History, art and literature of the ages will soon flourish in Vashon Village with the grand opening of Aspidistra, the new gallery, shop and library bringing the culture of Indonesia to the Pacific Northwest.
“This is an area of history and culture that Americans don’t engage with very much, but they should,” said storekeeper Susi Johnston, a veteran art historian who will launch her business with food, live musical performances and presentations from her featured collection on Saturday, June 30.
Johnston lived in Indonesia for 23 years, where she managed several enterprises, including the sale of artifacts, weapons and fine jewelry. Selections from her expansive inventory have been displayed in art festivals in New York, London and San Francisco.
Johnston, a Washington native, recently said she felt a calling to return as she walked through her new showroom space.
“Typically there’s so many things that can go wrong,” she said, pointing to a display case, where a light had gone out.
Johnston plans to exhibit jewelry from her travels in a former dark room. Upstairs is shaping up into a library brimming with books and art textiles from southeast Asia.
“It’s going to be a place where people read and study,” she said. “Everything is whipping up into shape. All the dominoes are lined up. It’s nice, I feel really at home here.”
She held up a warrior shield for fending off arrows acquired from the Mentawai Islands, off the coast of Sumatra. On the back of the shield, Johnston identified spirals and tracings of hands etched into the wood.
“I love things with patina, like indigenous repairs on things. It’s beauty, it’s story,” she said. “You come to understand the importance of exchange between cultures, and what it does and why it’s so important. This place is a repository of just endless culture, lore and treasures.”
The garden outside will be reserved for sculpture and leisure, complete with bean bag chairs.
“Every single object has a story,” Johnston said. “I’m not a collector, I’m not a keeper; I consider myself a conduit. All of my personal possessions I could fit in my car.”
Later this year, Johnston will open two additional spaces at Vashon Village, in between Aspidistra and the new Community Pub.
Rosebud is a shop containing “really beautiful and esoteric things” with a masculine inclination. On the wall hung a large Harley Davidson advertisement from 1920 or earlier, dealership certified. Rosebud will be a place for one-of-a-kind gambling, gaming and travel goods from the 20th century, with stock ranging from antique cigarette lighters and other smoking paraphernalia to drinking collectibles, aviation equipment and motor car memorabilia.
Next door, Zebra Productions will have “20th century swag,” according to Johnston, featuring relics of creative pursuits such as photography, style, fashion and retro technology. Johnston held up a pair of limited edition Andy Warhol foundation Converse Chucks with glow-in-the-dark print.
“Unbelievable, those are fantastic,” she said.
Two original Le Corbusier armchairs sat in the corner. Johnston said she has more than 100 antique cameras, as well as a diverse assortment of other goods as colorful as the swinging 60s in London.
“All of these things, I need to get them in showing type shape,” said Johnston. “That’s not going to come together overnight; it’s a continuing process. So every time people come in, they’re going to see something different.”
All three shops will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays reserved for private appointments.
“I think Vashon is the kind of place that has a tendency to be open minded, experimental and a bit courageous,” she said. “There’s no end to it, there’s really no end to it; you step in here and you really step into the world.”