For more information on the beautiful furnishings and artwork in the Thomas Room, browse the online guide to the art housed in Lilly Library.
A male "dog of Fo" guards the south
entrance to the Thomas Room.
James A. Thomas, a friend and business associate of both James B. and Benjamin Duke, spent over thirty years in China managing operations for the British-American Tobacco Company. After his return to the United States in the late 1920s, Thomas helped create the Far Eastern collection in the Duke University Library. Shortly after his death in 1940, the James A. Thomas Memorial Room was proposed to be established in what was then the Woman's College Library. Since the Thomas Room opened on December 1, 1942, Thomas's family and friends have donated numerous pieces of Chinese art, including furniture, figures and vases, portraits, and textiles (unless otherwise noted, all art housed in the room has been donated by the Thomas family or friends of the family). The Thomas Room is a popular reading and study room and is available for university sponsored lectures, readings, and meetings. (For more information, see Room Use in Lilly).
View facing the south end of the Thomas Room.
An elaborately carved cabinet stands just inside the south entrance to the Thomas Room. Made in Shanghai in 1895, this cabinet stood in the Thomas homes in Shanghai and New York.
On the west wall is a twelve-panel Coromandel screen, dating from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Panels of soft pine are incised and painted with scenes of local government activity.
Three teakwood tables populate the central area of the Thomas Room. The pair of small tables was a gift to John W. Foster from the Empress Dowager of China. Mr. Foster's daughter, Eleanor, wife of former Secretary of State Robert Lansing, gave the tables to Mrs. Thomas.
One of the pair of Ishii vases
that flanks the north fireplace.
A pair of urns dating from the mid-Qing Dynasty (eighteenth century) sits on the mantel on the south wall. Urns such as these were used for storing wine and food.
Guarding the doorways are marble shizi, or "dogs of Fo." The female places a protective paw over a young cub. The male rests his right foot on a "sun sphere." This pair has been dated to the Qing Dynasty of the mid-eighteenth century. Smaller porcelain shizi from the same period are also in the Thomas Collection and rest on lamps on the reading tables.
Flanking the hearth at the north end of the room is a pair of large Japanese cloisonne vases dating from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). The vases were presented to former Secretary of State Robert Lansing to commemorate The Lansing-Ishii Agreement between the United States and Japan.
The crystal vase on the large teak table was donated to Duke University by Mrs. Fred Hanes in 1931 and is a Baccarat reproduction.
Portrait of James A. Thomas,
by Douglas Chandor
(Oil on canvas, 27" x 37", 1931)
The portrait of James A. Thomas dominates the north end of the Thomas Room.
A portrait of Cheang Park Chew, a business associate and friend of Mr. Thomas, hangs over the south mantel.
Opposite the Coromandel screen are four Chinese scrolls. One represents the four seasons through calligraphy. Others portray an elderly ancestor, a group of scholars and musicians, and a woman from the imperial court.
To the left of the screen hangs a silkscreen featuring a pair of doves nesting among cherry blossoms.
Photographs of Thomas family and friends are displayed by both entrances to the Thomas Room.
Detail view of silk scroll
A vivid blue imperial robe dating from the Qing Dynasty (1796-1920) is on display; this robe was donated by the wife of Douglas MacArthur in 1966.
A brilliant red silk scroll, a portion of which is featured here, hangs to the right of the Coromandel screen. This contemporary scroll depicts the eight Chinese immortals, Ba zian.
To the right of the north fireplace hangs an embroidered bedspread. The inscription "J.A. Thomas Esq. from F.K. Wong Sinson"; is stitched on the back of the cloth in silk thread.
An ornamental rug prepared for the palace of the Empress Dowager Cixi is displayed to the left of the fireplace. The inscription at the top of the rug is translated as, "prepared for the Palace Hall of Tranquility and Longevity"; The fenghuang, or phoenix, featured with tree peonies is a symbol associated with the Empress.
The wool rugs originally laid in the Thomas Room were hand-crafted in China, decorated with stylized Chinese characters and medallions to represent the Thomas surname. These rugs, donated by Cheang Park Chew in 1941, were replaced by modern rugs in 1998, thanks to a generous gift from the Thomas family.
The remaining rug in the center of the Thomas Room is from Mrs. Thomas's residence; she designed the custom rug in the 1920s and later bequeathed it to the Thomas Room.
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