Year of the Snake celebrated at Berman Museum
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Feb 10, 2013 | 4262 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jimmy Harmon, Elijah Harmon, Lee Harmon and Sara Belle Harmon get the chance to handle a live ball python snake under the watchful eye of Berman Museum biologist Kevin Jenne Saturday. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Jimmy Harmon, Elijah Harmon, Lee Harmon and Sara Belle Harmon get the chance to handle a live ball python snake under the watchful eye of Berman Museum biologist Kevin Jenne Saturday. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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Virginia Harmon’s seven-year-old son Jimmy, with a steady hand, painted the shoots on a stalk of bamboo Saturday at the Berman Museum of World History in Anniston.

Jimmy was practicing the ancient art of black-ink painting called Sumi-e as part of the museum’s Chinese New Year celebration, where volunteers and staff helped ring in the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Snake.

“I had a lot of fun doing it. I did that, and I think that,” Jimmy said, pointing to the delicate, still-wet black lines of bamboo shoots on white paper. Anniston watercolorist Jack Hadder guided visitors in the ancient practice of painting simple lines with black ink.

The Chinese New Year didn’t officially begin until today, but visitors of the museum didn’t seem to mind celebrating early.

Children listened to storyteller Kim Westbrook from the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County tell of a family in Chinatown in New York City who stayed up past midnight to celebrate the New Year.

Others watched as museum curators held out a real-life Burmese python — a fitting live tribute to the Year of the Snake.

The celebration was the idea of a group of volunteers called the Berman Alliance.

Alliance member Sara Starling said that when the museum received the last of a $1.1 million collection of Asian artifacts and antiques from long-time museum benefactor Dr. Oliver Foo and his late wife, Pei-hwa, it made sense to showcase the collection with a Chinese New Year celebration.

“And to bring about awareness,” Starling said, of the thousands of pieces of pottery, tapestries, antiques and the more than 500 books on Asian art and antiques that the Foos have donated since 2001.

From the massive, early 18th century hand-carved, canopy bed on display in the lobby, to cases full of Ming dynasty porcelain, the Foos amassed an enormous amount of treasures in their 25 years of collecting.

The Maryland couple had offers from the Smithsonian Museum, but decided to give it to a museum in Anniston after meeting the Berman Museum’s collections manager at an antiques auction in Atlanta. Foo’s wife died in 2011, just before the last of the collection was moved to Anniston.

Upon seeing the plaque which names the museum’s Asian collection after Foo and his wife, tears came to Foo’s eyes, said the museum’s collections assistant, Susan Doss.

“We all had a tear in our eye when he saw that plaque and started crying,” Doss said. “He understands what a treasure their collection is, but he’s not arrogant about it. He said, ‘We did this because we love it, and we want it to be shown.’ They wanted to share their culture with the public.”

While she works in a museum, Doss said she knows a little something about symbols of Chinese years and their meaning. She said that it is the Year of the Snake, “but then each year has a different element and a different color” in addition to its signature animal.

When taking all those things into account, we’ve entered into the Year of the Black Water Snake, Doss said.

“It’s usually a year of change, and it’s not always good change. When you’re talking about the Zodiac, you’d say you need to plan ahead for unexpected changes that may arise. Because they may or may not be good,” Doss said.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
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