I’ve written here several times about the objets d’art I collected during my years of travel as an intelligence operative. Some of the pieces come from places I can’t claim to have ever been—like the watercolor of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine. I was able to get the fact that I was in Vietnam conducting signals intelligence on the battlefield declassified, but where I went, who I worked with, and what I did in other parts of the world after 1975 is still secret.
Two of the objects of unidentified origin are folding screens. One, made up of five panels, each 18 inches wide, is quite plain and undecorated. Just five feet high and constructed of wood of a medium brown, its slats are adjusted by a round button at the top of each panel.
The other screen is much more elaborate. It consists of four panels almost six feet tall and 20 inches wide. It is a darker brown, and every inch of it is meticulously carved. Portrayed in its intricate sculpture are stylized leaves, branches, and berries. The pattern the carving forms on each panel shows the two sides mirroring each other.
It’s now been so long since I acquired the screens that I don’t remember where they came from. I searched both for any writing that might give me a hint of their origin. No luck. But since screens are much more common in Asia than in the west, my best guess is that that’s where they originated.
I don’t much care where the screens came from. What’s important to me is that in their balance and placidity, they offer me a quiet peacefulness at odds with most of my memorabilia. So many of the objects I gathered over the years bring back memories of the battlefield.
Here are two that speak only of peace.