Tag Archives: Michel Arnaud



This evening was such a special time for me. After having a second home in Columbia County for over 20 years, it was so wonderful to be back there on Main Street and to have an event for our book at the wonderful Chatham Bookstore. This is a very special place for me, filled with so many memories, and I was honored to be a guest there. And what an amazing evening it turned out to be. We started out with Tom Chulak, one of the owners of the store, conducting an interview with me and Michel Arnaud, our incredible photographer. That was followed by a Q&A session and then, the best part of all, 4 women sat down in the middle of the room and started playing Mah Jongg for all to watch!

Much thanks goes to my friend Warren Collins for putting together the Mah Jongg demonstration along with her three wonderful friends who played the game with her. And, of course, much thanks to the beautiful catering of food and wine provided by Brian Albert of the Old Chatham Country Store.

There was an incredible turnout for this event and I am so grateful for all of the support and love shown to me by all my friends. In addition, it was such a pleasure to meet so many new people – all Mah Jongg players, I might add! This was a night to remember – a very special evening, indeed. I believe my literary agent, the wonderful Jane Creech, took photos – if there are some, I will post them at another time.


There are so many wonderful articles coming out now that our book is about to be delivered to all of you – it is so very overwhelming and gratifying. But this is one of my favorites so far… From Rural Intelligence:


From China To Chatham: The Marvelous Mystique Of Mah Jongg


By Lisa Green

Not long ago, I was asked 1) if I wanted to join a Hadassah group, and 2) would I like to play Mah Jongg with a group of ladies. Right there, right then, I knew I’d passed some sort of demographic milestone. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago these same ladies were wanting to fix me up with their grandsons?

I politely declined, but now I’m reconsidering the Mah Jongg offer, thanks to Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game, an elegant new coffee table book written and photographed by three people with Columbia County connections. For many players, there’s a social ritual to the whole game experience. For the authors and photographer of the book, however, it’s so much more. It’s about the art of the Mah Jongg tiles and sets: their histories, their design, the materials used, the varied symbols and scenes depicted on the tiles.


The passion for Mah Jongg took hold of co-author Ann Israel about five years ago after visiting the Project Mah Jongg exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

“A group of us took lessons four years ago, and started playing every Wednesday. We call ourselves the Mahjettes. Whoever is hosting prepares lunch and we have a great time,” she says.

Beyond the social aspect, however, the game “hit me like a thunderbolt,” she continues. “I’ve always been interested in art and art history. I look at this as a brilliant art form. The carvers were such artisans — unnamed heroes, really.”

PastedGraphic-4Co-author Gregg Swain, one of the original Mahjettes, continues the story. “Ann got a vintage set, and then I got one. We discovered that although there are how-to books for Mah Jongg, nothing had been written on the art of the tiles, so we came up with the idea of putting a book together.” A few more Columbia County part-timers boarded the Mah Jongg train. Israel called on her longtime friend, East Chatham photographer Michel Arnaud (he’s worked for Vogue, House & Garden, and Architectural Digest, among many other publications, and has photographed lifestyle and design books) who agreed to participate. His literary-agent wife, Jane Creech, offered to publish the book. Gregg Swain’s husband, Woody Swain, art directed.

By this time, both authors heavily were invested in acquiring antique sets, and knew who the great collectors and historians were. The first shoot — photographing Israel’s and Swain’s collection, of course — took place at Arnaud’s East Chatham studio, but then Arnaud traveled across North American and Europe to photograph other collectors’ sets. Prepping the tiles for their closeups was a challenge.

PastedGraphic-2“I had to work out a technique,” Arnaud says. “As soon as you touch one, every tile moves. But all of the tiles have stories, and come in amazing boxes.”

The tiles, boxes, and their stories are comprehensively covered in the book, which chronicles the early beginnings of the game. But chiefly, the book showcases the beauty and artistic nature of the different kinds of tiles. The photos are sumptuous and remind me of how I used to love the slippery smoothness of the tiles in my mother’s set.

I hadn’t heard much about Mah Jongg after my mother stopped playing, aside from my invitation to join a group. But Mah Jongg is alive and well. Both authors now blog about the subject, Israel at mahjonggandme, and Swain at majhongtreasures. The Chatham Library hosts players on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Google Mah Jongg and you’ll find a whole world devoted to the game.

In advance of the official book release on November 18, Ann Israel and Michel Arnaud will be signing books at The Chatham Bookstore on November 15 at 5 p.m. Israel has invited local residents to give a Mah Jongg demonstration, and refreshments for this event — essential for any Mah Jongg gathering — will be provided by the Old Chatham Country Store.

PastedGraphic-3“We’re trying to celebrate the craftsmanship and art form that’s been completely overlooked, and hoping people will take out their grandmothers’ sets,” says Swain. “Those tiles should get restored and into the light.”

Guess it’s time to dust off my mother’s set.

Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game

A Collector’s Guide to Mah Jongg Tiles and Sets (Tuttle Publishing)
Book signing and demonstration Saturday, November 15, 5 p.m.

The Chatham Bookstore

27 Main Street, Chatham, NY 127 Main Street, Chatham, NY 12037




I am humbled and completely speechless by this review by Tom Sloper on www.sloperama.com. Tom was so generous and kind to agree to write a chapter in the book for us and, along with Michael Stanwick and our other experts, provided amazing gravitas, accuracy, and credibility to Mah Jongg – The Art of the Game.


By Tom Sloper (湯姆 斯洛珀)
November 2, The Year Of The Horse 馬 

Column #622

A beautiful new book is coming this month: “Mah Jongg, The Art Of The Game,” by Ann M. Israel and Gregg Swain. The book gives a rare accurate accounting of the history of mah-jongg (thanks to Michael Stanwick and yours truly), and some gorgeous photographs of exquisite collectible mah-jongg sets, taken by Michel Arnaud.

Renowned mah-jongg historian and scholar Michael Stanwick wrote the text for the first chapter, “A Brief History of Mah Jongg.” I wrote the text for the second chapter, “Mr. Babcock Invents Mah-Jongg™.” I put together facts from an interview with Lisa Lethin (the granddaughter of Babcock’s partner, Anton Lethin) on mahjongmuseum.nl, and facts from Philip Orbanes’ book on the history of board games company Parker Brothers (“The Game Makers”), Milton C. Work’s 1924 book “Mah-Jongg Up-To-Date,” and even patent filings from the nineteen twenties. My chapter thus puts the Babcock story together in a more complete way than has ever been seen in print before. 

But enough about me, and my small part of the book. The photos are simply stunning. The authors contacted numerous collectors and obtained photos of some beautiful sets and amazing rare sets, including some historically significant sets that Michael Stanwick has described in his excellent scholarly pieces in the journal of the International Playing Card Society, “The Playing Card.” There are also photos from the early days of mah-jongg. History and stories and spectacular imagery – what more could you want?

The book is hardcover, 8.5″x8.5″ (or if you prefer, 215x215mm). It’s published by Tuttle Publishing, ISBN: 9784805313237. It’s slated to be released on November 18 – just in time for Christmas! It would be a great gift for a mah-jongg enthusiast or collector.



This will be my last post for the next few days as I am leaving in the morning for Martha’s Vineyard to go to my first speaking engagement to promote our soon-to-be-published book, Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game. I’ll take pictures and give you a full report when I post again on Thursday. This is getting exciting!  We already have some book signings scheduled but if you have a favorite bookstore, please make sure they are going to carry the book and ask if they would be interested in hosting a book signing – we would love to come to your hometown!

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