(Above: A 1952 oil painting by Morris Graves, titled “Half Deer Half Feline,” is part of the 25th anniversary show at the White Lotus Gallery in downtown Eugene)
By Randi Bjornstad
It’s both celebratory and mournful for Hue-Ping Lin to talk about “Twenty-five Years of the White Lotus Gallery,” the title of the exhibit now on view at her downtown Eugene gallery.
Reaching that milestone would be a happy occurrence for any gallery, Lin acknowledges, but the satisfaction is blunted by the death in April of her husband of 32 years and fellow partner-in-art, Dick Easley.
“I am very grateful for this community and its support for what we have done here,” Lin said a few days ago as she sat in White Lotus’ main exhibit hall with its outer wall of century-old red brick, soothingly quiet carpeting underfoot and dozens of prints and paintings mounted throughout that reflect both her and Easley’s artistic passions.
“For an Asian art gallery — or any art gallery, for that matter — to survive in this country is very challenging,” she said. “But our clients here have become dear friends to us for the past 25 years, and they have given us the opportunity to share our passion and our knowledge. So this is not just a celebration of the gallery but of Eugene and the community.”
An opening reception for the anniversary exhibit will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 27.
Originally from Taiwan, Lin came to the United States in the mid-1980s, intending to study education psychology at the University of Oregon. In 1984, she had just been admitted when she happened to meet her future husband on the streets of Taipei, the Taiwanese capital, in what appeared, then and now, as something akin to fate.
Easley had served in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy, during which time he developed a deep interest in Asian art and culture. After retiring from the Navy, he traveled to Taiwan to do research for his master’s thesis — “He was always so systematic, he researched everything,” she said — when she happened to see him one day at an intersection looking unsure about finding his way.
In the course of directing Easley to his destination, she asked where he was from, and when he said Oregon — he had moved to Eugene in 1978 — the two instantly had something in common.
“Hue-Ping told him to follow her, and that continued for the next 30 years,” Claudia Ponton, a member of the White Lotus staff, said with a laugh. “Then, when she arrived in the United States to attend the UO, she asked him for advice about finding an apartment, and he helped her.”
Lin graduated from the UO in 1991 after studying art education and administration, and the couple opened the White Lotus Gallery in 1992. During the first years of their relationship, Easley had become a docent at what was then called the University Art Museum, now the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. He quickly became captivated by Japanese prints and began to collect them, Lin recalled.
“I had some friends who were artists in Taiwan, so with my connections and his skill at collection, we ended up with enough pieces to open a gallery,” she said. “We traveled to Portland and Seattle and Ashland and asked gallery owners for information we needed to start a gallery, and then we looked for a location in Eugene.”
Their first location was 2636-B Willamette St., in a small back room of a business owned by friends, Reyn Staffel’s Oriental Rugs, in the building now occupied by Mini Pet Mart.
“I was in college at the UO at the time, and I became an intern at the gallery, so I have known them for half my life and my own career has been so influenced by them,” Ponton said. “I love to about the history of the gallery, and how perfect the timing always was for both Hue-Ping’s life and Dick’s life.”
By 1996, White Lotus was involved not only in showing art but also procuring art for their clients and other collectors, and it had outgrown its space on Willamette Street. Just in time, a gallery at 760 Willamette St. called Soaring Wings — where the Karin Clarke Gallery is now and directly across from where White Lotus Gallery is now — moved to a different space, and White Lotus relocated downtown.
Four years after that, the 767 Willamette St. space in the old Smeede Hotel came open, and White Lotus has been there ever since.
Through the years, White Lotus has shown the work of many of the stars of Asian painting and printmaking. One of Lin’s favorite stories involves her role in finding Miao Hui Xing, an artist later dubbed “China’s Peasant Picasso” by Forbes Magazine, and bringing him to the United States.
“In 1997, I was very interested in getting ‘peasant art’ for the gallery, and people told me about peasant artists and helped me locate Miao,” she said. “We did a one-person show of his work that year.”
Because of her Taiwanese background, Time Magazine asked her to go to China for them to do a story about Miao, “but I said I couldn’t go — I had to much to do with my own gallery,” Lin recalled. “But Dick said Time should fly him here — it would be much less expensive — and they did. He came to Eugene.”
The Nov. 30, 1998, edition of Time Magazine included a two-page spread of Miao and his work, and the accompanying photograph “was taken right here in Eugene on the Willamette River,” she said.
It hadn’t been an easy task. Securing a three-month visa for the relatively unknown Chinese artist required the intervention of Oregon congressman Peter DeFazio, Lin recalled, “because at that time he was just a peasant in China” as far the U.S. State
Department was concerned.
After the attention his work received in high-level publications while he was in the United States staying with Lin and Easley, Miao’s subsequent visit to the country was a relative breeze, she said.
Miao has three paintings in the 25th anniversary show, which Ponton said was designed “to show art by people who were important to the gallery early on but who were not known in this country before Hue-Ping and Dick brought their work here.”
In addition, she said, the show’s nearly three dozen paintings “include pieces that Dick really loved.”
That means about half the show is modern Japanese paintings an prints, which were Dick’s passion, Ponton said, and the rest is Chinese and American artists, which is Hue-Ping’s specialty.
Following the close of this exhibit on July 8, the 25th anniversary celebration will continue with a show of Japanese paintings and prints that will run through August.
Twenty-five Years of the White Lotus Gallery
When: Through July 8; opening reception is 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on May 27
Where: White Lotus Gallery, 767 Willamette St. in downtown Eugene
Gallery Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Information: 541-345-3276; firstname.lastname@example.org; wlotus.com/