In 1908-9, art collector and explorer, Sterling Clark, and naturalist, Arthur deCarle Sowerby, spent 17 months caravanning across Northern China. With a team of scientists and specialists, the explorers were on a mission to collect artifacts and biological material from a territory that until then remained a blank spot for scientific inquiry on the world map. The rich findings of their odyssey have given rise to three exhibitions at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and one at the Explorers Club in New York City.
Through Shên-Kan: Sterling Clark in China (until Sept. 16), documents the crossing through China–preserved animals discovered during the trek, photographs, equipment, and paperwork from the journey are on loan from the Smithsonian and gathered from the Clark’s own collection—much of which have never before been seen by the public.
Then & Now: Photographs of Northern China (until Sept. 16) juxtaposes archival photographs captured during the Clark expedition with contemporary ones taken from the same vantage point by Chinese photographer Li Ju, 100 years later. The two photographs captured near the Yellow River facing Lanzhou (above) are a perfect depiction of the whirlwind development of China’s megacities, while the images from Wenfeng Pagoda at Yangzou Temple (below) show an historic landmark virtually untouched.
Unearthed: Recent Archeological Discoveries from Northern China (until Oct. 21) reveals for the first time outside of China, recently excavated objects from Shanxi and Gansu Provinces including a Northern Wei dynasty sarcophagus that dates back to 477 CE. The sandstone vessel was unearthed in Shanxi in 2004.
At the Explorers Club until Friday, is Phantoms of the Clark Expedition: papier-mâché recreations by artist, Mark Dion, of everything from hiking boots to an enormous squirrel from the 1908 trip. The tableaux are arranged in the Trophy room at the former residence of Sterling Clark's brother, Steven.
And while you're in NY, don't miss the Discovery Center's Terracotta Warriors: Defenders of China's First Emperor (until Aug. 26) which shows more than 20 pieces never before seen in the United States, including an ancient Han burial chamber, and 10 life-size terracotta warriors, weighing 600 lbs. each.
These exhibitions succesfully shed new light on China's abundant history and invaluable patrimony, and remind us that despite the country's warp-speed development, some cultural treasures will always be sacred.
Marguerite A. Suozzi is an assistant research editor at Travel + Leisure.