Most people remember late Blackhawk developer Ken Behring for his philanthropic efforts and business acumen, but what residents may not know was that he was also a dragon -- according to the Chinese Zodiac.
Born in the year of the Earth Dragon in 1928, Behring developed a great love for Chinese culture and way of life, visiting the country and collecting rare and beautiful artworks on numerous occasions over his lifetime.
In a desire to share Behring's passion for Chinese life and culture, the Blackhawk Museum in Danville has officially opened its newest exhibit "Into China," where Tri-Valley residents are welcome to view displays that feature ancient artifacts and intricate art displays.
"He was always touched with China because he felt this connection that he lived one of his previous lives," said Ken's son David Behring, who was heavily involved in bringing the new exhibit to fruition at the museum his father founded.
"When he went to China, he would say there's nowhere in the world where you get this craftsmanship," David Behring added. "People will dedicate their lives to an art project and he would say you don't see that in the United States anymore ... so that was his big motivation to start collecting and then he just wanted to put them on display for the public."
Officially opened on Jan. 25, the exhibit features a large gallery populated with replicas of famous pieces that for the most part could never be seen outside of China, such as the First Emperor of China's Terracotta Warriors and Chariots in the "Eternal World" section.
"So far all these experts have examined them and they haven't found any two that are identical, so they don't know if they picked 8,000 soldiers and modeled the faces after them," David Behring said of the statues. "It would take a team of about 30 to 40 men to build one of these."
David Behring added that the Terracotta Warrior gallery was one of the last to be included in the exhibit, and took about a year to acquire -- original statues are no longer permitted outside of China.
Another headline of the exhibit, sure to be a fan favorite according to museum staff, is a complete set of bells from the Tomb of Marquis Yi, which staff believe to be dated 433 BC. These bells, some of which are very small while others are enormous in size, are one of only three sets permitted to be reproduced, and is believed to be the only set in the United States.
Attendees are also sure to be wowed by the 24-foot-long red Imperial Dragon statue -- just one of the many dragon images found throughout the exhibit -- carved from one massive single piece of wood.
Complementing the statue is an accurately scaled model of the Forbidden City, a 19-foot-wide and 23-foot-long replica that was painstakingly crafted from wood. Called the Forbidden City because visitors were forbidden from entering its halls, this replica gives Blackhawk visitors a unique perspective into the lives of the Emperors of China.
Other items found in the exhibit include the spectacular Imperial family Dragon Throne, a Chinese-made Hongqi "Red Flag" limousine, carved statues, paintings, displays on Chinese history and religion, and high end replicas of Chinese ceramics -- David Behring says original ceramics can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
"Into China" opened seven months after Ken Behring's death in June; David Behring said that great efforts were made to open the new exhibit before his father passed away, but the timing just wasn't there -- adding that while his father was alive he kept pushing back the projected opening date because every time he went to China he found a new piece of art or a display he wanted included in the exhibit.
"We never knew what he was going to come back with," David Behring laughed. "This was his passion, he really loved this."
Created to complement Blackhawk's theme of "Many Worlds, One Museum," visitors are also encouraged to visit the museum's existing exhibits "Art of Africa" and "Spirit of the Old West," as well as its world famous automobile collection. Plus, the museum will soon open a new natural history exhibit, which visitors can get a sneak peak of when visiting Into China.
The Blackhawk Museum is located at 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, in Danville and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for students, veterans and seniors. Admission is free for museum members, active military personnel and children 6 and under.