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A massive exhibit of artifacts making its way home to Butte this spring promises to give people a glimpse into the history of the Chinese people in the American West.

The exhibit, which includes about 2,500 artifacts, will be on loan to the Butte Mai Wah Society preservation group for five years from the Montana Heritage Commission.

Mai Wah president Robert Edwards said the collection is


"It has large furniture pieces all the way down to chopsticks," he said.

The collection returns to Butte after a 65-year hiatus - many of them from the Wah Chong Tai Co. mercantile, located next to the Mai Wah at 17 W. Mercury St., Uptown Butte.

Charles Bovey purchased a substantial amount of the

artifacts in 1946, before the Montana Heritage Commission took over management of the Virginia City and Nevada City

properties in 1997.

"The Bovey family traveled far and wide to gather buildings and artifacts to recreate Nevada City near Virginia City," the Mai Wah website says. "One of the places they went to find artifacts to recreate a Chinatown was Butte."

The items are expected to be transported to Butte in spring when road conditions improve, Edwards said.

Many of the items have ties to Butte's early Chinese

residents. The collection includes large cabinets, small glass bottles of Chinese herbs and medicines and household religious items. One piece of interest is a wooden carving of Kwan Gung, who was an ancient Chinese warrior.

Edwards said about two dozen volunteers went to Virginia City and Nevada City in October to catalog the collection. He said it took three 10-hour days to complete the task.

Once in Butte, many of the items will be taken to the Butte Archives, 17 W. Quartz St., where they can be decontaminated. The archives have special freezer units that can kill impurities in the artifacts.

Organizers hope to have some of the artifacts displayed at the Mai Wah Museum, 17 W. Mercury St., when it opens for the

season in June.

Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via e-mail at



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