Totaling about 20,000 pieces –— some as old as 3,000 years, and others as recent as the early 20th century — Ow’s collection took up every inch of spare space in his house, said his grandson Benjamin Ow.
“He had a voracious appetite for Chinese antiques,” Benjamin Ow said. “He loved the chase of finding new antiques.”
The items in George Ow’s collection include figures, pots and vessels made of bronze and porcelain.
Nearly 500 pieces will be available for the public to view and bid upon this weekend as the Slawinski Auction Co. features the collection at its estates auction.
“There’s some great, quality pieces here,” said Rob Slawinski, the company’s co-owner. “What a great opportunity to come see these for yourself.”
Auctions will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, and Monday, Nov. 12, Slawinski said.
According to George Ow Jr., his father’s love of Chinese antiques and artifacts began in earnest in the early 1970s, when he took the family to see an exhibit of Chinese art shortly after the United States and communist China established diplomatic relations.
“I think the history and the beauty captivated him,” George Ow Jr. said. “They gave him great pride.”
George Ow Sr. was born in the early 1920s in a poor, rice-growing area outside of Toisan, China. He lived there until he was about 4 years old and was adopted by a Chinese family living in Santa Cruz.
He lived there until1930, when his family moved back to China when the effects of the Great Depression and restrictive laws against Chinese people made making a living too difficult.
“Dollars would go further in China,” George Ow Jr. said.
When the Japanese invaded China in 1937, the teenaged George Ow Sr. moved back to Santa Cruz to avoid near certain death in China’s then-poorly organized armed forces.
He didn’t return to China for 45 years after that, George Ow Jr. said.
His father graduated from Santa Cruz High School as a member of the Class of 1940 before serving in the Pacific Theater in World War II as a member of the U.S. Army.
When he returned from the war, George Ow Sr. began work in the grocery store business, which eventually allowed him to build his fortune in real estate in Santa Cruz, Capitola and Scotts Valley, including the Kings Village Shopping Center.
As his children grew older and took on more responsibility in the family’s real estate business, George Ow Jr. said, his father was able to devote more time to building his collection.
“We love real estate,” George Ow Jr. said. “That’s how he was able to indulge his hobby.”
Benjamin Ow described his grandfather’s house, which stood where the Scotts Valley Walgreens is now, as resembling “an overstuffed museum.”
“Every wall on his house was full of antiques,” he said. “It’s just too much to even fully appreciate.”
When plans to replace the Ow house with Walgreens began in earnest in 1998, Benjamin Ow recalled spending an entire summer, with several helpers, to wrap and box all the items in the collection for the move.
The boxes were never unpacked in the family’s new house, Benjamin Ow said, as his grandfather’s health declined.
Aside from a few items, he said, “90 percent of the items remained boxed up.”
Finally, the Ow family decided to put the collection up for auction in hopes that others would appreciate the pieces as much as George Ow, Sr. had.
The family also fears the threat of an earthquake to the collection.
“The (collection) could all be destroyed in an instant,” Benjamin Ow said. “It’s time to let other people enjoy them — they weren’t being enjoyed or utilized properly.”
For Slawinski, the Ows’ decision to put the artifacts up for auction could not have come at a better time. Social and economic changes in China have sent demand skyrocketing for historical items, he said, by allowing individuals to purchase relics internationally.
He explained that in the course of wars, revolutions and other upheaval during the past century, many Chinese historical and cultural artifacts were either ruined or taken from the country.
“A lot of those things were destroyed,” Slawinski said. “(The Chinese people) want their culture back — they want their history back.”
He said identifying the types of items in the inventory was remarkably easy as a result of the accuracy of George Ow Sr.’s efforts to catalog his collection.
“He was a self-taught expert,” George Ow Jr. said. “He became an authority of Chinese art, Chinese history and Chinese artifacts.”
At A Glance
What: Auction of lifetime collection of George Ow
Where: Slawinski Auction Co., 1500 Green Hills Road, in Scotts Valley
- Friday, Nov. 9: Preview from 1 to 4 p.m.
- Saturday, Nov. 10: Preview from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Sunday, Nov. 11: Preview from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; auction begins at 11 a.m.
- Monday, Nov. 12: Preview from 9 to 11 a.m.; auction begins at 11 a.m.
Info: 335-9000 or www.slawinski.com
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