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East Meets West: The Guo Pei “Garden of Soul” Collaboration


Flora and fauna motifs have a long history in Chinese decorative arts and textiles. They appear frequently in artist and designer Guo Pei’s designs and reflect the influence of nature in the designer’s work. Guo Pei’s 2015 collection, Garden of Soul, was inspired by the Chinese saying “There is a kingdom in a flower; a wisdom in a leaf,” which captures how the spirit of nature and universal oneness can be found in small everyday details.She explains, “I always find the power of nature fascinating, especially when the flowers are blossoming.” She draws connections between the human soul and gardens, which both need to be nurtured. 

Last spring as the Museum Stores prepared to develop exclusive merchandise for the retrospective exhibition Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy at the Legion of Honor—now extended through November 27—the designer’s Garden of Soul collection stood out. Its stunning details depicted flora and fauna motifs and designs in vibrant colors and hues. Both the artist and the Museum Stores felt the collection was the perfect inspiration for a collection of tableware, an entirely new product category for Guo Pei. 

Flora detail, Collection: Garden of Soul, 2015
© Guo Pei / Asian Couture Federation. Photograph by Lian Xu. All rights reserved.

Fauna detail, Collection: Garden of Soul, 2015
© Guo Pei / Asian Couture Federation. Photograph by Lian Xu. All rights reserved.

COVID lockdowns in China, coupled with the fifteen-hour time difference between Beijing and San Francisco, made coordination difficult. Luckily, we were able to bring in the expertise of award-winning tableware designer Rosanna Bowles to assist. Bowles’s company, Rosanna, Inc., designs and produces elegant tableware inspired by world cultures and art. Made of porcelain and china, the designs are beautifully packaged for easy gift giving. The Museum Stores previously worked with Bowles on tableware collections for exhibitions including Masters of Venice, The Cult of Beauty, and Monet: The Late Years.


To initiate the process, Guo Pei Atelier provided Rosanna, Inc. with hi-resolution images of various ensembles from the Garden of Soul collection. Bowles and her team extracted key signature details, such as a butterfly, peony blossom, and peacock from Guo Pei’s designs and translated them into exquisite drawings in shades of turquoise and burgundy with gold highlights. The drawings were then applied to various tableware shapes, including mugs, plates, trays, coasters, and two signature piecesa scalloped platter and teapot set.

Garden of Soul “Flora” Tall mug artwork, courtesy of Rosanna, Inc.

            

Garden of Soul “Fauna” Tea Set artwork, courtesy of Rosanna, Inc.

The concepts were reviewed and approved by the Guo Pei Atelier and the Museum Stores. Next came the development of the gift packaging and samples. By the late fall of 2021, the Guo Pei “Garden of Soul” tableware collection was on its way across the Pacific Ocean from China to San Francisco, ready for the opening of the exhibition. The partnership between Guo Pei and Rosanna Bowles, both women who run successful international businesses, is a testament to the power of artistic collaboration across cultures. The placement of Guo Pei’s ensembles throughout the Legion of Honor galleries highlights how her work melds fashion and sculpture, as well as disparate historical and iconographic references. Likewise, the Garden of Soul tableware collection brings together fashion and decorative arts—offering a metaphor for our intercontinental world, perfectly captured in the collection’s designs.

Guo Pei “Garden of Soul” tableware at the Legion of Honor Exhibition Store

Guo Pei sketching a design, courtesy of the Guo Pei Atelier

Rosanna Bowles, courtesy of Rosanna, Inc.