I needed to get my absentee ballot in the mail before the deadline and remembered seeing a Post Office in Old Town Manassas.
The post office isn’t what I expected. There were two doors. To my right was the door to a small postal substation. To my left was Tyna Kuang opening the second door and inviting me in to an amazing experience: MarsCloud Inc. on the first floor and an Art Discovery Institute exhibit on the second floor.
Mrs. Kuang gave me a tour of the gift shop and explained that in addition to Asian collectibles MarsCloud Inc. also offers auctions of arts and antiques, appraisals in its areas of expertise, and Chinese/Japanese painting conservation services. She then took me up the stairs to meet her husband, Lin Kuang, the curator of the exhibit on the second floor, the Art Gallery at Manassas.
I found Mr. Kuang lovingly restoring a damaged door. He began collecting art in 1997 and built a significant collection of paintings from China, the European Renaissance and the Barbizons, as well as oil paintings of the so-called “China Trade.” As his expertise and interest in art grew, Mr. Kuang leveraged his knowledge of art history, particularly in Chinese and Renaissance art, and his study of the Northern and Southern Song Dynasties and Leonardo da Vinci to make his passion his career. He is currently the president of Art Discovery Institute in Fairfax and its senior art history researcher.
Mr. Kuang is highly respected within his area of expertise. I found his application of mathematical principals to art appraisals and assessments particularly interesting, He has published several articles in top Chinese academy journals, and also wrote a book, “The scientific principles and philosophical essence of premodern Chinese mountain-and-river paintings.” This is a high-stakes game. The provenance and authenticity of a particular work can significantly influence its value or lack thereof.
A tour of the second floor is definitely worth your time. Currently on display are traditional Chinese and Japanese paintings, works by the French artist Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), China Trade art, European oil paintings, some from the 19th century or earlier, and a collection of primary sources on the early 20th-century American artist Leonebel Jacobs. Listening to Mr. Kuang share the stores, the history, the provenance and the issues of particular pieces on display was priceless.
The art museum is a labor of love for both Lin and Tyna Kuang. So is the Post Office Building in Old Town. The Kuangs bought the building in 2016, rent out part of it for the postal substation, and are restoring this piece of its history to its original 1927 designs and details.
After spending a couple of hours with the Kuangs, I mailed my ballot and left. The next time you’re wandering around Old Town Manassas, you really should check out Mars Cloud and the Art Gallery of Manassas. If you are lucky, you will find Lin Kuang restoring a piece of history for Old Town Manassas, and Tyna Kuang restoring a work of art in her workshop.
If you spent time in the Far East, consider looking around for the treasures you brought back and allow the Kuangs to take a peek at them. They are particularly interested in artifacts from the Army Air Force pilots who flew “over the hump” during World War II. You might check that footlocker your father left behind to see whether there is something interesting inside.
Information on the current exhibit and hours of operation is on the website marscloud.com.