By Ella Leong
Tyrus Wong is a nationally famous artist. His distinctive brushwork has appeared in JJarious forms: Reader’s Digest covers, lithographs, stationery, glassfold stand-up pictures, book illustrations, murals. Named “Artist of the Year” in the designing of greeting cards, Tyrus’ ethereal creations have enchanted Christmas card recipients for years. GUM SAAN JOURNAL proudly presents a brief biographical sketch on this distinguished Chinese American artist who has delighted millions with his exquisite expressions of beauty in various forms.
Tyrus Wong steps out briskly into the warm morning sun, extending a cordial welcome to the visitor, who is completely charmed by the serenely beautiful landscape. A winding hillside street leads to a carport that shields the patio entrance. There are meandering stepping stones leading to three separate white frame cottages overlooking several wooded acres. It is in this private retreat that Tyrus lives, creates, contemplates. He muses about his childhood as a young lad of ten, sailing to San Francisco from his native Canton, knowing not one word of the English language. Angel Island in San Francisco Bay was at the other end of the voyage. Tyrus recalls seeing Chinese character writings on the walls of the detention barracks. His youth insulated him from the despair and desperation of those around him, but as he romped through the corridors, he sensed the desolation caused by the many months of detention endured by his fellow countrymen.
Reunited with his father in Sacramento, Tyrus enrolled in the local elementary school. His teachers soon became aware of a certain disinterest in academic subjects, but recognized his strong aptitude for art and wisely encouraged that talent. As father and son moved to Los Angeles, art continued to be the “magnificent obsession” for the young student. One summer he was offered a scholarship to the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He became so completely captivated by the excellent art courses that he was determined to study there for the rest of his scholastic career.
A series of jobs as a houseboy in private homes and as a busboy in a Chinatown restaurant, in addition to scholarships and an occasional commission, helped the eager student to accomplish his goals. During this period, a winsome coed named Ruth Kim came into Tyrus’ life. Ruth at this time had a part-time position and was working her way through college.
The new team of Ruth and Tyrus Wong began married life in a small rented apartment. In time, they found a secluded homesite nestled in the Sunland hills and settled down with their growing family of three daughters.
Professionally, Tyrus worked as production designer at the Walt Disney Studios. He moved to Warner Brothers for an exceptional career in set illustrations. That long and fruitful association ended with formal retirement only recently.
Today Tyrus is busy with independent commissions and has found time for his favorite activity-building and flying kites. His artistic genius, imagination, and dexterity are used in full force in this hobby. Drawing upon his early childhood experiences and memories of kites and kite-flying in China, he creates kites that are colorful, beautiful, ingenious. Fellow kite-flyers are constantly amazed by Tyrus’ originality and expertise in this field, all completely self-taught. Every fourth Saturday, Tyrus can usually be found at the Venice Beach kite-flying meets where, with his Ruth beside him, he is flying high, a free spirit-serene, contented, fulfilled.