Tyrus Wong

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Tyrus Wong
Team Tyrus (cropped).jpg
Wong in 2014
Born Wong Gen Yeo[1]
(1910-10-25)October 25, 1910
Taishan, Guangdong, China
Died December 30, 2016(2016-12-30) (aged 106)
Sunland-Tujunga, California, U.S.
Nationality United States of America
Alma mater Otis College of Art and Design
Occupation Painter, animator, calligrapher, muralist, ceramicist, lithographer, set designer, storyboard artist, kite maker
Years active 1930–2015
Works Bambi (1942)
Spouse(s) Ruth Kim (m. 1937–1995; her death)
Children 3
Awards CAM Historymakers Award
Disney Legends Award
Tyrus Wong
Traditional Chinese 黃齊耀
Simplified Chinese 黄齐耀

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,[1] 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 a Hallmark greeting card artist. 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 Eighty Days (1956), Rio Bravo (1959), The Music Man (1962), The Great Race (1962), PT 109 (1963), The Green Berets (1968), and The Wild Bunch (1969), among others.

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.

Early life[edit]

Wong was born Wong Gen Yeo on October 25, 1910 in Taishan, Guangdong, China.[1] 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[1] After his release from Angel Island, he and his father initially relocated to Sacramento. His father later moved the family to Los Angeles.[3]

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. He walked for miles to attend classes. He graduated from Otis in 1930 and began working in Hollywood.[4][5]


The dragon mural in L.A. Chinatown painted by Tyrus Wong and restored by Fu Ding Cheng (1984)[6]

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),[7] where he was the lead artist of the project.[8] His background paintings for Bambi were inspired by Song dynasty classical Chinese paintings.[7] Although credited as one of several background illustrators, his full contribution to the film was largely unknown for several decades.[7]

Shortly after finishing Bambi, Wong was fired from Disney studios as a consequence of the Disney animators' strike.[7] After leaving Disney, Wong worked at Warner Brothers Studios for 26 years as a production illustrator.[9][7]

Later, he designed popular greeting cards for Hallmark Cards.[10] 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.[10][11][12]

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".[13] 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.[14]

A display of Wong's kites and other artwork at the Walt Disney Family Museum (2013)


In 2001, Wong was given a Historymakers Award (arts) by the Chinese American Museum and was inducted as a Disney Legend.[1]

In 2015, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the San Diego Asian Film Festival.[15]


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 CAFAM in Los Angeles, July 14 through October 31, 2004.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

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.

His work was also included in the Round the Clock: Chinese American Artists Working in Los Angeles exhibit at the East Los Angeles College Vincent Price Art Museum, January–May 2012.[19]

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.[20] A hardcover book was published by the Walt Disney Family Foundation Press in conjunction with the exhibit.[21]

In 2015, Wong was 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.[11][22]

Personal life[edit]

Wong met Ruth Ng Kim (伍梅珍), a second-generation Chinese American from a farming family in Bakersfield, California,[23] at Dragon's Den Restaurant in Los Angeles Chinatown, CA, where she was a waitress. They married on June 27, 1937, in Bakersfield, CA.

She worked as the secretary to Y.C. Hong, the first Chinese American immigration lawyer, and then became a homemaker after the birth of their children. The couple had three daughters: Kay (born 1938), Tai-Ling (born 1943), and Kim (born 1949) and two grandsons, Kevin Fong and Jason Fong.[24][25] 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.[1][8][26]


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.

Art Works[edit]


  • Deer on Cliff (1960s)[27]
  • The Cove, 1960s[28]


  • Winfield Pottery - Tyrus Wong Iris plate.
  • Winfield Pottery - Tyrus Wong California Pink HP flower.


  • Bambi (1942) - Animation Department. Animation backgrounds.[29]
  • Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) - 1. Art Department. Assistant Art Director. 2. Miscellaneous Crew. Technical advisor.[30]
  • How to Live Forever (2009) - Documentary about secrets of long life. Himself.[31]
  • When the World Breaks (2010) - Documentary. Himself.[32]
  • Angel Island Profiles: Tyrus Wong (2011) - Documentary about himself at age 100.[33]
  • Tyrus (2015) - Documentary about himself.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Fox, Margalit. "Tyrus Wong, 'Bambi' Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 December 2016. 
  2. ^ "The fleeting memories of Angel Island". Los Angeles Times. 9 February 2002. 
  3. ^ "The Chinese 'Paper Son' Who Inspired The Look Of Disney's 'Bambi'". NPR. March 30, 2015.
  4. ^ "Tyrus Wong (Animation)". Disney Legends. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  5. ^ "Outstanding Alumni: Tyrus Wong[permanent dead link]". Otis College of Art and Design. Retrieved January 1, 2017. 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.
  6. ^ Cho, Jenny (2009). Chinatown in Los Angeles. Arcadia Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 9780738569567. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Mcdermon, Daniel. "How 'Bambi' Got Its Look From 1,000-Year-Old Chinese Art". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Bryant, Jacob (December 30, 2016). "Tyrus Wong, Pioneer 'Bambi' Artist, Dies at 106". Variety. Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Artist Tyrus Wong's remarkable life". CBS News. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  10. ^ a b 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.
  11. ^ a b 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.
  12. ^ Peschiutta, Claudia (January 28, 2002). "Fly away art – The Roving Eye – kite-maker, Tyrus Wong". Los Angeles Business Journal.[dead link]
  13. ^ Garrett, Diane (October 21, 2016). "'Bambi' Pioneer Tyrus Wong Gets Two Tributes for 106th Birthday". Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  14. ^ Miller, Michael. "Newport film fest's 'Bambi' provides inspiration for 'Tyrus' documentary". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  15. ^ "SDAFF Award Winners | Pacific Arts Movement". pacarts.org. Retrieved 2018-04-27. 
  16. ^ http://www.mocad.org/exhibitions.html Catalog of “Mid-Century Mandarin: The Clay Canvasses of Tyrus Wong,” published by Museum of California Design, Los Angeles, 2004.
  17. ^ "Past exhibits – Tyrus Wong: A Retrospective". Chinese American Museum. camla.org. Archived from the original on December 19, 2008. 
  18. ^ Netburn, Deborah (September 21, 2007). "They drew the scenes that became the movies". Los Angeles Times. 
  19. ^ "PST, A to Z: 'Round the Clock' at Vincent Price Art Museum". [Culture Monster blog post]. Los Angeles Times. March 16, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Exhibition: Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong". Walt Disney Family Museum. waltdisney.org. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  21. ^ Labrie, Michael (2013). Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. San Francisco: Walt Disney Family Foundation Press. ISBN 9781616286828.
  22. ^ Elizabeth Yuan, From ‘Bambi’ to Kites, His Work Flies High, The Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2015
  23. ^ Kimm, Gregory. Oct 21, 2014. "Ruth Ng Kim Wong findagrave.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ Ordoña, Michael (August 8, 2013). "Artist Tyrus Wong's legacy soars over generations". SF Gate. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  26. ^ Gettell, Oliver (December 30, 2016). "Pioneering Bambi artist Tyrus Wong dies at 106". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  27. ^ Wong, Tyrus. "Deer on Cliff hammer.ucla.edu". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  28. ^ Wong, Tyrus. "The Cove hammer.ucla.edu". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  29. ^ 1942. "Bambi imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  30. ^ 1956. "Around the World in Eighty Days imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  31. ^ 2009. "How to Live Forever imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  32. ^ 2010. "When the World Breaks imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  33. ^ 2011. "Angel Island Profiles: Tyrus Wong imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 
  34. ^ 2015. "Tyrus imdb.com". Retrieved Jan 1, 2017. 

External links[edit]