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Treasures of the East : The Pacific Asia Museum is an architectural delight as well as home to extraordinary art and artifacts.

July 01, 1994|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

PASADENA — This city certainly has a right to be proud of its architectural history. It is home to the largest concentration of Charles and Henry Greene's finely designed and built Craftsman houses. Among the most notable jewels in this "Crown of the Valley"--what Pasadena means in the language of the Chippewa Indians--is the Greenes' Gamble House.

However, there are some other, unusual gems within the city limits. On North Los Robles Avenue stands what is today the Pacific Asia Museum. The building, which was designed in the style of a Chinese Imperial Palace courtyard, was constructed in 1925 by architects Marston, Van Pelt & Maybury for Grace Nicholson. An Asian art importer, she lived there and used the property as her sales showroom until her death in 1948.

The Grace Nicholson building, a state Historic Landmark, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was home to the Pasadena Art Museum until that museum moved to what is now the Norton Simon Museum. The Pacific Asia Museum opened at the site in 1971. It is the only museum in Southern California specializing in preserving and interpreting the arts and culture of the Pacific and Asia, and promoting a better understanding of the peoples and heritages there.

Please note that the first exhibit on this tour and the show of contemporary paintings from Pakistan will close July 17.

Before you step inside, take a moment to appreciate the architecture.

1 to 1:30 p.m.: After paying for admission, begin with an exhibit drawn from about 100 objects in the Lydman Collection. You'll find Chinese ceramics of the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties, and Southeast Asian bronze and stone sculptures. The majority of items in the collection are everyday wares made for domestic use and export. Many of the platters, bowls, vases and jugs date to the 15th and 16th centuries, and some to the 11th Century.

1:30 to 2 p.m.: Go through the back door of the Lydman gallery to the museum's galleries for students (we're all students, right?--regardless of age). Encounter "Life in Tibet," a show of objects and photographs designed to foster understanding of the Tibetan people's beliefs and way of life.

In the second student gallery, you'll find 19th-Century photographs that give viewers an idea of traditional Japanese clothing; a display of Japan's three classical instruments, and scores for each one, among other objects; and an array of finely made objects used in Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, including scrolls, brushes, ink sticks, paper and seals.

2 to 2:30 p.m.: Enter the special exhibit organized by museum Director David Kamansky and Marcella Nesom Sirhandi, an authority on contemporary Pakistani paintings. It is the first major exhibit of such art ever shown in the United States. A wide range of content and styles is presented in 45 paintings by artists from Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar--one-third of them women. Ends July 17.

2:30 to 3 p.m.: Enter the next room, which contains Southeast Asian ceramics: bowls, vases, jars and even an appealing dog from Thailand, circa 1500. Various Buddha torsos and heads date from the 1400s to the 1600s.

The next gallery will introduce you to the Asmat people of Indonesia, through intriguing wood sculptures and photographs of them. It leads to an elegant gallery displaying Bodhisattvas--from Buddhism, those who have attained enlightenment and help others do so--as well as nephrite (a form of jade) and ivory pieces, and various deity figures.

Move on to discover dozens of delicately crafted netsuke. Beginning in the early 1600s until the early 1900s, Japanese men wore netsuke--small replicas of masks worn in dances and dramas--hanging from their kimono sashes. As kimonos did not have pockets, the netsuke served as counterweights to secure a suspended object such as a purse, tobacco pouch, medicine box or writing kit.

In the final gallery of this wing, observe the gentle beauty of Chinese and Japanese scrolls, many from the 1700s, made of ink and colors on paper or silk.

3 to 3:30 p.m.: Peruse the museum bookstore for books, posters and catalogues on Pacific and Asian art and culture. Gift items include ceramics, jewelry, textiles, cards and children's books, toys and games.

Then go out into the Chinese courtyard garden, with its attractive plants and a pond filled with large fish. Here is another opportunity to study the building's architecture.

At the back of the garden and upstairs is the Foyer Gallery, which presents special exhibits. Since Saturday, "Games of the Asian World" has displayed art from the museum's collection that depicts people engaged in various sports or games. This show coincides with the World Cup soccer games.

Before you leave the museum grounds, you may want to return to where you paid your admission. There is the entrance to the Osborne Gallery, which sells antiques and contemporary fine art.

3:30 to 4 p.m.: For a look at another one of Pasadena's architectural delights: Turn right as you leave the museum, walking just a few steps to the corner, Union Street. Go left, or west, one long block to Euclid Avenue. There you will find City Hall.

First opened to the public in 1927, this repository of city business, with its graceful dome, looks more like a state Capitol building. The building surrounds a large, charming courtyard with lovely gardens and a central fountain sporting rather humorous water spouts. If you didn't know better, you might think you're in Europe.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Pacific Asia Museum.

Location: 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Price: $3 general, $1.50 students/seniors, free for children under 12. Also: From 1 to 4 p.m. on the third Saturday of each month, special cultural programs and the museum's exhibitions are free.

Call: (818) 449-2742.

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