Annual Report


Due to the COVID-19 preventative measures mandated by the state and local governments and to protect the health and safety of our members, the Society for Asian Art will ask members to vote for its 2020-2021 slate of Board of Directors by email instead of in person at the Annual Meeting of members.

On Saturday, May 23, 2020, SAA members will receive an email listing the names of twelve directors who wish to serve or continue serving for the next fiscal year. Please follow the link in the email to cast your vote. The term of these directors will be until they fulfill their two-year term and successors are duly elected and qualified. We ask that you review and vote for the slate as soon as possible, but no later than Sunday, May 31, 2020. Each member in good standing is entitled to one vote, and no proxy voting is permitted. The results will be announced in the July-August newsletter.

As of writing, the Nominating Committee has submitted the following nominees for election: Margaret (Megs) Booker, Margaret Edwards, Nancy Jacobs, Candace Kahn, Anne Katz, Phyllis Kempner, Lawrence Mock, John Nelson, Debbie Ottman, Pamela Royse, Ehler Spliedt, Marsha Vargas Handley.

Names of additional nominees may be submitted to the Board of Directors for review until April 30, 2020. Petitions need to be signed by no less than twenty members in good standing and contain all information specified in Section 3, Article IX of the SAA Bylaws.

For additional information including directors with one year remaining on their two-year terms and those who are retiring, please refer to the Nominating Committee report below.

By order of the Board of Directors,

Etsuko Kobata


The members of the Nominating Committee for the year 2019-2020 are Nazneen Spliedt, Chair, Anne Adams Kahn, Kalpana Desai, Kirk Gibson and Sherlyn Leong.

The following Members of the Society for Asian Art desire to serve as Directors and are nominated for election to serve their first two-year term of office: Candace Kahn, Anne Katz, Debbie Ottman.

The following Directors of the Society for Asian Art will complete their first or second two-year term and are nominated for election to serve another two-year term: Margaret (Megs) Booker, Margaret Edwards, Nancy Jacobs, Phyllis Kempner, Lawrence Mock, John Nelson, Pamela Royse, Ehler Spliedt, Marsha Vargas Handley.

Directors with one year remaining on their two-year terms are: Trista Berkovitz, Ed Baer, Edith Benay, Lynne Brewer, Kalpana Desai, Gloria Garaventa, Kirk Gibson, Tom Ihrig, Etsuko Kobata, Peggy Mathers, Howard Moreland, Kathleen Slobin, Nazneen Spliedt, Sylvia Wong.

The following previously elected Directors are retiring from the Board of Directors: Diane Weber, Kasey Yang.

The following ex-officio Directors will continue to serve: Deborah Clearwaters, Forrest McGill.

New Nominees:
The following members are nominated for a first two-year term to the Board of Directors of the Society for Asian Art:

Candace Kahn is an experienced K-12 teacher, mentor, arts educator and writer. She has been a long-time member of the Society and has participated in many Society trips and programs.

Anne Katz is an educator and education evaluator who has lived and worked in many countries.  She has conducted literacy programs and provided teaching support for many projects overseas.  Anne actively attends the Arts of Asia lectures and volunteers at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.

Debbie Ottman is an Asian Art Museum docent and CSP speaker. With a degree in Computer Science, she has worked as a Program Manager at various Bay Area hi-tech companies. She is an active and enthusiastic bird watcher and member of the Audubon Society.


2019-20 has been a year of challenge and change for the Society. As the Asian Art Museum was in the midst of its construction, the Society focused on continuing our excellent programming, often using alternative venues and scheduling offsite excursions, and strengthening the Society’s long-term financial status. Both are discussed in more detail below.

The Society also responded nimbly to the COVID-19 pandemic by canceling or postponing events until a later, safer time. We were disappointed that we had to take this step, so we appreciate your understanding. Thank you to those members that donated their cancelled program fees to the Society.

Like many nonprofits, our revenue stream has dried up due to cancelled programs. Although our operating costs are low, we must cover ongoing costs to maintain the office, the website, and the membership database and to plan for future programs. We are asking members to renew their membership promptly when it becomes due and to consider upgrading to a higher membership level. We need your support now more than ever.

Please be assured that when public officials deem it safe to do so, we will resume our wonderful Asian art and culture programming. Depending on the health guidelines in place at the time, we will explore options such as online programming, social distancing, etc.

2019-20 Programming

Despite the challenges, the Board and committee members successfully presented many exciting programs this past year, a few of which are highlighted below.

Arts of Asia
Continuing the tradition of this renowned lecture series, we presented two unique and fascinating series - Seeking the Divine: The Lesser-Known Religious Traditions of Asia and Visions of the Afterlife in Asia. Both series were well-subscribed and the lectures received rave reviews.

Literature and Culture
We organized two exciting and popular series this year, one on the masterpiece novels by Japanese Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe and the other on the literature of Soviet Central Asia.

Member Events
This year included many outstanding member events, covering various parts of Asia. Examples include an ‘SAA Roadshow’ at Bonham’s and fun social activities such as the Holiday Party and Spring Dinner. We also held lectures on Tibetan Buddhism, the Indian Ocean spice trade, textiles of Japan, Korean art and culture during King Sejong’s reign, contemporary Vietnamese art, and the Brundage collection at the Asian. And we toured exhibitions at other museums, such as the Museum of Craft and Design and BAMPFA. All events were well-attended and enjoyed by all.

And for our upper-category members, we held a variety of stimulating, in-depth conversations with scholars in private homes.

SAA members enjoyed fabulous trips to Ireland and Great Britain to see the top Asian collections there and to Pasadena to visit the beautiful gardens and museums.

Lotus Leaves
Our premier scholarly publication, Lotus Leaves, included stimulating articles on various aspects of Asian art and included a new focus on art-related topics and events in the vicinity of the museum, titled ‘Around the Asian’.

Long-Term Financial Strength

In addition to programming, the Board focused this year on strengthening the long-term financial viability of the Society. The goal of this effort was to ensure the Society can continue to support the museum and offer engaging programs for another 60+ years.

To this end, the Board raised membership dues for the first time in over 6 ½ years and approved a detailed investment policy that follows endowment law (the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act) and is consistent with well-established and well-researched principles of sound investing. The new policy specifies a diverse asset allocation that will protect investments while allowing for modest long-term growth.

To implement the new policy, the Board is moving away from self-directed investment via a broker, and instead employing a fiduciary portfolio manager. The Board conducted a thorough search and after carefully evaluating the proposals we received, chose First Republic Private Wealth Management.

Lastly, the Board established a new Investment Committee, whose sole responsibility is to oversee the investments and work with the new fiduciary portfolio manager. We have recruited committee members with extensive investment expertise. A key goal of the new committee is to develop a spending policy that will outline the processes and goals for making financially sustainable contributions to the Asian Art Museum. The Finance Committee will continue to focus on the critical functions of financial reporting, budgeting, and accounting practices.

I’d like to thank the Board for their hard work in making these major fiscal management changes. Their engagement in the decision process led to a strong foundation on which the Society can move forward.

I also want to thank the many committee members who have worked to present our engaging programs and to keep the Society functioning smoothly. And I am extremely grateful to Susan Lai, the SAA Office Manager. Our organization is much stronger because of her. Finally, I’d like to thank Susan and Kevin McCabe for their generous contribution of a new computer for the SAA office.

Thank you everyone, for your thoughtful, continued support!

Best regards,
Trista Berkovitz



Arts of Asia
The Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 Arts of Asia programs were well subscribed, and attracted new members to the SAA.  The Fall 2019 program focused on the lesser known religions of Asia, and was held at UC Hastings because of continuing construction at the Museum.  The Spring 2020 program focused on visions of the afterlife in Asia.  The latter half of the Spring 2020 program had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 preventive steps mandated by the city. The Instructor of Record for the Fall and Spring programs was Dr. Sanjyot Mehendale of the University of California Berkeley.

The Fall 2020 program will focus on heroes and villains in Asian art and culture.  The Instructor of Record will be Professor Steve Roddy of the University of San Francisco.

The Arts of Asia Committee are: Co-Chairs Margaret Edwards and Larry Mock, Kirk Gibson, Peggy Mathers and Kathleen Slobin. The Committee is grateful to Nazneen and Ehler Spliedt and Coral Reiff for their invaluable help.

Study Group
The Study Group Committee this year included members Margaret Edwards, Tom Ihrig, Barbara Mow, Pam Royse and Sylvia Wong, Chair.

The fall study group on conservation was postponed due to retirements and personnel changes at the Asian Art Museum Conservation Department. We hope to revisit this idea in the future when the dust settles.

Our next event is scheduled in fall 2020 with Bruce Bartholomew and his collection of Chinese ceramic shards at the Opera Plaza. We are also working on exciting programs to learn more about Indonesian puppets, Japanese photography and contemporary Asian art. Stay tuned!

Literature and Culture of Asia

The Literature and Culture Committee sponsored two courses this past year. In the fall of 2019, John Wallace of University of California Berkeley led five sessions on "Two Japanese Masterpiece Novels" by Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe. We read "A Personal Matter" and "The Silent Cry."  Professor Wallace, who knows the author personally, was able to provide many insights into understanding these books.

In the spring of 2020, we read "Literature of Soviet Central Asia" with Emily Laskin, a scholar completing her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from University of California Berkeley. Our program included a short excerpt by Langston Hughes, an American, and books by Andrei Platonov, an ethnic Russian, Sadriddin Aine, an ethnic Tajik, Chingiz Aitmatov, an ethnic Kyrgyz, and Hamid Ismailov, an ethnic Uzbek. We were unable to complete the spring program due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The committee was chaired by Pamela Royse. Members included Judy Fraschella, Sherlyn Leong, John Nelson, Jeanne Newman, Melanie Reamy and Henny Tanudjaja.

This committee supports the museum in arranging symposia. Functions can include contacting speakers, helping arrange travel and lodging, coordinating with the museum to reserve Samsug Hall and arranging for food, handling registration, and distributing flyers.  Members of the committee were Nancy Jacobs, Chair, and Ehler Spliedt.

There were no symposia this fiscal year.


Member Events
The Member Events Committee was chaired by Ehler Spliedt with members Annie Dorsey, Nancy Jacobs, Phyllis Kempner, Nazneen Spliedt, Graeme Vanderstoel, Barbara Wirth, and Sylvia Wong.

During the past year we organized on average two events each month. We had ten scholarly talks and lectures, gallery and museum visits including BAMPFA in Berkeley.  Social events and dinners were also organized, including the Annual Holiday Party at the Richard Gervais Collection and the Spring Dinner at restaurant Tong Kiang. We also hosted our very first SAA Road Show at Bonhams.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, an overnight trip to Orientations in Monterey had to be cancelled, as well as the lecture and reception for our 2020 Annual Meeting.

Our events are based on broad subject matters and are not limited to themes outlined by the Asian Art Museum through their special exhibitions.  We faced some challenges booking space at the museum during their expansion, securing solutions outside the Civic Center and elsewhere.

Our speakers included scholars and visiting professionals from around the Bay Area, as well as curators, SAA Advisors and visitors from overseas.

Upper Category Member Events
The committee was chaired by Phyllis Kempner. Members included Kalpana Desai, Sheila Dowell, Gloria Garaventa, Etsuko Kobata, Myoung-ja Kwan, Sheryln Leong, Ehler Spleidt, Diane Weber, Linda Wiley and Kasey Yang.

The Upper Category Member Events Committee provides programs for members who join the SAA at a higher level of membership: Contributing, Donor and Sponsor. Typically, six conversations with a variety of scholars in private homes are offered annually to all Upper Category members. In addition, unique, special events are planned for Donor and Sponsor members.

In October 2019, Donor and Sponsor members enjoyed a private viewing of “In Ink: Current Trends of Ink Art” at the NanHai Art Gallery in Millbrae with a reception hosted by gallery director, Edward Gui. February this year, Sponsor members were invited to an intimate afternoon with Asian Art Museum director Jay Xu in a private home. We learned much about the museum’s upcoming plans and the philosophy behind them. We hope to welcome more SAA members to the Upper Category level.

The Travel Committee is chaired by Marsha Vargas Handley, with members Anne Adams Kahn, Neaera Baer, Trista Berkovitz, Megs Booker, Lynne Brewer, Kalpana Desai, Sheila Dowell, Kalena Gregory, Mary Hunt, Bianca Larson, Greg Potts, Sharon Roe and Gail Uilkema

During the last fiscal year, the committee completed a very well received trip to Ireland and the UK in October, and to Pasadena in mid-November 2019. As of writing, our May 2020 trip to Japan is being rescheduled due to COVID-19. We are watching the situation as to any effect it may have on our fully booked trip to Morocco scheduled for October-November, 2020.

Additional trips are in planning including Armenia/Georgia, Korea, Abu Dhabi/Oman/Zanzibar, Mongolia as well as Cleveland/Cincinnati/Dayton, New Orleans and Detroit.


The Newsletter Committee published six bi-monthly Newsletters to publicize SAA events and programs. The newsletter supports registration for the SAA activities included in each issue. The latest version of the newsletter is posted on the SAA website. John Nelson chaired the committee, and co-edited the newsletter with Susan Lai.

Lotus Leaves
The Fall 2019 issue of Lotus Leaves was published in November 2019 and featured two articles. The first article, by Dr. Mariachiara Gasparini of San Jose State University, was “Intertwining History Along the Silk Road,” which focused on how textiles illustrate Silk Road cultural connections. The second article by Asian Art Museum Librarian, John Stucky, described the history and collection of the C. Laan Chun Library at the Museum. The Spring 2020 Lotus Leaves is expected to be published in May 2020 and will feature two articles. The first article is by Professor Mitra Ara of San Francisco State University on an ancient religion of West Asia, the Mandaeans. The second article is by Dr. Mariachiara Gasparini, and focuses on the Sino-Mexican art in Alta California, particularly as it is represented by the vestments surviving in California missions.

The Editor of Lotus Leaves is Margaret Edwards.

The goal of the Publicity Committee is to promote awareness of the SAA and its programs and events. During 2018-2019, the committee focused on announcing and selling SAA programs such as the Arts of Asia Friday lecture series, and the annual Book Sale. In addition to announcements through the SAA newsletter and website, the committee worked closely with the Asian Art Museum to have SAA activities listed on its website, calendar, and social media sites. The AAM’s A Magazine regularly includes a page devoted to SAA activities including the Arts of Asia lecture series and speakers, SAA travel programs, and special activities such as the Book Sale and occasional Souk. The Publicity Committee was co-chaired by Anne Adams Kahn and Trista Berkovitz.

Library/Book Sale
The Library Committee was chaired by Ehler Spliedt, assisted by Kirk Gibson.

The SAA continued its support of the AAM Library with a monthly donation of $1,500, for a total of $18,000 for the year. This money helps buy new books and subscriptions to a wide variety of periodicals.

The committee, assisted by a wonderful group of volunteers, organized the Annual Society Book Sale which took place in the Loggia of the Museum on April 5, 2019. The Book Sale netted over $7,400. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 Book Sale is postponed until further notice.

The Website Committee works on maintaining the Society's internet presence. Working with the Office Manager, the committee improves user interface and other necessary fixes. The Society's privacy policy safeguards the website's data integrity. The committee was chaired by Kasey Yang.


Our membership increased about 3.5% during the 2019 calendar year, ending with 500 households belonging to SAA, representing about 782 individuals. We continue to recruit new members to replace those not renewing due to relocation or other life events. The largest category of membership remains the Senior group (50% of memberships, up from 44% last year). Contributing, Donor, and Sponsor memberships are 35% of the total, accounting for 70% of membership income. Committee members are Howard Moreland, Chair, and Edith Benay; with assistance from Sophie Lee, Ruth Murad, Diana Nichols, and Susie Steer.

Membership dues were increased for the first time in 6½ years, starting January 1, 2020. With the new dues, we anticipate an increase in membership payments of 25 to 30% barring any impact from the COVID-19 disruptions.

The committee maintains and interfaces with the SAA Advisory Board, which consists of 25 advisors and 3 advisors emeriti. No new advisors were added this year, but the committee welcomes recommendations, particularly scholars from fields not already represented.

The committee also arranges an annual lunch for the Advisory Board hosted by the SAA Board.

The committee was chaired by Nazneen Spliedt, with members Jeanne Dorward, Judy Fraschella and Pamela Royse.


The Finance Committee was chaired by Treasurer Ed Baer. Members included Steve Pegors, Ehler Spliedt, Nazneen Spliedt and Kasey Yang.

The committee met monthly to review SAA’s financial status and to ensure that sufficient liquid assets were available for all ongoing expenses. The committee’s function also includes developing and proposing an annual budget with the input of various committee chairs, fulfilling a variety of accounting and reporting needs, and working with the Investment Committee to review cash flow and to establish an annual spending policy.

With the SAA’s adoption of a new Investment Policy, the Finance Committee will be transitioning investment oversight to the newly established Investment Committee before the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2020). The committee is grateful to Keith Woodland of Morgan Stanley for his support of more than 20 years as we transition to a new fiduciary relationship with First Republic Bank.

The Investment Committee is charged with overseeing the SAA’s investments and working with the fiduciary portfolio manager to ensure the SAA Investment Policy is followed. The committee will establish performance measures, regularly review investment performance, and report to the Board. This new committee was formed early in 2020 and had its first meeting with the new portfolio manager, First Republic, in February. Following the transition of investments to First Republic, the committee began development of a spending policy which will be presented to the Board for approval.

The committee is being led by President Trista Berkovitz until a chair is appointed. Other members are Treasurer Ed Baer, Gary Chou, Howard Moreland, and Sandra Pan.

Bylaws and Operating Procedures
Secretary Etsuko Kobata, with input from committee chairs, the Executive Committee and approval of the Board, updates the SAA Operating Procedures, Bylaws and Policies to keep content current and accurate.