Tyrus Wong (October 25, 1910 – December 30, 2016) was a Chinese-born American artist. He was a painter, animator, calligrapher, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer and kite maker, as well as a set designer and storyboard artist. One of the most-influential and celebrated Asian-American artists of the 20th century, Wong was also a film production illustrator, who worked for Disney and Warner Brothers. He was a muralist for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), as well as a greeting card artist for Hallmark Cards. Most notably, he was the lead production illustrator on Disney's 1942 film Bambi, taking inspiration from Song dynasty art. He also served in the art department of many films, either as a set designer or storyboard artist, such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Rio Bravo (1959), The Music Man (1962), PT 109 (1963), The Great Race (1965), The Green Berets (1968), and The Wild Bunch (1969), among others.
Wong Gen Yeo
October 25, 1910
|Died||December 30, 2016 (aged 106)|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park|
Hollywood Hills, California, U.S.
|Other names||Tyrus Yu Wong, Look Tai Yow|
|Alma mater||Otis College of Art and Design|
|Occupation||Painter, animator, calligrapher, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer, set designer, storyboard artist, kite maker|
|Employer||Walt Disney Animation Studios (1938–1941)|
Warner Bros. Cartoons (1941-1964)
Walter Lantz Productions (1941-1968)
MGM Cartoons (1941-1958)
Warner Bros. Pictures (1942–1968)
DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (1963-1968)
|Spouse(s)||Ruth Kim (m. 1937–1995; her death)|
|Awards||CAM Historymakers Award, 2001|
Disney Legends Award, 2001
Winsor McCay Award, 2005
Wong retired from the film industry in the late 1960s, but continued his work as an artist, spending most of his time designing kites. He also continued to paint, sketch, and design ceramics well into his 90s. He was the subject of the 2015 documentary film, Tyrus, by filmmaker Pamela Tom. Wong died on December 30, 2016, at the age of 106.
On December 30, 1919, Wong and his father boarded the ship S.S. China and sailed to California, U.S. In 1920, when he was nine years old, Wong and his father immigrated to the United States, and never again came into contact with his mother and sister. Wong was initially held at the Angel Island Immigration Station, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. There he was separated from his father while he waited to be questioned about his identity. Because most Chinese immigration was prohibited under the Chinese Exclusion Act, Wong and his father had to immigrate illegally under assumed identities as "paper sons" of Chinese American sponsors. Wong's paper son name was Look Tai Yow. He did not gain American citizenship until 1946, after the repeal of the Exclusion Act. After a month, Wong was released from Angel Island. Wong and his father initially relocated to Sacramento. Wong and his father later moved the family to Los Angeles.
Wong's art was encouraged by his father who had him practice calligraphy every night, since they could not afford to give him an art education. While attending Benjamin Franklin Junior High in Pasadena, Wong's teachers noticed his artistic ability and he received a summer scholarship at the Otis Art Institute. Wong decided to leave junior high for a full-time scholarship at Otis. Wong's father survived on a more modest income, and Wong worked as a janitor at Otis College. He walked for miles to attend classes. He graduated from Otis in 1930 and began working in Hollywood. While the alumnus page gives Wong's graduation year as 1932, the introduction to a video interview sponsored by the school refers to his attendance in 1935. As early as 1933, a Los Angeles newspaper reported that a local art gallery was presenting a one-man show by Wong featuring "monotype drawings and etchings."
Wong's career ranged from working as a Hallmark greeting card designer, to being a Warner Bros. film production illustrator (1942–1968), including drawing set designs and storyboards for several movies, and an inspirational sketch artist (1938–1941) for Disney.
It was his lush pastels that served as inspiration for Bambi (1942), where he was the lead artist of the project. His background paintings for Bambi were inspired by Song dynasty classical Chinese paintings. Although credited as one of several background illustrators, his full contribution to the film was largely unknown for several decades.
Shortly after finishing Bambi, Wong was fired from Disney studios as a consequence of the Disney animators' strike. After leaving Disney, Wong worked at Warner Brothers Studios for 26 years as a production illustrator.
Later, he designed popular greeting cards for Hallmark Cards. After retiring from film work in 1968, Wong turned his skills to making colorful kites (usually animals such as pandas, goldfish, or centipedes). He spent his Saturdays flying his creations on the beach just north of the Santa Monica Pier.
Some of his well-known paintings include Self Portrait (late 1920s), Fire (1939), Reclining Nude (1940s), East (1984) and West (1984). He told an interviewer that he was a "lucky artist". Wong was featured in Mark Wexler's 2009 documentary How to Live Forever, where he discussed his daily lifestyle and his view on mortality, and in Pamela Tom's 2015 documentary Tyrus.
The first solo exhibition of Wong's artwork, "Mid-Century Mandarin: The Clay Canvasses of Tyrus Wong," curated by Bill Stern, was organized by the Museum of California Design. It focused on his paintings on dinnerware for Winfield China of Pasadena, California, in the 1940s and 50s, and was presented at Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in Los Angeles, July 14 through October 31, 2004.
The Tyrus Wong: A Retrospective exhibit at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, California showcased his work in October–December 2004. According to the museum:
This exhibit showcased the works of Tyrus Wong, who at the age of 93, is one of the earliest and most influential Chinese American artists in the United States. In his long, pioneering career as a local artist, Wong is a seasoned painter, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer, designer, and kite maker. The exhibit also featured Wong's imaginative kites, which he has been building and flying for the past 30 years. Drawn from public and private collections, several of the pieces chosen for this exhibition have not been shown publicly since the 1930s.
In 2007, Wong was one of three illustrators featured in The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong, an exhibit in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's Grand Lobby Gallery in Beverly Hills.
Tyrus Wong is one of the founders of the otherwise all Black artists collective Eleven Associated Artists (later Art West Association). The short lived Los Angeles artists co-op included Wong and African American contemporaries Beulah Woodard, Alice Taylor Gafford and William Pajaud.
Wong's work was featured in "Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980" an exhibition at the Hammer Museum, October 2011 – January 2012. The exhibition explored the work of African American art pioneers and the multicultural friendships and collaborations that helped define Los Angeles art and creative communities of the period.
From August 2013 through February 2014, Wong's work was exhibited at The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California in a career retrospective entitled: Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art Of Tyrus Wong. A hardcover book was published by the Walt Disney Family Foundation Press in conjunction with the exhibit.
Wong met Ruth Ng Kim (伍梅珍), a second-generation Chinese American from a farming family in Bakersfield, California, at Dragon's Den Restaurant in Los Angeles Chinatown, CA, where she was a waitress. They married on June 27, 1937, in Bakersfield, CA. Wong's wife was the secretary to Y.C. Hong, the first Chinese American immigration lawyer, and then became a homemaker after the birth of their children. They have three married daughters: Kay (born 1938), Tai-Ling (born 1943), and Kim (born 1949) and two grandsons, Kevin Fong and Jason Fong. Wong's wife, Ruth Kim Wong, died on January 12, 1995. She was 85. Wong died on December 30, 2016, at the age of 106. Wong is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles, California.
In 2015, filmmaker Pamela Tom wrote and directed a film about Tyrus Wong's life, entitled Tyrus. The film was produced by Gwen Wynne, Tamara Khalaf and Pamela Tom. The film ended up winning Audience Awards at the 2016 Boston Asian American Film Festival as well as the 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival and the 2015 San Diego Asian Film Festival. The film had its national broadcast on PBS's American Masters on September 8, 2017.
- Winfield Pottery – Tyrus Wong Iris plate.
- Winfield Pottery – Tyrus Wong California Pink HP flower.
- Bambi (1942) – Animation Department. Animation backgrounds.
- Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) – 1. Art Department. Assistant Art Director. 2. Miscellaneous Crew. Technical advisor.
- How to Live Forever (2009) – Documentary about secrets of long life. Himself.
- When the World Breaks (2010) – Documentary. Himself.
- Angel Island Profiles: Tyrus Wong (2011) – Documentary about himself at age 100.
- Tyrus (2015) – Documentary about himself.
- Fox, Margalit (2016-12-30). "Tyrus Wong, 'Bambi' Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
- "Tyrus Timeline". pbs.org. September 6, 2017. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
- Lelyveld, Nita (9 February 2002). "The fleeting memories of Angel Island". Los Angeles Times.
- Fang, Karen (December 2020). "How Tyrus Wong's Christmas Cards Captivated the American Public". Smithsonian. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
- "The Chinese 'Paper Son' Who Inspired The Look Of Disney's 'Bambi'". NPR. March 30, 2015.
- "Tyrus Wong, the illustrator who gave us Bambi". CNN Style. 2018-10-25. Retrieved 2018-10-29.
- "Tyrus Wong". Alumni. Otis College of Art and Design. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
- "Tyrus Wong (Animation)". Disney Legends. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
- "The See Art Gallery". Illustrated Daily News (Los Angeles). August 1, 1933. p. 10. Retrieved May 21, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
- Cho, Jenny (2009). Chinatown in Los Angeles. Arcadia Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 9780738569567.
- Mcdermon, Daniel (2017-01-05). "How 'Bambi' Got Its Look From 1,000-Year-Old Chinese Art". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
- Bryant, Jacob (December 30, 2016). "Tyrus Wong, Pioneer 'Bambi' Artist, Dies at 106". Variety. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
- "Artist Tyrus Wong's remarkable life". CBS News. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
- Rense, Rip (July 20, 1989). "Kite Man Preserves Father's Hobby". Los Angeles Times. See also: From the Archives version of the article, with photographs included; retrieved January 1, 2017.
- Shapiro, Ben (April 22, 2015). "Meet the 104-Year-Old Immigrant Artist, A ‘Disney Legend,’ Whose Art Inspired ‘Bambi’". The Observer. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
- Peschiutta, Claudia (January 28, 2002). "Fly away art – The Roving Eye – kite-maker, Tyrus Wong". Los Angeles Business Journal. Archived 2008-02-22 at the Wayback Machine
- Garrett, Diane (October 21, 2016). "'Bambi' Pioneer Tyrus Wong Gets Two Tributes for 106th Birthday". Retrieved December 31, 2016.
- Miller, Michael (22 April 2016). "Newport film fest's 'Bambi' provides inspiration for 'Tyrus' documentary". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
- "49th Annual Annie Awards".
- "Award Winners | Pacific Arts Movement". pacarts.org. Archived from the original on 2018-04-19. Retrieved 2018-04-27.
- "Mid-Century Mandarin: The Clay Canvasses of Tyrus Wong". Museum of California Design. Los Angeles. July 14 – October 31, 2004. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
- "Past exhibits – Tyrus Wong: A Retrospective". Chinese American Museum. camla.org. Archived from the original on December 19, 2008.
- Netburn, Deborah (September 21, 2007). "They drew the scenes that became the movies". Los Angeles Times.
- "William Pajaud | Now Dig This! digital archive | Hammer Museum". Hammer Museum. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
- Jones, Kellie (2017-03-17). South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822374169.
- "Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980 | Now Dig This! digital archive | Hammer Museum". Hammer Museum. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
- "PST, A to Z: 'Round the Clock' at Vincent Price Art Museum". Los Angeles Times. [Culture Monster blog post]. March 16, 2012.
- "Exhibition: Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong". Walt Disney Family Museum. waltdisney.org. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
- Labrie, Michael (2013). Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. San Francisco: Walt Disney Family Foundation Press. ISBN 9781616286828.
- Elizabeth Yuan, From ‘Bambi’ to Kites, His Work Flies High, The Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2015
- "About Tyrus Wong". Cape Cod Films. capecodfilms.com. Archived from the original on March 6, 2012. Retrieved January 1, 2017. Biographical notes related to a documentary film about Wong, by Pamela Tom.
- Ordoña, Michael (August 8, 2013). "Artist Tyrus Wong's legacy soars over generations". SF Gate. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
- Gettell, Oliver (December 30, 2016). "Pioneering Bambi artist Tyrus Wong dies at 106". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
- "Congressional Record Extensions of Remarks Articles".
- Google Doodle – Tyrus Wong 108th Birthday
- Wong, Tyrus. "Deer on Cliff hammer.ucla.edu". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
- Wong, Tyrus. "The Cove hammer.ucla.edu". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
- 1942. "Bambi imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
- 1956. "Around the World in Eighty Days imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
- 2009. "How to Live Forever imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
- 2010. "When the World Breaks imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
- 2011. "Angel Island Profiles: Tyrus Wong imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
- 2015. "Tyrus imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017.
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