Ad­vo­cate for Asian art and cul­ture in the South­land

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By Mike Boehm mike.boehm@latimes.com

Len­nox Tier­ney was try­ing to save a his­toric 1925 mu­seum build­ing when he stood in front of Pasadena city of­fi­cials in 1968 and made a telling pre­dic­tion.

The com­ing cen­tury, he ex­plained to city lead­ers, would em­pha­size the Pa­cific.

The old build­ing was not only saved, but even­tu­ally be­came the USC Pa­cific Asia Mu­seum, and Asia’s grow­ing inf lu­ence on South­ern Cal­i­for­nia busi­ness and cul­ture quickly be­came ap­par­ent.

Tier­ney, who played a role in launch­ing, ex­pand­ing or over­see­ing ex­hi­bi­tions at four South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in­sti­tu­tions that show­case Asian art and cul­ture, died June 12 in Salt Lake City af­ter a brief ill­ness. He was 101.

His death was con­firmed by Marie Paiva, f ine arts li­brar­ian at the Univer­sity of Utah, where Tier­ney founded an Asian art pro­gram.

Af­ter sav­ing the old Pasadena man­sion, Tier­ney set about out­fit­ting it as a mu­seum, plan­ning its early ex­hi­bi­tions and build­ing a col­lec­tion as its found­ing di­rec­tor.

Even af­ter mov­ing to Utah in 1971 to be­come found­ing dean of the univer­sity’s Asian art pro­gram, he re­mained ac­tive in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia un­til his death. Tier­ney also served as a cu­ra­tor of Asian art from 1974 to 1982 at the San Diego Mu­seum of Art — a job re­quir­ing round- trip com­mutes of about 1,500 miles. He was an ad­vi­sor for many years to San Diego’s Mingei In­ter­na­tional Mu­seum, and from 1995 un­til his death he was a board mem­ber of the Ja­panese Friend­ship Gar­den in San Diego’s Bal­boa Park.

Born in We­ston, W. Va., on Jan. 28, 1914, Pa­trick Len­nox Tier­ney moved to Pasadena with his fam­ily in 1918. Tier­ney’s first job as a teenager was wa­ter­ing gar­dens and un­pack­ing Asian art­works at the site he would one day save. His boss was art dealer Grace Ni­chol­son, who had built the 9,000- squarefoot struc­ture to evoke a tra­di­tional Chi­nese im­pe­rial palace. Her gallery was on the ground f loor and she lived up­stairs. That con­nec­tion steered him to­ward his fu­ture ca­reer.

Af­ter fall­ing be­hind on her prop­erty taxes, Ni­chol­son do­nated the build­ing to the city be­fore her death in 1948, and it be­came home to the Pasadena Art Mu­seum, which fo­cused on mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art.

By 1968, the art mu­seum was build­ing a new fa­cil­ity in Pasadena — a pro­ject that would soon bank­rupt the or­ga­ni­za­tion and lead to its takeover by col­lec­tor Nor­ton Si­mon. It be­came the Nor­ton Si­mon Mu­seum.

With Ni­chol­son’s art palace in play, city of­fi­cials con­sid­ered raz­ing it or turn­ing it into a com­mer­cial ar­cade or even mu­nic­i­pal of­fices.

Tier­ney, then the long­time chair­man of the arts fac­ulty at Pasadena City Col­lege, had helped launch the Paci­fi­cul­ture Foun­da­tion in an ef­fort to es­tab­lish a cen­ter for ex­hi­bi­tions and pro­grams on Asian art and cul­ture in Pasadena. With fel­low foun­da­tion lead­ers Mar­garet Palmer and Sofia Adam­son, Tier­ney pushed to trans­form the build­ing into an Asian art mu­seum. It took years, but they fi­nally won their bat­tle.

“I went over and sat down in one of the gal­leries af­ter we got the key to the build­ing, and my f irst thought was, ‘ My God, what have I wrought?’ We got the build­ing, but we didn’t have a col­lec­tion,” Tier­ney re­called in a 2013 in­ter­view with the Los An­ge­les Times.

Tier­ney fell back on his con­nec­tions to pur­sue do­na­tions, bor­row art­work and reached out to the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art, which made a per­ma­nent loan of sur­plus ex­hi­bi­tion cases.

Tier­ney, who grad­u­ated from UCLA and earned a master’s de­gree in Asian art at Columbia Univer­sity, served as a civil­ian cul­tural ad­vi­sor to Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur af­ter World War II to help over­see Ja­pan’s re­cov­ery. Among his as­sign­ments was to pre­serve and re­pair cul­tural sites and track down art­work that had been se­creted away to avoid de­struc­tion amid the chaos of bom­bard­ment.

The pas­sion to pre­serve and cu­rate Asian art­work never evap­o­rated. Even at the age of 100, Tier­ney con­tin­ued to f ly to San Diego for board meet­ings, said Marisa Espinosa, oper­a­tions as­sis­tant at the Ja­panese Friend­ship Gar­den.

The meet­ings took just a few hours, but he typ­i­cally would stay up to five days, rel­ish­ing the gar­den and giv­ing guided tours.

“Visi­tors loved him,” Espinosa said. “Just last month we had some­one come in and ask when he was go­ing to come again.”

Tier­ney was mar­ried for 53 years to the for­mer Cather­ine Peha, who had grown up in the Pasadena area and was study­ing in Ja­pan when their ro­mance be­gan in the late 1940s. She died in 2008. He is sur­vived by a son, Stephen Tier­ney.

Asia Pacif i c Mu­seum

A PAS­SION TO PRE­SERVE AND CU­RATE ART Len­nox Tier­ney, right, is shown in 1999 in the court­yard of the USC Asia Pa­cific Mu­seum with those who suc­ceeded him as di­rec­tor, David Ka­man­sky, left, and Jae Carmichael. The com­ing

cen­tury, he ex­plained to Pasadena city lead­ers in 1968, would em­pha­size the Pa­cific.

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