For Philip Cheong, collecting is an intergenerational affair. With his father and maternal grandfather both avid collectors, he notes his formative years surrounded by carefully curated objects as a lasting influence in building his own treasured holdings. His first serious acquisition—a pre-Columbian ocarina from Costa Rica—was made in his early teens, and paid off in installments until he could bring it home. “Collecting is in my DNA,” Philip quips.
When the time came to pursue a graduate degree in East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, having previously completed his undergraduate studies at McGill University in his native Montreal, a relationship with the ROM flourished. From hours of research in the Bishop White Committee Library of East Asia as a student, Philip further immersed himself in the ROM as a member of the Department of Museum Volunteers. It was his keen attention while cataloguing works of Chinese bronze, as well as a scholar’s zeal leading classes on Far Eastern art, that prompted an invitation to join the Bishop White Committee in 1995, where he later served as Committee Chair for seven years. During this time, he also developed his eye as a collector. As Philip recounts, “I joined the Bishop White Committee in the midst of an exciting period, with the ROM receiving a $15 million bequest from the late Dr. Herman Herzog Levy for new acquisitions.” In allocating this gift, the Bishop White Committee was closely involved in the acquisitions process to address gaps in the Museum’s holdings of Chinese sculpture and porcelain, providing a distinct vantage on what goes into building a world-class collection.
Philip’s experiences as a dedicated volunteer — including his role on the Currelly Legacy Society Executive Committee — have been especially formative, providing the impetus for entrusting the ROM with a promised future gift. “Learning is not something that stops once you’ve graduated from school,” notes Philip, who prudently approached building his own collection of Chinese export porcelain, among other collecting interests, as an eventual complement to the Museum’s holdings. Further to his intent of gifting a portion of his collection to the ROM, Philip also made a financial designation in his estate plans to support the activities of the Bishop White Committee. In ultimately establishing the Philip Cheong and Li-Hsien Fan Endowment Fund, Philip’s generosity will ensure that the ROM can continue to thrive as a place of lifelong learning. “The Bishop White Committee Library of East Asia and the ROM’s Far Eastern collections are among the best in the world,” Philip remarks. “I hope to inspire fellow Canadians to feel the same sense of excitement, pride, and wonderment in what we have here in Canada.”
This story was originally published the Summer 2019 issue of ROM Magazine.