Mitch Dudek, JD ’89 and Ohio native, is a partner in a well-known international law firm and owns Liu Yue, a Chinese antique museum in Lili, a city outside of Suzhou.
Dudek was one of the first students to study in China in the early 1980s. During his time in China, he developed a deep appreciation for Chinese art and was attracted by its intricacies and craftsmanship.
After returning to the United States and earning his JD degree at Ohio State, Dudek traveled back to China where he has lived and worked for 30 years.
“My biggest dream at the time was to have a job so that it would allow me to stay in China. I could continue to visit places and explore folk art. During my 30 years in China, I have never questioned this decision,” Dudek said.
Having been in China since its reform, Dudek speaks fluent Mandarin and understands the history and culture from a very unique angle. During the last three decades, he witnessed the ancient city transform itself with modern skyscrapers, remote regions gained access to electric power and gas energy and the quality of people’s lives advanced. He also observed the historical and the cultural heritage that accompanied the Middle Kingdom for centuries gradually fade or be abandoned.
“I often look at the visitors expressions carefully when they visit. They would often demonstrate unexpected joy and share a sense of nostalgia because these displays brought memories of their parents or grandparents,” Dudek said.
Those ordinary items displayed unique beauty to Dudek many times, not for their exquisite craftsmanship but a sense of connection to the history and the people who were a part of that history.
Although Dudek has fulfilled his dream of having a job and pursuing folk art at the same time in China, he wants this museum to be versatile and become a residential area. Dudek would like to create hotel rooms and place in the art in each room so that those who stay there can develop a better sense of Chinese folk art and Chinese culture.
When translated into English Liu Yue means Six Types of Art. There were six types of art in ancient China: ritual, music, archery, carriage, calligraphy and mathematics. As the Chinese saying goes, an individual has five senses: shape, sound, color, taste and touch.
The scale of Liu Yue wasn’t built in a day. In the very beginning, Dudek collected these items simply because he was terrified to let the antiques be dismantled and thrown away. He gradually built his collection in his own home until there was no more room. He rented warehouses in Shanghai to store the pieces until the warehouses were all filled. Luckily, the government of Lili of Jiangsu Province generously approved a piece of land which is how Liu Yue came to be.
Dudek has more than 100,000 pieces in his collection and only a third are on display. Both the collection and the richness of culture are staggering. Items include sedan chairs, plaques, bamboo screens, opera mask portraits, Chinese medicine drawers and various stone carvings. The Liu Yue Museum also hosts events that foster folk art experiences, including performances of local opera Kun Qu and shadow plays as well as folk activities such as face painting.
Unlike other museums, visitors may hold pieces in their hands and closely observe each item. Many items are unheard of in other museums, such as window sills and algae. Some are items from traditional buildings that were about to be destroyed. They now have a new home in Dudek’s museum. Dudek said he has yet to define this place filled with a special interpretation of traditional Chinese folk art and a rare artisan spirit.