USC Pacific Asia Museum – Pasadena

Traveling Through Asia In Pasadena

P1050991USC Pacific Asia Museum – Pasadena

Visited: March 2, 2016

After passing by this building literally hundreds of times during my life, it was finally time to step inside Pasadena’s USC Pacific Asia Museum. Dedicated to “the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands,” this museum opened in 1971, and is one of those places where the architecture and the history of this building is just as interesting as what is contained inside.

P1060003Grace Nicholson moved to California from Philadelphia in 1901.

Nicholson-2She had a profound interest in Native American art and set up a curio shop on Raymond Avenue in Pasadena. By the 1920s, she needed more space, so she hired a famed architectural firm to construct what would become The Grace Nicholson Building (and eventually this museum).

It was built in the “Imperial Courtyard Style” of Peking (Beijing) buildings, right down to the roof tiles, stone and marble carvings and bronze and copper work, which was imported from China.

In 1925, a local magazine called it “far and away the most beautiful building of which Pasadena can boast.”

cornerspotter 8.7.14In this building, Nicholson “displayed and sold museum quality American Indian and Oriental art objects, as well as the work of noted local, national and international living artists.”

In 1943, Grace donated the building to the city of Pasadena, and since then it has changed its name more times than John Mellencamp.

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The Grace Nicholson Building became The Grace Nicholson Treasure House of Oriental Art in 1971, which subsequently became the Pacific Asia Museum that lasted until 2013 when it partnered with the University of Southern California to finally (we think) become the USC Pacific Asia Museum.

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The museum holds more than 15,000 artifacts “spanning more than 4,000 years.”  It also has a gorgeous courtyard (more on that later).

Walking in past the two statues…

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…I saw that the building had been designated as an historical landmark.

P1050992Through a corridor, I could also see the courtyard that I would wander through after my visit.  Admission is not cheap (there’s a way around that…more later) at $18 for an adult, but because I’m over 60, I got the “Old-geezer” $15 rate.  It also meant I could visit the special exhibit showing at the museum.

P1050994I would see pieces from the Qing, Han, Tang, Song and Ming dynasties, and no, I did not ask if powdered orange juice was invented during the Tang Dynasty.

tangI’ll show you a smattering of the pieces I saw as I walked through the museum.  I started in the Art Of Pacific Asia section.

The first piece I came upon was the Head Of Bodhisattva. Until this point in my life, I only believed Bodhisattva to be a cool Steely Dan song, but this piece from China’s Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) is one of the few left from that period. I assume it is worth “more than a Song.”

P1050926The next interesting figure I saw, Agyo, is a more current piece (from the 19th century). These guys were guardians at Japanese Buddhist temples to protect the temples (along with the monks and worshipers) from harm.

P1050928Also from the 17th century was a plate with the map of Japan.  Perhaps the parents wanted to teach their children geography during dinner.

P1050933To make up for the Venus de Milo in the Louvre, Avalokiteshvara With Multiple Arms takes up the slack. This Vietnamese piece from 1800 has 12 arms.

P1050936There was also a seated Buddha from 19th-century Burma (now Myanmar).

P1050938I then traveled back in time to 11th-century India (by now, I felt like Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap)…

ihchyd4crxdpb0d…to see Vishnu, one of the most important gods of Hinduism.

P1050940There was no photography in the special Royal Taste exhibit. I was hoping the Royal Taste might include lunch, and although it didn’t, the exhibit did contain some very interesting pieces from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), including some military artifacts.

It was in one of the next rooms I became slightly confused. I thought I might still be in the special collection area, but since the walls were a different color, I surmised otherwise and took some photos.

P1050945I spotted a beautiful vase and lovely water pitcher that I think came from the Ming Dynasty. Whenever Tracy comes with me, and we see these types of displays, I call them The Martha Stewart Collection.

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The 15th-century Standing Statue Of The Dragon Lord looked eerily similar to one of the monsters Captain Kirk battled in Star Trek (I should never go to museums alone…my mind wanders).

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The Dragon statue is hanging out with Statue of the Primordial Goddess, Mother Of The Dipper, along with Celestial Marshal Gou of the Thunder Gate and Celestial Marshal.


Finally in this room, I met The Statue Of The Celestial Worthy of the Great Unity, Savior from Suffering. Whoever named these statues had lots of time on his or her hands.

P1050952Now it was time to visit The Arts Of China. My favorite piece in that room was the Horseshoe Chair, which dates from the latter part of The Ming Dynasty. It’s made from huanghuali wood (a form of rosewood).

P1050955On to The Arts Of Korea, where a statue…

P1050959…and a porcelain dragon vase caught my eye.

P1050958I was moving from country to country faster than the Shah of Iran in the ‘70s, and soon I was in The Arts Of Japan.

I took a couple of photos of waterfall Literati Paintings.

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The Tokonoma is an alcove “that serves as the focal point of a traditional Japanese home. The earliest tokonoma served as altars in Zen Buddhist Temples.”

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It was now time to head back outside for some quiet moments in the tranquil center garden.

P1050972The courtyard “is inspired by the classic gardens of China where architecture is in harmony with nature.

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“It contains many of the traditional plants and decorative elements that support this unity.  P1050968While the layout, pond and plants have changed over the years, the courtyard remains a focal point, providing transition between public and private space.”

P1050978The Taihu Rocks stood out. These limestone rocks can be found in China’s Lake Tai, however these rocks were formed by a similar process in the far off land of The Flint Hills Of Kansas.

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America has the Foo Fighters while China has the “Foo Dogs.” These stone lions (they always come in pairs) ward off evil, which guaranteed I wouldn’t run into any presidential candidates.

P1050975I looked in the pond and witnessed some carp that were playing it koi.  These fish are traditionally found in Chinese gardens.

P1050987The website adds, “Legend says that a carp who is able leap past the rapids of the Yangtze River will transform into a dragon.” 

P1050983 (1)I had completed my visit to our local Pasadena gem.

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As stated earlier, I found the exterior and courtyard as intriguing as the pieces located in the interior…

P1050971…however if you are someone who is very interested in Asian art, this is the place to go.

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Although its website states admission is $10, the entrance fee was $18 ($15 if over 60).


HOWEVER: If you’d like to save some money, on the second Sunday of the month, admission to the USC Pacific Asia Museum is FREE.

USC Pacific Asia Museum
48 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
4th of July: Closed
Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day (Museum closes at 3 p.m.)
Thanksgiving Day: Closed
Christmas Eve: (Museum closes at 2 p.m.)
Christmas Day: Closed
New Year’s Eve: (Museum closes at 2 p.m.)
New Year’s Day: Closed
Free Parking in lot on Union and Los Robles


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