Tucked into shops of Ocean City is gallery of oriental art


Ocean City -- Jun Villones vacations here every summer and has spent many a pleasant afternoon browsing through shops full of tie-dyed T-shirts, miniature marble porpoises and mass-produced oil seascapes.

Imagine the interior decorator and architect's reaction when he discovered a gallery of primitive and exotic art and antiques from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, tucked between the souvenir, beachwear and sandwich shops at Ocean City's north end last month.

"I was so surprised," says the Severn resident. "It's unique in Ocean City. These are art works and antiques that are hard to find anywhere in Maryland or Washington."

Visitors who come to the gallery, Ancient Rhythms, enter another world: Bamboo shades screen out the Coastal Highway; rain forest or tribal music plays in the background; captivating works are arranged in living area settings.

Although many items are considered practical, everyday goods in Indonesia -- here, they are works of art. They include a teak elephant chair, a tribal birth chair, baskets woven from bamboo split, reeds and vines and furniture made by Filipinos but influenced by European colonizers.

The art objects and crafts range in price from $12 for a pair of burnished clay tea cups and saucers to $3,500 for an antique, hand-carved plantation bed from the Philippines.

Visitors' astonishment at the artifacts doesn't surprise Kaye Camille Byrd, the gallery's director, who traveled extensively to assemble the collection.

"People are walking in every day and asking, 'Why are you here in Ocean City?' " Ms. Byrd says. "They're so stunned. They've never seen anything like this before."

The gallery's location in Ocean City brings art and culture closer to a larger segment of the public, says Rick Maloof, a member of the Art Institute and Gallery in Salisbury. "I've been to Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand and the work she has collected are quality pieces. I've bought things that I can hand down to my children."

The city was chosen because both Ms. Byrd and Stephen B. Phillips, of Phillips restaurant fame -- the owner of and the force behind the collection -- live here.

Mr. Phillips fell in love with Indonesian and Philippine art while on business trips to the Philippines, where his restaurant chain has opened a seafood-processing plant.

"I have become very interested in some of the beautiful things they have there," Mr. Phillips says. "I like the Asian influence. It's all so unique. The workmanship is very good."

If the concept succeeds in Ocean City, Mr. Phillips says he may open other galleries elsewhere.

"I think this is the balance in life for a successful businessman," Ms. Byrd says. "He became enamored of the island people and other cultures."

From Lombok, Indonesia, Ms. Byrd imported several intricate wood carvings called "patung." Carved from a single piece of wood, the works represent family members and ancestors.

From Chiang-Mai, Thailand, Ms. Byrd found Suko Thai pottery reproductions, hand-turned and fired as they were in the 13th and 14th centuries.

"A lot of these works are done by young artists and children," says Ms. Byrd, who also is a potter. "These are people sitting in huts doing artwork -- work I have so much respect for."

Of particular interest are brownware vessels dating from the Sung Dynasty, A.D. 900 to 1100. The clay pots were exported to the Phillipines by Chinese colonizers and have been excavated. The vessels come with museum papers, authenticated by the Cultural Museum of the Philippines, verifying their antiquity, Ms. Byrd says.

There are whimsical, contemporary pieces, too, such as Cleopatra or James Cagney chairs, made of iron and hand-woven wicker, made by young Philippine artists.

James Camper of nearby Bishopville is one of the few local artists whose works are featured in the gallery. Ms. Byrd says his pottery is exceptional and fits in the with the gallery's theme.

Albert and Charlotte Kaufman of Baltimore stumbled on the gallery while vacationing here last month. "It's a fascinating place," says Mrs. Kaufman, an artist and educational administrator. "It's such a departure for Ocean City. They have the most exquisite things."

Mrs. Kaufman, who bought a couple pairs of earrings, a scarf and pottery, says she plans to return to the gallery on her next visit.

"I can't wait to go again," she says.

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