Chu-Griffis Collection of Asian Art

Planning for a collection of Asian art for Connecticut College was begun in 1985 by Charles Chu (1918-2008), Professor Emeritus of Chinese, and Hughes Griffis, a New London attorney. Their purpose was twofold: to build a collection of Asian art and calligraphy as a learning resource for students and faculty and to enrich the cultural life of the college and of southern New England through exhibitions on campus and in the galleries and museums of the region. The first works were acquired in 1986. As founding curator of the collection, Professor Chu concentrated on the area of his greatest expertise by acquiring notable examples of the work of Chinese painters of the 20th century, with emphasis on landscapes and depictions of birds, flowers and animals.

From the beginning, the Chu-Griffis Collection attracted the interest of many individuals who shared with Charles Chu and with Hughes Griffis an appreciation of Asian art, culture, and history and who have supported the project with advice and encouragement, as well as with contributions of funds, art works, and art books. Most of these individuals are from the wide circle of friends and acquaintances of Charles and Bettie Chu: those who studied Chinese with Charles, accompanied him on alumni tours to China, collected the paintings of his own inimitable brush, attended his watercolor demonstrations and gallery exhibitions, or are members of the informal fraternity of artists, art historians, and collectors devoted to Chinese art and calligraphy. Some even trace their friendship back to college years in China, or as expatriates starting new lives in the United States in the l940s. Since 1986 more than 250 of Professor Chu's friends and former students have contributed to the collection.

The Charles E. Shain Library has housed the Chu-Griffis Collection since 1988, when custom-built cabinets, designed with drawers to accommodate ribbon-tied scrolls, were installed in the Palmer Room, the reading room of the library's special collections department. At a celebration marking this occasion the Griffis family presented the college with a life-size bronze portrait of Professor Chu by sculptor James Tripp. A third cabinet was installed in 2000 to house the growing number of scrolls. The Palmer Room has been the location of receptions and open houses featuring selections from the collection, and individual works have been hung in rotation in the library's main staircase and elsewhere in the building for several years. A changing selection of paintings was displayed in the second floor corridor of Fanning Hall for much of the decade of the 1990s, and dozens of works from the collection were seen by a wider public in 1997 and 1998 in a series of themed exhibitions at the New London Art Society Gallery.

In the early 1990s Professor Chu, with the assistance of the Griffis Foundation, established "The Scholar's Retreat" in a house on Williams Street, directly across from the campus. Selected works from the collection were always on view and could be seen by appointment or during the regularly scheduled open houses hosted by Professor Chu for students and faculty in the Chinese, Japanese, and Asian Studies programs and for all other interested members of the community. Under Professor Chu's supervision, the Scholar's Retreat was for several years a focal point for the growing collection and a unique cultural and educational feature of the campus. When a decision was made to close it, the time was at hand to declare an official "home" within the college's academic organization for this unique interdisciplinary project. In recognition of the longstanding unofficial relationship between the library and the collection, and with the enthusiastic concurrence of Professor Chu, President Claire L. Gaudiani '66, Provost and Dean of the Faculty David K. Lewis, and Special Collections Librarian Brian Rogers, the Chu-Griffis Art Collection was officially designated a special collection of the Charles E. Shain Library in 1998.

---Brian Rogers
Retired Special Collections Librarian