The Hidden Wellington Wang Collection

Brandon T. Bisceglia

If you’ve ever walked into the Marvin K. Peterson Library at UNH, you’ve probably noticed a set of glass display cases with shelves of

Many of the interesting stones donated over the past few years by collector Wellington Wang to UNH are packed away on shelves in a storage room in the library. PHOTOGRAPH BY BRANDON T. BISGEGLIA

strange-looking rocks prominently displayed along one wall. If you’ve taken the time to look inside those cases, you probably know that the rocks are part of a collection donated to UNH by the famous Chinese collector Wellington Tu Wang.

What you may not have realized, though, is that UNH’s Wellington Wang collection comprises many, many more pieces than the ones on display.  Some of the pieces are scattered throughout campus, on the desks of administrators and staff members. But the vast majority is tucked away in a locked storage room on the upper floor of the library. A number of them are still in boxes or bubble-wrap.

UNH actually has two collections from Wang, explains Director of University Special Events Jill Zamparo. The first, donated in 2009 when Wang was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from UNH, is called the “Scholar’s Rocks” collection, and contains 115 stones that were originally from China, but were scattered around Europe and North America after Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The other collection is made up of soapstone carvings ranging from the sixth century to the twentieth century. Soapstone, also known as steatite, is a metamorphic rock composed mainly of talc, making it easy to carve. Soapstone carvings from China’s Fujian Province have been prized for well over a thousand years. That collection was donated to UNH in 2011.

Zamparo has become the de facto curator of the collections since the recent departure of former Seton Gallery director Kerry O’Grady. She keeps records of the collections, including a listing of where the various pieces are located.

After Wang gave the collections to UNH, Zamparo says she could not find places to put them all. “I chose the ones to display in the library based on whether they would fit on the shelves,” she says, laughing. Many of the Scholar’s Rocks were much too large. Indeed, one piece sitting in its box in the storage room is listed as being 66 centimeters – more than two feet – tall

Some administrators offered to keep pieces they liked from the collections in their own quarters. A portion ended up in President Steven H. Kaplan’s office, where they line the shelves or sit on stands on the floor. A few, including a gigantic bloodstone, are located in Associate Vice President of the Institute of Forensic Science Henry C. Lee’s office. A few of the stones are in Zamparo’s own office, arranged on a plate lined with faux lettuce to resemble a meal of meat and potatoes.

Zamparo says that she and Kaplan would like to eventually display the collections in multiple locations on campus, but they worry about the stones being mishandled, broken, or stolen. They would have to install glass cases with locks first.

In the meantime, the pieces remain in the darkened storage room, waiting for the day when a new generation of people can once again enjoy their ancient and intricate beauty.

Jill Zamparo gave The Charger Bulletin special access to the pieces from the Wellington Wang collection. See pictures from the “hidden” collection, including some that you can’t see anywhere else below!