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The Museum Of East Asian Art

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by Tom Fieldhouse (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer, living in Bath with my wife and son. I love my city, and love to live here. I write about Bath a lot, and sometimes about travels in Ireland and France.
Published September 19th 2017
MEAA- Something For Everyone
Museum from the front
Approaching the museum from The Circus

This wonderful museum houses nearly 2,000 sets of objects, beautifully displayed over three floors in a Georgian townhouse in Bath. Located just off the Circus, this independent museum is at the heart of the city, and offers over 7,000 years of fascinating art and culture from East and South East Asia.

The MEAA, one of a kind

Founded by Brian McElney, a former lawyer who resided in Hong Kong, the MEAA is currently the only UK museum solely dedicated to the arts and cultures of East and South East Asia. The beautiful artefacts are all proudly displayed in well-lit glass cabinets, and comprise an intimate and intriguing mix of ceremonial and every day artefacts. You can come across anything from a Neolithic Chinese bronze disc to a five hundred-year-old Tibetan nobleman's belt. I spent two hours there, and the time flew by.

Some of the display cabinets in the light and airy Gallery Two

What astonished me about some of the artefacts on display is how incredibly modern and fresh some of the ceramics looked. Expecting two bowls (displayed in the 'Favourites' gallery space) to have been made in 2017, I was amazed to see that they were both from the 12th Century. They genuinely looked as if they had been fired yesterday.

Two Twelfth Century ceramic bowls

Every artefact or set of objects is helpfully labelled and explained, and offers great insight in to the nature and function of the display piece. A particular favourite of mine was Gallery Two, the Chinese Symbols Gallery. Here I learned that animals had great significance to ancient Chinese culture, and that deer and salmon were symbols of ambition and aspiration to excel in business and careers. Once again I was amazed to discover the age of some of the pieces. Of particular appeal to me was a lacquer box which showed incredibly detailed carving and artistry.

Chinese Lacquer Box

Initially I thought this museum was intended for an adult audience, yet it soon became clear that younger visitors are thoughtfully catered for. There are vibrant costumes and ceremonial dress to try on in Gallery Two, along with a colouring in and drawing station. A lovely touch was to assemble some displays chosen specifically by child visitors, with their reasons for the choices, which ranged from 'I like it cos it is rusty' to 'I love Blue'.

Art Materials
Tools to inspire young minds

Some East Asian living History

Mr Brian McElney clearly had a deep love of nature and natural forms, and this is reflected in some of his collection choices. Placed among the collection are a number of natural wood sculptures, some uncarved and others skillfully turned in to scenes. It was a lovely experience to investigate one of these and suddenly see a carved monkey peering out at me.

Monkey tree carving
See No Evil

One final aspect that caught my attention was the incredible intricacy of the objects on display. Some of the jade and ivory exhibits showed very complex carving skills, and must have taken many, many years to carve. Although small, and sometimes very small in nature, there were whole pastoral scenes and processions depicted. I could have spent hours there.

a warlike scene, carved in Ivory

This museum is fantastic, and has so many beautiful things to see. Visitors can even take mementos home with them from the shop on the ground floor. Whether looking around unaccompanied or chatting to one of the knowledgeable volunteer staff, it is a peaceful and fascinating place to visit. Entry fees are also very appealing, with adult tickets only 5, and considerably cheaper prices for concessions. There is full wheelchair access, and lifts to every floor. Although gentle and unassuming, this museum punches above its weight in Bath, and I think it should be much, much more well known.

Beautiful keepsakes to be had
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Why? 7 centuries of history under one roof
When: Tuesday- Saturday 10.00-17.00 Sunday 12.00- 17.00
Phone: 44(0) 1225 464640
Where: 12, Bennett Street, Bath (just off The Circus)
Cost: 5 for adults, free to under 16's
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