Antique enthusiasts have a world of their own. They get excited with the ancient artifacts and are also able to appraise them pretty accurately. However, every once in a while, there are instances when even the biggest enthusiasts are left awestruck with the charm and splendor of artifacts.
This is what happened when Mason came across a lion statue. One beautiful afternoon, a certain lady brought a lion statue in his hands which was handed over to her by her grandmother. While the owner had no idea as to what was in her hands, Mason was bewildered and surprised!
He surely was able to understand the value associated with the statue. When Mason had a closer look at the statue, he was moved by the beauty and condition of the antique so much so that he expected the actual value of the antique more towards the higher end.
What happened next? Let’s find out.
The Brilliance of Mason
The man behind the Lion statue here is Lark E.Mason. He is known to have studied antiques his entire life, specific Chinese antiques. It is thus not easiest of tasks to impress someone of the category of Mason. This also indicates that the Lion statue indeed was a brilliant antique in itself.
Mason spent most of his life working as a Design teacher in the New York School of Interior Design. However, a more significant contribution of Mason in the world of art has been with his stint Sotheby’s.
Mistaken Origin of the Lion Statue
To start off, from where did this Lion Statue actually pop up? This statue was inherited by a lady from her grandparents. But she was unaware of the value it possessed or the significance of its origin.
It is only when a friend came across the statue at her place and took a wild guess that it might have some value and could even have a Chinese descent, from the Ming Dynasty. The owner had initially refused to believe in this and was hardly convinced about its origin.
Surprise on the Antiques Show
Lark E. Mason was known for presenting a show on antiques known as the Antiques Roadshow. This, as the name suggested, was a show depicting and talking about antiques from across the globe. But there is one particular episode that proved to be a little different.
A lady appeared on the episode for the same show and carried with her a lion statue that she wanted Mason to evaluate or assess. This put Mason completely in shock. This was not an ordinary statue; he could understand that well. And with time, he could actually appraise it and figure out its origin.
Not Any Other Day at the Antiques Roadshow
More often than not, Mason came to the sets of the show and went through the antiques and went back home. This was pretty much how a normal life looked like for him. He usually had a fun time on the set with the antiques. But the last few days, he had not featured any antique that would get him excited.
But, the moment he laid eyes on the famous Lion Statue, he knew that it was going to be a very different day. These were exciting times, and he was left completely speechless!
Tracing Back the Mysterious Statue
When the Lion statue was unveiled at the Antiques Roadshow, in 2002, Mason knew he was presenting something extraordinary to the world. The owner did not have much idea about its origin. It took the speechless presenter a few seconds to assess it!
But, how did she actually get her hands on the statue? The story suggests that her grandparents had taken a trip to China in the 20th century. That is when they came across this statue, and finally, the lady in question inherited it. But all these years, she had no clue about the value it had!
Going Down the Memory Lane
Once the statue was unveiled, the next step included tracing back its origin and how this particular family had it in their possession. But unfortunately, the lady had a very cloudy memory with regards to how they got the statue.
All she could remember was, “My grandparents picked it up. They traveled a lot in China.” This took Mason’s curiosity to an all-new high. He got intrigued and tried to find out when they traveled to China. Based on her memories, this was mostly during the early part of the 20th century. And thus, that is when the family got this statue.
The Lion Connects the Generations
The owner, at this point in the show, agreed that the Lion statue worked as the missing link across three generations. Irrespective of all the troubles, high and low the family has gone through, the statue has been with them everywhere, spanning every step. All these years, it has waited its turn to be recognized for its value and worth.
Where the statue was kept all these years? According to the lady, her mother had it in her possession all the years, in her house. Later, she went on to inherit it, and after that, it stayed with her.
Living with the Statue
Contrary to the presenter, Mason’s excitement, the lady did not seem to be as enthusiastic about the statue at all. In fact, for her, she had brought on to the show a member from her own family. She had the lion from the time she was a kid, and the lion was like any other favorite toy from her childhood.
She recounts stories of how she and her brother had named the lion Leo and spent a significant part of their childhood playing with it. In fact, they also used to dress the lion up and put a few marbles in its mouth!
Mason’s Journey of Antiques
Mason, as an art lover, was best known for his stay at Sotheby’s Chinese Works of Art Department in New York. His career was somewhat successful there, having reached the position of Senior Vice President.
But, it took a different turn for him when he quit Sotheby’s to establish his own antique company in 2003 that was called iGavelauctions.com. But he continued to maintain his position as an Adjunct Professor at New York University.
Be Careful When You Appraise Antiques
More often than not, antique pieces and statues are worth much more than what they look like. If the antique in question looks ordinary, it can still have a dominant lineage and value. This is what the Antiques Roadshow has depicted, every now and then.
There are a lot of times when people find random, ordinary objects tucked away in their lofts or garages, and they could be worth a fortune! For instance, this teapot, seemed to be a regular piece, but Mason assessed it to be a rare porcelain collection from the 18th century!
The Emotional Side of Mason
For those who knew Mason, he was usually a very calm and composed individual. He always presented his show in a very organized and collected manner. But this episode was different. Mason was trembling, and the owner of the Lion status had no clue why!
Unveiling the statue had triggered such emotions in him that he could not stay his usual calm self. It was instead a different sight to see Mason get emotional on his show. This was, in fact, the first that such an emotional moment was depicted on the air in this show.
Pulling It Back Together
In spite of being excited and emotional about the Lion statue, as a presenter, Mason got back in shape to be composed and collected. Being the true professional, he went back to appreciating the statue for its design, and precision.
In fact, he added, “This is among the finest examples of Chinese art that we have seen on the Roadshow. The carving is beautiful. The workmanship is stunning.” This goes to show how excited he was about the statue. Containing his excitement though, he did accept that he got a little ‘worked up.’
Mason Was in Awe of the Statue
There is no doubt that at this point of time, Mason was in complete awe of the statue. He could not get enough of praising the statue for its intricate and precise design. And he knew immediately that the artist who worked on this was quite brilliant.
Speaking about the carver, Mason said, “The carver who did this was truly a master…You can see the muscles rippling under the surface. It’s the finest quality marble you can get. It’s truly magnificent.” This goes to demonstrate his expertise in this art form.
The Lion Statue Was Unique
Despite all the beautiful components of this statue and classic mastery, there was one character that set this statue apart from all the others. This could be attributed to the fact that the Lion statue was completely unscathed.
It was created and collected many years back, but it still managed to retain its original shape and structure. As Mason rightly described it, “And as you look at this…any way you look at it…it’s fantastic, breath-taking.” Every angle of this statue depicted its immense importance. This was what distinguished this statue for every other antique piece on the show.
The One-Of-A-Kind Statue
A lot of antique enthusiasts can argue that there might be many other versions of the Lion statue. This would mean, there could possibly be many replicas of this antique piece around the globe. In this respect, Mason clearly established his views. He claims that he has never come across any statue like this.
It is true that the Mason has seen many smaller versions of this Lion statue, but had never come across something as majestic as this antique. Mason adds, “I see little tiny versions of these that come in for sale…but never does one see one like this,”
Are There Other Similar Statues?
The introduction of the Lion Statue in this show raises quite a few new questions. For instance, are there other similar statues of the Lion in the world? Theories suggest that these rare statues do exist. They have probably not been discovered yet.
Mason adds that what the lady’s grandparents got way back on their trip to China is something that is not available now. In other words, her grandparents pretty much hit the jackpot! But what happened to the other statues across the globe? Are there different versions of the same antique piece?
Lion Statues in Museums
There is no doubt that lion statues of this size are quite rare to find. But Mason claims that the museums around the globe would be the best place to look for them. Since most of these statues are available in museums, there is a chance that this particular antique would have also ended up in a museum.
But this statue had other plans. Thus, it ended up in the house of this lady’s grandparents. Unable to control his excitement still, Mason adds, “You can see examples like this in museums. Occasionally they come up at auction…It’s wonderful.”
Survival of the Fittest
One of the most exciting aspects of this statue is its ability to remain unscathed all these years. Most antique pieces that date back so many years tend to have a few blemishes here and there. This is true for all artifacts.
However, this particular Lion statue in question has been around for the longest time and has managed to survive well! It has definitely been transferred across many hands, and yet it managed to stay this perfect and this neat after all these years.
No Signatures Found On the Statue
More often than not, when a piece of art is created, some sort of signature is placed on the piece to indicate the name of the artist or the year of creation. This is how one identifies such antique pieces. In fact, this was also a practice back in the earlier days.
However, this Lion statue did not feature any signature from the carver. And this surprised both the owner and Mason. Neither were there any initials printed on the statue nor was there any date mentioned. The presenter could only assess the origin of the statue based on its design.
Rule out the Ming Dynasty
When the lady’s friend came up with a wild guess that this statue could be something of importance, he suggested that it was derived from the Ming Dynasty. However, one look at it and Mason was convinced that this was from another dynasty and another era. This is also one of the reasons that really astounded the presenter.
According to Mason, this was from the Tang dynasty. He adds, “This dates from the golden period of Chinese art, which is called the Tang Dynasty, between the sixth century and the ninth century.”
Tang Dynasty and Its Art Forms
The Tang Dynasty was one of the most artistically flourishing dynasties in China. This empire was most active between the years of 618 and 907 AD. For many in China, this was the golden period for the country.
This dynasty did thrive when it came to art and different art forms. These spanned across music, painting, dance forms, literature, sculpting, and the likes. Whatever they did, the dynasty did it beautifully. This beautifully carved Lion statue is an example of the country’s precision and artistic nature back then.
Global Presence of Tang’s Art
It would be incorrect to say that the art forms produced by the Tang dynasty were limited to China only. In fact, these traveled the world. That is the reason, how a Lion statue from China ended up in a home in New Mexico.
In the earliest days, the art pieces from the Tang Dynasty were actually transported to other countries like India and the Middle East. But, there was more to that. A lot of people from around the globe also traveled to China to experience the art pieces produced by this dynasty. This is also how the owner’s grandparents got the statue in the first place.
Tang Had a Lot to Offer
The famous Lion Statue is only one of the many things that the Tang Dynasty has on offer. The beautiful art forms left back by the dynasty finds its presence even in today’s China. One would find a number of these sculptures all scattered around this country.
During the reign of the Tang dynasty, Buddhism was the most commonly practiced religion in this part of the world. Thus, the sculptures revolve around various idols of Buddha, spanning across different monasteries.
Sculptures with World Heritage Status
There are a number of sculptures, statues, and artifacts around the world that have been granted the World Heritage Status. In fact, there are some statues which were built around the same time as this particular Lion Statue in question, that have received enough recognition and Heritage status.
For instance, the Longmen Grottoes prove to be one such example. Their limestone cliff faces have statues carved on to them. These have been given the World Heritage Status by the UNESCO. These are also known for their outstanding display of artistic creativity and imagination.
Art beyond Sculptures for the Tang Dynasty
If you think that the Tang dynasty had its expertise only in creating sculptures, then you are in for a surprise. They also specialized in pottery, the three-dimensional form of art. The idea was simple. The potters in this dynasty would carve out beautiful shapes out of earthenware. This was followed by glazing the structures with colors.
What was the purpose of these structures? The Chinese empire had a practice of placing these sculptures next to the tombs of its rulers and other important personalities. One of the most popular materials put to use during this time was porcelain. This is what our famous Lion statue was made up of.
It Made the Headlines
Undoubtedly, this whole event made the headlines on the Antiques Roadshow Insider, all due to the significance that the marble lion status carried. The editor-in-chief of the website, Larry Canale, was pretty much convinced that this antique is one of the greatest and important antiques that is ever displayed on the Antiques Roadshow.
But before this Chinese antique could smash the records, something else took the credits…
Blanket Caught the Attention
A guest showed up on Antiques Roadshow and showed a blanket that was given to the foster father of this grandmother by Kit Carson. When the appraiser had a look over the blanket closely, he could not believe his eyes.
The blanket was of Navajo origin in its purest form. “On a really bad day, this textile would be worth $350,000. On a good day, it is about a half a million dollars,” said the appraiser.
Antique Lion Statue Was Still In the Thoughts
After the classic episode of Antiques Roadshow was done and dusted, Canale recalled that Mason was just not able to get over the fact as to how an incredible antique passed through the studio so quietly.
Canale said, “Mason was visibly moved, both before taping the segment and immediately afterward,” Canale said. “It was such an important piece – one he never expected to encounter in New Mexico – which he got a little choked up. It totally caught him by surprise…”
Surprise, and Astonishment
Mason recalled that he was completely surprised when the owner of a white marble lion came to the Asian Arts table in Albuquerque. It was one of the best surprises of his career when he spotted a Tang Dynasty lion in such a place.
The statue caught his attention not only because of its size (it was around 18 inches tall) but also because of its condition.
The Best Sculpture
Mason was all the more enthusiastic about his recent find. He could not believe his eyes as to how perfect the statue was. It was so smooth and perfect and unmarred by any external damage. The piece looked utterly new.
Mason was definitely impressed with this experience in Antiques Roadshow Insider.
Base Spoke Volumes
One of the extraordinary thing about the lion statue was its base which spoke volumes about its condition. The base was wonderfully carved using the chisel-work. This speaks of the age of the statue.
The beautiful engravings on the base have provided it a sort of sandy surface which is something that you look forward to seeing in an antique statue.
Attention to Detail
What took Mason with surprise was the incomparable attention to detail provided by the original crafter. The statue was crafted in a style which is more typical to smaller size statues. The surface was smooth and protected from any damage. The details were still sharp, and it seemed that the statue has just left the carver’s workshop.
This was when Mason thought that its actual value could be a bit more than what was expected. The question regarding the real worth of the statue still remained unanswered though.
What’s the Actual Value?
Mason estimated the actual value of the statue to be somewhere between $120,000 and $180,000. But this was just the auction value.
He then determined that the insurance figure on this could be between $150,000 and $250,000, probably more towards the high end. Mason told that the statue was worth $250,000 for insurance purposes.
The lady was definitely surprised!
Mason was able to estimate that he needs to value the lion statue at around $250,000. However, the statue owner maintained her calm, Larry recalled. “I told the lion’s owner that its value might be a bit more than expected: around $250, 000,” Canale said.
Although the lion value was a bit more than what was expected, the owner maintained her cool even though she must be astonished by the huge value that it was worth.
Where is the Lion Statue Now?
A few years ago, Canale met Mason on the streets and asked him if he knew the whereabouts of the statue. Mason informed that the lion statue is still taken care of by its owner, the lady.
Although the statue was found to be associated with a hefty price tag, this didn’t make her let it go after all!