One day in 1984, a young Taiwanese woman spotted an older American man standing at a traffic intersection in Taipei. He looked confused. “He looked like he was lost,” recalls Hue-Ping Lin. “I asked if I could help him.”
Rather than trying to give complicated directions to a foreigner, Lin ended up walking him the few blocks to his destination. “I asked where he was from. He said ‘Oregon,’” Lin says. “I said, ‘I just got admitted to graduate school at the University of Oregon.’”
She and Dick Easley, a former U.S. Navy officer turned stockbroker turned art collector, were married on Jan. 2, 1985. Lin was 26; Easley was 50. Their marriage would produce one of Eugene’s most prominent art galleries, the White Lotus Gallery.
On Saturday, May 27, Lin and her staff at White Lotus will open a show that celebrates a quarter century of exhibiting fine Asian and Northwestern paintings, prints and sculpture in Eugene. The exhibition will include work by a range of artists the gallery has shown. Sadly, Easley won’t be able to join the party; he died April 22 at the age of 82.
In 1992, just a couple years before I decided to swerve my newspaper career from news into art writing, I wandered into the original White Lotus, soon after it opened — it was at 2636 Willamette Street, in what is now a Mini Pet Mart — and began what would become a slow, delicious mentorship in Asian art from Lin and Easley.
In its early years, the gallery showed works from Easley’s collection of mid-20th-century Japanese ukiyo-e prints, which were as foreign and enticing to me as comic books from another planet. Dick was always happy to introduce work to a beginner, the way you might take someone to a new restaurant that serves interesting but unfamiliar cuisine.
Soon White Lotus was also showing contemporary paintings and prints collected by Lin on her regular trips to Taiwan and China. Lin never went for flashy or expensive work. “I wasn’t looking for what people wanted,” she says. “I was looking for good, not-well-represented artists, particularly female artists. I still feel pretty strongly that they are under-represented. A lot of times we didn’t sell that much.”
Lin would bring little-known Asian artists to Eugene to attend their own shows. Most of them didn’t speak English, and I soon found myself doing interviews in translation with people like Wang Gongyi, Miao Hui-Xin and Su Xing Pin — artists who have since gone on to international acclaim.
The early days were slow. Few people found their way to the tiny, out-of-the-way gallery. Then a strange and unexpected thing happened: “Something called ‘the internet,’” Lin says.
She and Easley built a website. “Then somebody called one day from Minnesota,” she says. “I had to say we are a very small gallery. ‘But you have exactly the kind of work I’m looking for,’ the buyer said.” Soon they were selling Asian art around the country.
The gallery’s reputation spread. In 1996 Lin and Gordon Gilkey, Oregon’s most prominent print collector, co-curated a show at the Portland Art Museum of Contemporary Chinese Prints with work from more than 50 artists.
Gradually Easley and Lin began to include non-Asian art at the gallery. The first Westerner to show there was Gary Tepfer, with his photographs of Mongolia; another was painter Jon Jay Cruson, whose work has always shown a strong Asian influence.
One of the most spectacular non-Asian shows at the gallery came in 2013, when it presented work by Morris Graves, an Oregon native nationally known in the 1950s as one of four Northwest mystic painters (the other three were Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan and Mark Tobey).
It is perhaps fitting that one of Graves’ paintings, from 1945, is simply titled “Lotus.”
Twenty-five Years of the White Lotus Gallery opens with a reception from 1 pm to 5 pm Saturday, May 27, and runs through July 8 at the White Lotus Gallery, 767 Willamette Street.