The art collection of Drs. Richard and Ellen Laing was donated to the Museum in 2006. It consists of painting, calligraphy, prints, ceramics, and other decorative arts, reflecting their diverse interest in East Asian culture. What makes the Laing Collection unique is its focus on Chinese folk culture and art. Dr. Ellen Laing, a renowned scholar of Chinese painting and prints, and her husband Richard traveled to Taiwan and China in the 1960s and 70s, collecting objects used in everyday life. In this period just before many hand-made artifacts began to be mass produced, they were also made from natural materials rather than plastic. These fascinating objects, which had mostly disappeared by the late twentieth century, are characterized by sensible utilitarian design and intricate motifs based on folk beliefs.
Among them are many lacquered boxes and containers; these were often used to hold precious gifts and other items as part of the trousseau or dowry of a bride. The red color, used often in folk artifacts, is considered auspicious and believed to summon good fortune. Many of the decorative motifs seen here convey good omens and good wishes through pictorial motifs. Bats, for example, connote luck because the pronunciation of the character fu (bat) is identical to that for blessing. Because many motifs from the Chinese pictorial vocabulary were transmitted to the Korean peninsula, where people adopted the written Chinese language, the same bat motif also can be seen on lacquer objects from Korea.