News & Politics

The Sackler Gallery Celebrates an Anniversary Gift (Photos)

A Georgetown party marks the 25th anniversary of the gift that formed the Sackler Gallery.

Gail West, Philip and Nina Pillsbury, Togo West, and Yoriko Fujisaki, wife of the Japanese ambassador. Photograph by James R. Brantley.

Slideshow: Sackler Gallery Anniversary Party 

It’s been 25 years since Arthur M. Sackler gave the Freer Gallery more than 1,000 objects from of his collection of Asian art and artifacts. That’s how the Sackler Gallery was created, a union with the Freer that is known officially as the Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art. Thursday night, a Georgetown party celebrated the beginning of the Sackler anniversary year and his widow’s new gift of $5 million.

The hosts were Michael and Susan Pillsbury, themselves devoted collectors of Asian art. Susan says she started collecting during a previous marriage, and brought her passion for the region with her when she married Michael five years ago. Their home is itself a virtual gallery of remarkable pieces. Asked to point to her favorite, Susan aimed her eye toward a sculpture near the front of the living room. It is from the Song Dynasty. And what so fascinates her about these pieces? “That’s easy,” she said. “Seven thousand years of history.”

Those at the party included the guest of honor, Dame Jillian Sackler, down from New York, as well as other Asian art collectors, aficionados, supporters of the Sackler, and members of the Smithsonian hierarchy, including top dogs Wayne Clough, who is secretary of the Smithsonian, and Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler galleries.

During a pause in the lavish party, both Clough and Raby made remarks, as did Dame Sackler and Ann Nitze, who is co-chair (with Susan Pillsbury) of the gala anniversary party planned for November. Between now and then, the museum’s calendar is filled with special exhibitions, which are segmented into three phases: Japan Spring, Indian Summer, and Arabian Autumn. Raby joked that the exhibitions should render the guests’ international travel plans unnecessary.

Standing quietly in the back library, practically unnoticed by the other guests, was one of the most talked-about women in Georgetown and in the local real estate scene: Sachiko Kuno. She and her husband, Dr. Ryuji Ueno, have made a lot of news and spawned a fair amount of gossip since they bought Evermay estate and Halcyon House, expanding real estate holdings that include a P Street townhouse and a home in Potomac. They are biotech moguls and founded Sucampo Pharmaceuticals, an international company headquartered in Bethesda.

When someone has been a huge success and is in the news a lot, one often expects an outsize personality. In contrast to most Washington players, Kuno is appealingly low-key and modest. We talked about Evermay, where she and Ueno hope to headquarter their S&R Foundation, but she said first they have to finish the process of getting approvals from the neighborhood. It was rumored that they would live at Evermay and make Halycon House the foundation headquarters. Thursday evening Kuno said they hope to live at Halycon House, but they are not sure.

There won’t be any need for an immediate decision because they have not yet closed on the purchase (for a reported $11 million.) Kuno said that’s another process they are going through, as the historical mansion’s tenants have a right of first refusal to match their contract. Still, there was a storage van parked outside Halcyon last weekend, so someone is moving out. Kuno did say she and Ueno, who are preservationists, have no plans to continue offering Halcyon as a rental for parties and weddings.

What’s most on Kuno’s mind is the S&R Foundation. She said it is her “hobby,” and spoke enthusiastically about the nonprofit’s support of scientific research and young biologists.

The buffet by Design Cuisine had a quasi-Asian flavor, and the specialty drink of the night was a Grey Goose lychee martini. The martinis and the chilled Heidsieck Monopole Champagne both appeared to be very popular. There were fortune cookies for all. The message inside read, “You will find romance on November 29,” a clever nod to the date of the anniversary gala.

Guests at the party included Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki of Japan, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee of Singapore, three social secretaries ( Amanda Downes of Britain, Diane Flamini of Spain, Francesca Craig of France); also Didi Cutler, Huda Farouki, Roland Flamini, Monica Greenberg, Maximo Flugelman, Arnaud de Borchgrave, Virginia Clark, Robert Kogod, Joan Mason, Philip Pillsbury, Diana Prince, Lucky Roosevelt, Betsy and Henry Werronen, Togo and Gail West, Margaret Warner, May Liang, Jim Lintott, Willee and Finlay Lewis, Bruce Ross Larson, Jan Lodal, Yasmine Abdo, Mary Ebrahimi, Massumeh Farhad, Ina Ginsburg, Boyden Gray, Alice Kendall, and Bryan Rafanelli.