Auto dealer celebrates Japanese history with Samurai battle suit

Posted Sunday, Apr. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Mac Churchill couldn't believe what he found in a Santa Fe, N.M., art gallery.

"This was a whole different world that I hadn't appreciated," said the Fort Worth auto dealer, also a history buff who minored in English and Greek civilization at the University of Texas.

What he found while shopping with his wife, Lu Jo, was an authentic, full-body set of 18th-century Samurai battle armor. It cost him $18,000 and is now the unusual focal point of his Acura showroom at 3125 Northeast Loop 820, displayed in a massive, custom-made glass case.

Many customers share his appreciation for the armor, and for the same reasons, Churchill said.

"First and foremost, it's a magnificent work of art," he said. "Even if there wasn't any historical background to the armor, it's worthy of being displayed because of the ornate metalwork, embroidery and design."

The fact that it does have history makes it better, Churchill said. "We know it was made for the Hosokawa clan, so the armor was worn by someone in the early modern Japanese upper echelon of the warrior elite," he said.

But Samurais weren't just warriors, Churchill said.

"They wrote poetry, drew monochromatic art with ink and calligraphy, some of them got into music," he said. "Owning the armor and becoming interested in the culture has given me a broader appreciation for other cultures in general."

When a visiting Japanese Acura executive saw the armor and discovered that it was from his hometown, things got a little awkward, Churchill said.

"He said this could be their last historical relic because of the tsunami," he said. "He almost teared up and asked if I could donate the armor to his city."

Churchill said he considered it, but declined.

Similar pieces have expanded the car dealer's collection, like a peach-pit-shaped helmet with very tall horns and a bronze breastplate that features billowing clouds and dragons.

"I built a cool pedestal for them that fit on a wall of a room in our home," he said.

Acknowledging that it's a "niche" collectible, Churchill is nonetheless proud that he probably has more Samurai armor than anyone else in Fort Worth. But he hasn't gone overboard.

"I've not yet been tempted to collect the swords," he said.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

Twitter: @fwstevans

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