Happy Chinese New Year!

By Trudy Gaba, Curatorial Intern

The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is China’s biggest and most important holiday. This year, it kicks off on Friday, February 16th and lasts until Sunday Feb. 18th. Today, the current Year of the Rooster will give way to the Year of the Dog. Each new year is marked by the characteristics of one of twelve zodiac animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Those who are fortunate enough to be born in the Year of the Dog are often considered to be loyal, honest, and selfless.

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This decorative pottery piece from the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th Century), currently on view in the museum, is commonly referred to as a fu-dog. No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you.  The fu-dog is not actually a dog at all; it’s an Imperial guardian lion. As popular symbols in Chinese Buddhism, the statues of guardian lions traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, homes, tombs, and temples and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits. The fu-dogs are symbolic, protective statues, and they are designed in pairs — one is female, the other is male. The female represents yin, and symbolically protects the people dwelling inside the home, while the male statue, representing yang, protects the structure itself.

Tied to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year is traditionally a time to honour household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors.  It is also a time to bring family together for feasting. In preparation for the holiday, houses are thoroughly cleansed to rid the home of any ill-fortunes that may be been collected during the old year. Ritual sacrifices of food and paper coins are also offered to the gods and ancestors. Paper scrolls with lucky messages are also pinned to the windows and gates of homes to bring good fortune and you may on occasion hear a few firecrackers going off, for they are used to frighten way evil spirits. Chinese immigrants brought these old-world traditions and rituals—including Chinese New Year celebrations—to the host country. These old-world rituals served as a link between immigrants and their home countries and created a sense of community in their adopted country.

Want to see more of our collection of Asian objects? Chinese Neolithic jade and archaic ceremonial bronze vessels from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th Century – 771 BCE) from the permanent collection are also on view in the galleries!

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A Valentine’s Day tribute to William Sloane (November 1, 1868-February 14, 1940)

By Trudy Gaba, Curatorial Intern

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Mr. Sloane was born in New York, November 1, 1868 and died in Norfolk on February 14, 1940. Those who knew him best described him as a man of quiet taste and unassuming manners. Although he much preferred to remain in the background, he had a genuine love for the finer things in life and a consuming desire to manifest such cultural values in the City of Norfolk. Mr. Sloane’s love of the arts is evident through the Hermitage Foundation he helped to establish in 1937, alongside his wife Florence. Together, they encouraged the development of arts and crafts and were dedicated to promoting the arts in the community. Upon his death, he made a large provision for the Foundation. In addition to the couple’s idyllic estate, he made it possible to establish a museum to feature the couple’s incredible collection of art and cultural objects, a school for the arts (now our Visual Art School), and a wildflower preserve and bird sanctuary. Mr. Sloane would be proud to see his wishes have reached fruition today and that his legacy and devotion to the fine and allied arts live on at the Hermitage. Join us at the museum or in the gardens this Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!