The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Businessman's collection of samurai artifacts spawns his own Texas museum, travelling exhibit

  • Print

DALLAS - Gabriel Barbier-Mueller bought his first samurai armour about 20 years ago from an antiques dealer in Paris, sparking a fascination that helped him create one of the most significant private collections in the world related to the Japanese warriors.

Although the vast majority of the Texas-based businessman's pieces come from auction houses, art dealers and collectors, he still relishes visiting small European antiques stores seeking hidden treasures and strolling flea markets, as he adds helmets, weapons and other samurai artifacts that span the centuries.

"Every year starts with: 'I've got everything I need. There's nothing on the market.' And somehow you luck out on something, and you discover new things," said Barbier-Mueller, a Swiss-born real estate developer who opened a samurai museum last year near downtown Dallas.

Part of the collection — now numbering in the hundreds — is on an international tour that began two years ago in Paris and opened this month at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. It will head to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after the current exhibit ends Aug. 31.

The Kimbell display features more than 140 works including 20 suits of armour, three armours for horses and helmets and weapons from various eras of the samurai. Samurai armours are made of a variety of materials, often intertwined — from iron to wood to fur to leather.

The entire collection is among the world's most notable private collections and is only rivaled by a few museums in the U.S., said Thom Richardson, deputy master at the Royal Armouries, the United Kingdom's National Museum of Arms and Armour in Leeds.

"Many of the pieces in the Barbier-Mueller collection are quite familiar to Japanese armour scholars in the West," Richardson said.

The history of the samurai dates back to 792, when Japan stopped conscripting troops and landowners began assembling their own warriors, called samurai. By 1185, warlords ruled in the name of the emperor and clans used their samurai to vie for power. The samurai class was abolished after the emperor again ruled supreme in 1868.

Barbier-Mueller said after the samurai were disbanded, many artifacts were sold or melted down for steel. Since so many pieces were sold off, he can track most of his pieces to sales at European auction houses in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Barbier-Mueller said one piece he acquired was bought from a descendent of a minister who left Japan in 1920, returning to England with an entire collection of samurai armour.

The collection spans enough of the samurai history that one can see the difference in helmets as warfare progresses from bows and arrows to guns, said Jennifer Casler Price, the Kimbell's curator of Asian and non-Western art. She said helmet designs became more elaborate through the years in order to identify fellow warriors amid the smoke from gunfire.

"They have assembled this really exceptional collection," she said. "I think people will be rather dazzled."

Barbier-Mueller came to Dallas in 1979 and founded his company, Harwood International, in 1988. His projects around the world include an area featuring offices, residences and restaurants near downtown Dallas, including the building that houses his museum.

But the 57-year-old said he still finds time to expand the historical collection he's built along with his wife, Ann, whenever and wherever he can. A discovery just last year came when he spotted a polished copper ball in a store down a tiny Parisian street and learned it was a mirror samurai used for protection.

"It's what you would have hung on the ceiling," he said. "They would travel and they were hosted by people along their journey. If they lay down and looked at that ball, it's like a 360-degree mirror, so they could have seen anybody coming to attack them."

___

If You Go...

SAMURAI: Armour FROM THE ANN AND GABRIEL BARBIER-MUELLER COLLECTION: Exhibit at Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, Texas, https://www.kimbellart.org or 817-332-8451. Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday noon-8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.; closed Monday. Adults, $14; seniors and students, $12; Children 6-11, $10; under 6 free. Admission is half-price on Tuesday and after 5 p.m. on Friday.

ANN AND GABRIEL BARBIER-MUELLER MUSEUM: THE SAMURAI COLLECTION: 2501 North Harwood St., Dallas, Texas, on second floor of historic St. Ann's School building, above Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar, http://www.samuraicollection.org or 214-965-1032. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Monday. Admission is free.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

RMTC preview of Good People

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A water lily in full bloom is reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100615 - Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 The Mane Attraction - Lions are back at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Xerxes a 3-year-old male African Lion rests in the shade of a tree in his new enclosure at the old Giant Panda building.  MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google