chinese ones, from the Washingtons. Many were from Martha Washington's estate sale on July 20, 1802. Needless to say, the estate sale was not an ordinary one. Held shortly after Martha Washington's death on May 22, 1802, and according to the dictates of her will, the sale was to raise "ready money."
Martha Peter proved the catalyst for almost two centuries of family buying of Asian art, a passion that in later years exas a communications specialist on the USS Mount Olympus and used his two months there to scour the antiques shops. Caroline had grown up in Europe and Washington and had cosmopolitan taste. Pieces from her exquisite jewelry collection, including jade, form a special grouping in the exhibit.
Exhibit curator Melinda Linderer introduces the exhibit with some of the earliest and best Tudor Place pieces in what she calls the "Washington Collection." One is the famous Washington Punch Bowl (circa 1765-75), made in China especially for the export porcelain trade.
Westerners such as George Washington were fascinated by Chinese porcelain's translucent quality and purity. The smooth white surface was produced by using kaolin (a pure white clay found abundantly in China) mixed with petuntze (a kind of crushed quartz).
The colorful enamel decoration reveals an unusual combination of Eastern and Western themes in the scene of an English fox hunt on the inside and one of Chinese rice cultivation on the outside. Enameled butterflies and peacocks seem to dance in, on and around on another punch bowl nearby. Important also is a soup plate that was part of the 302-piece porcelain service with the symbol of the Society of the Cincinnati that was bought for George Washington in 1786.
A second grouping concentrates on objects from the China trade. Tea was shipped in wooden crates lined with foil to ensure freshness. The crate on display is unusual for its original foil lining.
Another popular Chinese export was a "work table" of wood and lacquer, such as the sewing table of exquisite workmanship shown in this exhibit. Its interior compartments were filled with a large range of pierced and carved ivory implements, such as thread winders, tatting shuttles, bobbins and sewing clamps. A silk basket, now disintegrated, served as a drawer beneath it to hold sewing projects.
Other objects, such as a Chinese chess set and board of ivory, wood and lacquer, show the expert craftsmanship with a variety of materials in both China and Japan. A pair of reverse paintings on glass made in China in the late 18th century create another tour de force.
Armistead Peter III returned from Japan and from later trips with his wife with a gilt metal-and-sharkskin sword, a handsome set of black lacquer stacking food boxes and folios of kimono patterns in a case. He bought a set of five pattern books in Tokyo in 1945 for 80 yen, about $5.50. The books bring together two traditional Japanese art forms, the kimono and the wood-block print.
Mr. Peter's talent as an artist is showcased through watercolors and a sketchbook on display.
Miss Linderer selected the 70 objects out of a cache of more than 150 with the help of a board of Asian experts. The art is first-rate, and the setting of the Peter home is unbeatable.

WHAT: "Asian Arts at Tudor Place: An American Passion to Collect"
WHERE: 1605 32nd St. NW
WHEN: Guided tours, at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1 and 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and on the hour from noon to 3 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 31. The gardens are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
TICKETS:Free for exhibition
PHONE: 202/965-0400

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