Heart of Gold
This Women’s History Month the Bowers Blog has looked at some of the great women responsible for building up the Bowers Museum from scratch, instituting a modern system of record keeping for the Bowers’ permanent collection, and donating an incredible collection California scene paintings to the Bowers. But no series on the influential women of the museum would be complete without a post on Anne Shih. Tied intrinsically to our past, present, and future, she has been working both behind the scenes and at center stage since the 1990s to help make the Bowers Museum the world-class institution it has become.
Type A from Chiayi
Anne’s family comes from Chiayi City in Taiwan, a moderately sized city resting on the plains of Southwestern Taiwan. She and her husband Danny (Long Shung) Shih first immigrated to the United States in 1979. She almost immediately started looking for opportunities to get involved with schools, churches, and the like. Her history with the Bowers Museum begins in 1992, when she began volunteering with the museum. Driven in large part by a desire to see more of a cultural exchange between the United States and China, that same year she co-founded the Chinese Cultural Arts Council and was elected Vice President. The council is still active at the Bowers Museum 29 years later with the mission to promote Chinese cultural arts in the community through lectures and activities in conjunction with the museum. Around that time our President, Peter Keller, started working to get an exhibition of Chinese jade artifacts from Taiwan. The Bowers sent several staff members there to negotiate, but they had no luck getting a contract signed. Prior to Anne leaving on a trip to Taiwan, Anne asked Peter if there was anything that she could do while she was there. On a fluke he asked her if she could get Taiwan’s National Museum of History to agree to the jade exhibition. When she returned a few days later they had made a commitment to tour Jade: Ch’ing Dynasty Treasures in the United States with the Bowers as the first venue. With Peter trying to hide how impressed he was, Anne asked, “what’s next?”
The answer is a longer list of accolades than would fit into this short format post, so instead we present a summary. Anne joined the Bowers Museum’s Board of Governors in 1996, acting in several positions until, in 2010, she was elected as the Chair of the Board. Since then she has helped organize ten major Chinese exhibitions as well as several smaller ones. The best-known of these is an exhibit of the legendary terracotta warriors from Xi’an in 2008. Given how popular it was, Anne arranged for a similar exhibition of terracotta warriors just years later. Most recently, Anne worked with the internationally renowned couture fashion designer Guo Pei to bring her haute couture creations to the museum.
Divide and Conquer
Unfortunately, the maladies of this world do not discriminate when it comes to those who do good. Around 2010 Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer. It is a testament to her iron will and drive to help that she never ceased working throughout her grueling treatment. Anecdotes tell of friends visiting her chemotherapy suite while she was hooked up to machines. They would take notes as she organized dinners and other events for the Bowers. Photographs from the time show her cheerily making public appearances while she privately battled for her life. By 2011 she was already in remission.
Though she has been responsible for raising millions of dollars for the Bowers Museum through fundraisers and personal donations, she has also significantly assisted in growing two of the museum’s burgeoning collections: Oceanic and Chinese minority art. Since 1997 she and her husband have donated almost 1,700 objects to the Bowers Museum, a great many of which are regularly on display in Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands and Ancient Arts of China: A 5,000 Year Legacy. One of the Bowers Museum’s most recent exhibitions, Miao Masters of Silver, was almost entirely donated by Anne Shih.
Immigrants Get the Job Done
This post just scratches the surface. Anne has floated in zero gravity, been on almost a dozen safaris and toured the world twice over. In 2017 she was recognized with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a distinction shared with several U.S. presidents, world leaders, Nobel Prize winners and other household names. Of all the places she could return to at the end of her trips, we at the Bowers Museum are so, so glad that it is here.
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.
What a wonderful tribute to Anne. No one is more deserving. She is an amazing human being, friend and woman.
Anne is always so friendly and kind. She has given so much to Bowers Museum and I thank her so much very much. She is a wonderful lady.
Thank you for profiling Anne Shih. I thought she was amazing, and now even more so!
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