You don’t have to be an aficionado of antique elephant bells to finds something to pique your interest at The Frog and Lotus in downtown Kailua-Kona.
Opened in March, the arts, collectibles and antiques store contains creative renderings from at least four centuries of Asian art — much of it from China, Burma and Laos. Each piece has a story.
Owner Barbara Pritchard can tell a visitor, for instance, that the set of bronze and bamboo elephant bells each has its own unique tone. The bells, about 2 feet in height, allowed the mahout, or handler, to tell where in the forest each of his animals was located.
Then there is another piece of elephant gear that Pritchard herself didn’t believe until she researched it — a wide, intricately carved “elephant seat,” of teak wood. It’s a circa-1970s reproduction, but the only one the creator made, Pritchard said.
“I don’t see any point in selling things I don’t know anything about,” she said.
Among the shop’s offerings: antique jade figures and jewelry, elm wood cabinets, a giant brass gong, hand-thrown pots and antique Chinese furniture, including a 250-year-old book cabinet from the Fujian Province.
“Books were highly prized in those days. They would have been kept under lock and key in a safe, dry place.”
Pritchard and her husband Neville Pritchard opened the shop in Hanama Place with an exhibition of local art work. Still on display are the work of resident artists like Ray McWade, John McCaskill and Katherine Molina, and bronze statues by James Blum.
The Pritchards are waiting to see how the new venture pans out; the couple ran a very similar shop in Kailua-Kona called Nevara International from 1995 to 2007. The Great Recession spelled the end of the business after years of success, Neville Pritchard said.
“We felt it might be an opportunity to open here,” he said.
In the shop’s “Buddha room,” a jade serpent dragon retails for $800. The object would have hung in a tomb to guard the soul of the departed and facilitate its peaceful transition. Nearby, a sleeping old Buddha reclines near a 400-year-old statue of Quan Yin, the Buddhist symbol of compassion.
Barbara Pritchard, who also offers remodeling and interior design, travels to the East to track down her pieces of history. She discovered a set of wooden garden gates in a field — now marked Sold. A massive set of 200-year-old compound doors retail for $7,800.
Pritchard learned how to recognize the period and authenticity of antiques while rambling through shops in Hong Kong in the 1970s. The Chinese restorers and dealers took her under their wing and taught her what they knew.
“My passion was always for interior design,” she said. “I wanted to be an architect. But back then, women weren’t architects.”