Few visitors to Special Collections can resist the magnetic attraction of the marvelously decorated "Chinese Chair" that lends an exotic air to the otherwise sober Research Room. Made of artfully carved heavy wood embellished with intricate mother-of-pearl inlaid designs, this elaborate object has been identified as a Chinese "trade chair," created not for a home but most likely for a commercial setting. Experts tell us that the combined iconography of the decoration, featuring foliage, animals, humans, and mythological elements, as well as the four major supernatural creatures of Chinese design--the Phoenix, Dragon, Unicorn, and Turtle--may be a clue to the chair's initial purpose and setting. Chairs of this prestigious type apparently were often exported to the West during the 19th century, although nothing is known of our chair's particular origin or use.
After "Wow!" the most common question about the chair is "How?" The answer is the same as for many of Special Collections' unique holdings; the Chinese Chair was a gift. The donor was the estate of Carroll Haeske, class of 1922. Born in Blaine in 1905, Haeske was a vibrant character, an inveterate traveler, an unconventional (and successful) investor, and a collector with wide-ranging interests extending to books and all manner of objets d'art, practical and otherwise. A music teacher by profession, he was also keenly interested in sports, especially, as a young man, in rowing. While a Western student, Haeske helped initiate the process leading to the purchase of Lakewood, mainly due to its potential as a site for a crew training and practice.
Carroll Haeske died in 2001, age 96. In addition to the more than 500 books he donated to the Libraries' collection and other major gifts to the University, the Chinese Chair is a lasting reminder of both his eclectic tastes and his welcome generosity to his alma mater.
Head of Special Collections Emeritus