Tyrus Wong

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Tyrus Wong
Born (1910-10-25) October 25, 1910 (age 105)
Xinning, Guangdong, China
Nationality American
Alma mater Otis College of Art and Design
Known for Film, mural, painting
Notable work Bambi (1942)

CAM Historymakers Award

Disney Legends Award

Tyrus Wong (traditional Chinese: 黃齊耀; simplified Chinese: 黄齐耀; pinyin: Huáng Qíyào; Cantonese Yale: Wong Chaiyiu; born October 25, 1910) is a Chinese-born American artist. He is a painter, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer, designer and kite maker. As a film production illustrator, Wong has worked for Disney and Warner Brothers. Wong's most famous work was for the Disney animated classic, Bambi (1942).

Early life[edit]

Wong was born in Taishan, Guangdong, China. In 1920, when he was 9 years old, Wong and his father emigrated to the United States, and never again came into contact with his mother and sister. Wong was held on Angel Island initially, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. He was separated on the island from his father, the only child in sight. "Nine years old, I was scared half to death," he later recalled.[1] After his release from Angel Island, he and his father initially relocated to Sacramento. His father moved the family to Los Angeles.[2]

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 studentship at Otis. Wong's father survived on a more modest income, and Wong worked as a janitor at Otis. He walked for miles to attend classes. He graduated from Otis in 1930 and began working in Hollywood.[3][4]


The dragon mural in L.A. Chinatown painted by Tyrus Wong[citation needed] and restored by Fu Ding Cheng (1984)

Wong's career stretched from working as a Hallmark greeting card designer, to being a Warner Bros. film production illustrator (1942–1968), including drawing set designs and storyboard 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.

Wong was let go by Disney studios shortly after finishing Bambi, due to repercussions from the Disney animators' strike. Later, he designed popular greeting cards for Hallmark,[5] some of his Christmas cards selling over 1 million copies.

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's a "lucky artist."

Wong was featured in Mark Wexler's documentary How to Live Forever, where he discussed his daily lifestyle and his view on mortality, and more recently, in Pamela Tom's documentary Tyrus (2015).

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Ruth Ng Kim (伍梅珍), a second-generation Chinese American from a farming family in Bakersfield, California. Ruth worked as a lawyer but became a homemaker after the birth of their children. The couple has three daughters: Kay (born 1938), Tai-ling (born 1941), and Kim (born 1946) and two grandchildren. Wong refers to his daughters as his "greatest achievements."[6][7] Ruth died on January 12, 1995.

After retiring in 1968, Wong continued to create colorful kites (usually animals such as pandas, goldfish, or centipedes). He spent his Saturdays flying his creations on the Santa Monica Pier.[8][9]

Later life[edit]

From October 17, 2004 to December 18, 2004, "Tyrus Wong: A Retrospective" was an exhibit available at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, California showcasing his work. 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."[10]

During 2001, Wong was given a Historymakers Award (arts) by the Chinese American Museum and was inducted as a Disney Legend.[11]

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.

Wong's work was featured in the "'Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles" exhibit at the East Los Angeles College Vincent Price Art Museum, January 21–May 25, 2012. Some of his kites were hung in the lobby.

In August 15, 2013 through February 3, 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.[12] In conjunction with the exhibit, a hardcover book that documents the same was published by the Walt Disney Family Foundation Press.[13]

Tyrus Wong is featured in an eight-decade career retrospective, “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong,” at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan, New York City.[14]


  1. ^ "The fleeting memories of Angel Island". Los Angeles Times. 9 February 2002. 
  2. ^ "The Chinese 'Paper Son' Who Inspired The Look Of Disney's 'Bambi'". NPR. March 30, 2015.
  3. ^ "Tyrus Wong (Animation)". Disney Legends. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  4. ^ "Tyrus Wong - Otis College of Art and Design". Otis College of Art and Design. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  5. ^ "Kite Man Preserves Father's Hobby". Los Angeles Times. 20 July 1989. 
  6. ^ "About Tyrus Wong". Cape Cod Films. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  7. ^ "Artist Tyrus Wong's legacy soars over generations". SF Gate.
  8. ^ Fly away art - Los Angeles Business Journal, Jan 28, 2002 by Claudia Peschiutta: The Roving Eye - kite-maker, Tyrus Wong
  9. ^ "Meet the 104-Year-Old Immigrant Artist, A ‘Disney Legend,’ Whose Art Inspired ‘Bambi’". Observer. April 22, 2015.
  10. ^ Past exhibits, Chinese American Museum
  11. ^ https://d23.com/tyrus-wong/
  12. ^ http://www.waltdisney.org/wong
  13. ^ Wong, Tyrus. Labrie, Michael (2013). Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. Walt Disney Family Foundation Press. ISBN 9781616286828.
  14. ^ Elizabeth Yuan, From ‘Bambi’ to Kites, His Work Flies High, The Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2015

External links[edit]