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0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f739cf0000Arts & More airs Fridays at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.Theme music: "Like A Beginner Again" by Dan Barry of Seas of Jupiter

East Meets West: Artist's Work Brings Back Memories Of Rural China

Mary Wang at her home in Kalamazoo
Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
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Kalamazoo artist Mary Wang grew up in the scenic Three Gorges region of China, where the Yangzte River winds through the mountains of Hubei Province. Her work will be on display at Consumers Credit Union on the Kalamazoo Mall at Friday's Art Hop. It will be up until the end of this month.

One of Mary Wang's detail paintings in progress
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK
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One of Mary Wang's detail paintings in progress

Wang says her hometown didn’t have clothing stores. So her parents would hire someone to come to their house to make an entire year’s worth of clothes for the whole family. Wang says she loved watching the seamstresses work. 

She loved it so much that, at the age of twelve, she decided to make a dress of her own. But she didn’t want the drab grey, blue, and soldier green fabric popular at the time. So she grabbed a blanket out of her mom’s drawer—without permission.

“And [my mom was] just surprised, ‘Wow, you make such a beautiful dress!’ You know, she totally forget I grabbed her very nice fabric to use that," says Wang. "She never had any words about that. She just said ‘Oh, you should learn something when you’re growing up in the future.’”

And though Wang never went into sewing, that moment encouraged her to pursue other arts. Her series called East Meet West features her traditional Chinese detail paintings as well as her 3-D paper toles. Paper toles use layers of paper to make pop-up-book like pictures. 

eagle_3D.jpg

 After graduating with a degree in international accounting from a university in Beijing, Wang moved to Los Angeles for work in 1997. There she met her now husband at their church. And in 2000, her husband’s job as a pastor took them to Kalamazoo.

In that same year, the City of Kalamazoo chose her 3-D paper tole as a gift to Kalamazoo’s sister city Numazu, Japan. It was of an eagle with a passage from the Bible written in Chinese lettering.

“Because the eagle is a symbol of America and this kind of art is come from Eastern. And you know, I think they want to show the friendship,” Wang explains.

Wang says making the paper toles actually inspired her to paint traditional Chinese detail painting—which is characterized by thin, precise lines and light, airy colors.

“I wanted to make my own painting to the 3-Ds. I don’t want to all use others. So that’s why this made me to learn Chinese painting,” she says.

Wang says she never had the opportunity to go to art school. Art classes were expensive and after the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, artistic expression wasn’t encouraged.

“The government not allow you to do that because the art has to serve their main purpose,” explains Wang.

Though she took a few art classes in the United States, Wang says she mostly had to learn from experience. But she says it’s that kind of passion that makes you an artist.

“I enjoy all the things I can use my hands to create out because I know that that things is special," she says. "It’s not you can purchase it. It’s unique. It’s you make it.”

You can see Mary Wang’s art at Consumers Credit Union on Kalamazoo Mall through the end of this month.

Rebecca Thiele was an environmental reporter and producer of Arts & More for WMUK. She worked at the station from 2011 to 2019.
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