I first got to know Linda about 9 years ago. I was still working at Pacific Asia Museum but was planning to hand in my resignation after 9 years there. I was nervous about leaving and going it alone as a freelance Asian art historian. People with my skills are not on most headhunters’ to-call lists. The phone rang and it was Linda, the Director of Education at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, about an hour south of Los Angeles. She was looking for someone to write a curriculum guide about Chinese art and culture for her museum, as they were expanding their space and were planning on holding many more Chinese exhibitions there. “Actually I do,” I told her in a hushed voice and explained that I would be available in a couple of weeks. The timing couldn’t have been better. I left my job knowing that there was work out there for me.
Working with Linda was a pleasure. She was very organized, intelligent, and always delightful to talk to. After the Guide was completed, she invited me to help train their docents for upcoming Asian art exhibitions, and she asked me to give a number of lectures on Asian art as part of their public programs, including a sake evening, which was way too much fun for a museum program! Though I was delighted to be hired for so many programs, one of the best parts of driving down to Santa Ana was getting to know Linda. We talked about our families – my little boy who was in pre-school then, her son who was in the military and posted in Iraq and her daughter who was living in Spain. I couldn’t imagine the anxiety of having one child in a war zone and the other thousands of miles away. We also talked about writing. I was starting my biography of Confucius; Linda had begun work on her first novel. Our conversations were always warm, rich and nourishing. I would always drive back to Los Angeles feeling very fortunate to have such a lovely friend and colleague not too far away.
But a few years into our friendship, Linda broke the news to me that she was moving to Idaho. Her husband had work there and they had decided to move up there for a change of pace. I was happy for her because I knew the move would relieve her from long workweeks at the museum and give her more time to spend on her precious writing. We have stayed in touch very loosely over the years, mostly through Holiday correspondence and Linda’s beautiful handwritten letters. Although I have continued to work with the Bowers Museum, it hasn’t been the same.
A few weeks ago I received an uplifting email from the director of the Boise Art Museum in Idaho. The museum is the final venue for my touring origami exhibition Folding Paper, and she wanted to invite me to their opening night and be part of a special reception at one of their supporter’s homes. The supporter was Linda. I responded right away that I would love to come. And yesterday, I flew up to Boise with my husband David and son Theo to spend a weekend away in Idaho. It has been lovely to rekindle my friendship with Linda, get to know her husband Steve, hear more about her kids who are both back in the US, and learn that she has finished her first novel and is working on a second. Just as she welcomed me with warmth and encouragement to her museum nearly a decade ago, she has made me feel very welcome and very special in her new home and in this new town.
This morning we gave her a handmade ceramic plate we bought a few years ago at a craft sale at Descanso Gardens near Los Angeles. It is the shape of a leaf and has an elegant simplicity. I had never been to Linda’s home before but had a sense it would be full of elegant, artistic things, and it is just that. This evening when she welcomed a group of museum supporters to the special reception at her home, along with a spectacular spread of salads she prepared herself, she had also made some delicious homemade macaroons. She served them on the plate we gave her, a simple gesture that says so much about this lovely, generous, supportive friend, who turns out to not really be that far away at all…