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SPOTLIGHT: Richard Brockway, '58, MS '60

Glass From the Past

Photo: Ian Robertson MacLeod

FULL SCALE: A Greek plate from the 4th century B.C.E.

By Liz Doup

As a child, Richard Brockway lost himself in adventure books about ancient civilizations and hidden treasure. He wanted to be an archeologist, but teachers who noted his high marks in math and science steered him from the ancient world to a corporate one. He circled the globe in an engineering career.

But business travel in Japan, England, France, Italy and Iran put him within striking distance of lodes of antiquities. "I was interested in engineering to make a living but was bored after two years,'' Brockway says. "In contrast, my interest in archeology grew and grew."

In 50 years of collecting, he has amassed a treasure of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Gandharan, Islamic and Chinese antiquities. In 1988, he turned his passion for the past into a business, starting Ancient Art International. Over the years, he has sold many of the 10,000 pieces he's gathered—sculpture, ceramics, mosaics, coins and glass—to clients. He also has lectured extensively about ancient glass, and appeared on HGTV's At the Auction.

"When you collect things, you don't just buy them and put them on a shelf,'' he says. "I study and read about the country, the civilization. These pieces start telling stories."

Brockway recalls working in Turkey in 1966 when, on the day of his son's birth, antiquity dealers tossed him ancient coins to mark the event. One gave him a piece of ancient glass, which piqued his interest in that art form. "It's a beautiful medium and was readily available when I started collecting," he says. "It makes me feel so lucky to have these things. They're not making any more of it."

These days nations have strict laws concerning acquisition of ancient art, and Brockway carefully documents his collection's provenance. "It's good that countries are protecting their art,'' he says. "But that wasn't always the case." He owns pieces of Gandharan art, which came from Afghanistan and Pakistan and were removed early enough to escape destruction by the Taliban.

One display case in his home holds ancient glass—jewelry, cosmetic vessels, utensils dating from the earliest Phoenician era to the Islamic Period, a time span of roughly 2,000 years. Another showcases oil lamps that span a period of 3,000 years. When a hurricane-related power failure left his Vero Beach, Fla., home in the dark, the lamp collection served him well. "They smoked,'' he says. "But they worked."

LIZ DOUP is a writer based in Weaverville, N.C.

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