Do you remember the first time you had a transformative art experience? Mine was during museum tours and painting walks along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., with my high school art class taught by Walter Bartman. Seeing monumental American landscapes in the Smithsonian, I was amazed and humbled while still inspired to try harder in my own painting.
For Asian Art Museum Commissioner David Lei, his lifelong passion for Asian art followed an encounter in a museum with a teacher of another sort—docent and longtime Asian Art Museum supporter Helen Desai. In David’s words: “I always liked the view of the Japanese Tea Garden from the galleries, but the objects did not speak to me. Although I am Chinese with educated parents, they seldom talked to me about Asian art. This all changed in 1968 when I took a docent tour from a very nice blonde lady and was blown away by the symbolic meanings and the connectivity of the objects to my life. Ever since, it has been a wonderful journey of curiosity and learning. Years later when I became active with the Asian, I recognized the docent to be Helen Desai.”