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Celebrating Asian Art
Nalin brothers' gifts key
to expanded collection

by
KEVIN FOLEY

photograph by
BILL DILILLO

A collection starts with passion, and who can truly say where passion begins? Dr. Richard Nalin ’63 and his brother Dr. David Nalin are prominent collectors of Asian art, a pursuit they began when David worked in public health in 1960’s Pakistan. But the traits that supported their drive to assemble a world-class assemblage of diverse art began earlier.

“We were both brought up in New York City and museums were a major part of our life in our early years,” says Richard, now a Los Angeles dentist. “We used to spend weekends at the Museum of Natural History in New York, wandering through that museum aimlessly dreaming of what once was.”

Now the Nalins have turned their attention to another museum, UVM’s Fleming, which Richard calls a “little jewel of the Northeast.” Over the past several years, they have given a diverse group of pieces to the museum including Gandharan (present-day Pakistan) sculpture, ancient Indus Valley ceramics, and more contemporary Pakistani textiles. The museum also recently received a major gift of Southeast Asian artifacts, primarily Buddhist-themed pieces from Thailand, from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. William Pickens ’56 donated a collection of rare Japanese theater masks.

The Fleming will celebrate a year of significant and fast increase in its Asian art holdings with a special exhibition, “Arts of Asia: Recent Acquisitions from the Nalin, Duke, and Pickens Collections.” John Seyller, professor of art history, will curate the exhibition. He’s excited about the gifts and says the infusion of new objects is already “making a huge curricular impact.”

From wildly colored wedding dresses to a rare fourth-century sculpture of the Buddha of the future, the show has aesthetic punch as well, making a diverse range of faraway times and places immediate and tangible. This power of art to transcend space and time fascinates Richard Nalin. “The terracotta painted pots are 5,000 years old and just pristine, as intact as the day they were made,” he says. “For them to last like that is astounding. You see them and you feel the history.”

David Nalin, who first began buying art in Pakistan in part to save it from being melted down for scrap has, over 37 years of collecting and study, become an art history expert who relishes seeing that history communicated to the public. Nalin has watched with occasional frustration as pieces from his collection disappear into the annals of museums for long stretches, so he prizes public events. “It can be frustrating when more people can see things at one’s home than can at a museum,” he says. “The greatest excitement is when there’s an exhibition.”

Arts of Asia will be at the Fleming Museum from February to June.