Of Garudas and Donors
In this blog post, WMF Regional Representative in Southeast Asia Ginevra Boatto shares her experience after meeting a friend of Samuel Miller, the first donor to WMF’s “Adopt a Garuda” campaign.
For more than twenty years, World Monuments Fund’s “Adopt a Garuda” program has helped raise funds for the preservation of many garuda sculptures, the eagle-like divine beings that adorn the twelfth-century temple of Preah Khan in Angkor Archaeological Park, Cambodia. The very first sculpture to be featured in the program was adopted in the early 1990s by WMF’s longstanding supporter Samuel Miller, former director of the Newark Museum, as a gift to his wife Rosetta. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Miller’s successor at the Newark Museum, Mary Sue Sweeney Price, during her visit to Cambodia. She came to Angkor with the purpose of finally seeing her late predecessor and friend’s adopted Garuda, of which she had heard a lot about.
When we met at Garuda #1, I showed Mary Sue, her colleague Linda Rodrigues, and the rest of the group a few old pictures taken when the Millers visited the site over twenty years ago. Cheam Phally, Senior Architect of WMF’s program in Angkor, had met the couple when she was working on the restoration of the garuda. She shared vivid memories of them, which reminded us all of their important contribution to WMF and our program at Angkor. Phally brought lotus flowers, which we placed on the garuda, while Mary Sue touched the sculpture’s wing in silence. These small actions made me realize that the statue had become a symbol of the Millers and their philanthropic endeavor. Somehow, this also reminded me of something many of my family members back in Italy do when visiting a cemetery: they touch the photograph on the tombstone as a way to reconnect with the loved one they’ve lost.
I had never thought that a garuda, the object of a philanthropic donation, could become a sort of representation of the donor who contributed to preserve it. This added a very personal layer of significance to Garuda #1 at Preah Khan, and reminded me why our job in Angkor is significant to so many stakeholders in many different ways.