Chinese family, friends reunite in Storm Lake, for a special international-flavored art show.
Never underestimate the power of a simple rice paper painting.
If art has the power to move the viewer's emotion; sometimes it can move people quite literally across the world as well.
At the Witter Gallery last weekend, a "private showing" was held for the proud mother and sister of a Storm Lake woman who was launching her first one-woman show in her adopted hometown. The impromptu showing was a first for the local art facility as well.
But then again, not many visitors journey as far as these to experience the local culture. From Dan Dong City, China, to be exact.
"Back to Nature," an exhibit of watercolors, acrylics and Chinese rice paper paintings at the Witter, showcases the talent of Gui-jie Zhang, who came from China to the United States in the early 1990s. She works with the Southeast Asian Christian Ministry in Storm Lake, where the artist is in the final stages of preparing to become an ordained minister.
While she has found happiness in her new home, she hasn't seen her loved ones in many years. With clearance from their government, Gui-jie's mother's Hui-Zheng Wang, and her sister, Cui-Qing Zhang made the trip from China to visit Gui-jie and her son Adam in Storm Lake - their first-ever experience with the United States. The visitors enjoyed the Balloon Days parade, but were scheduled to return just two days before the "Back to Nature" show was to debut as the monthly feature.
Witter Director Joleen Dentlinger came to the rescue. She put the finishing touches on the exhibit and hosted a private showing for the Chinese visitors Sunday just before they left Storm Lake. The family was thrilled to see Gui-jie's work featured so prominently in her new home, and posed for many photos with the art, so reminiscent of their homeland.
"It was quite a special treat. I ran around and hung work real quick for them to see. They had a ball, and it was certainly something different for us," Dentlinger said.
The occasion was even more unusual in that three other natives of China happened upon it. Yueh-mei Cheng and two friends, now living in the Madison, Wisconsin area, had come to visit Gui-jie that same weekend, and also took part in the sneak peek. Yueh-mei is a friend of the local artists and an internationally-known painter in her own right. Coincidentally, she is scheduled to show her own work at the Witter in 2002.
Gui-jie and Adam left Storm Lake on Labor Day to drive to California with her mother and sister, who will leave from there to return to China. The locals will return next week, one day before the Lunch 'n Such event at the Witter Wednesday, Sept. 12, which doubles as an artist's reception for the unassuming painter, who did not want a separate reception.
The public is invited to attend from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. for a chance to meet the artist and learn about her work.
Salads, breadsticks, desserts and beverages will be served, with music by pianist Beth Evans, Early.
The soft-spoken Gui-jie Zhang has quite a resume as an accomplished international artist.
She grew up during the cultural revolution era in China, seeing her own family torn apart and the practice of religion outlawed.
As a child, she loved to sketch, but there were no art teachers available. When the family moved to Dan Dong in northern China, a few teachers noticed her raw talent and encouraged her.
She later attended both college and seminary, and established her own art studio. As a teacher of art at the Nanjink Theological Seminary, she developed a unique style now known as "peasant art," with bold, vibrant colors and sharply-defined characters.
Many of her paintings in the Witter show depict the stories of the Bible, but with characters in traditional Asian styles. Others celebrate the natural world, especially horses blurred in pastel motion. Her canvases range from folk art to very stylized.
"I try to explain God's love and how to find happiness," she said in an earlier interview with the Pilot-Tribune.
In 1993, Gui-jie was finally granted a passport and visa to leave her native country, when it finally determined she was not a political threat. United States national church organizations welcomed her and her exhibitions, from the United Methodist Global Gathering in Indianapolis to Princeton Seminary and the Presbyterian Center in Louisville.
In 1994, she was asked to do an exhibition in Dubuque, where she also gave a prestigious lecture to collegiates on the role of art and religion in China. She was invited to the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, where she later earned her masters degree in religion.
Her art reflects simple living and simple joys, she said, the same kind of simplicity which allows people to invite God into their hearts, she said.
"People are so busy, they can't understand why they're not happy. If we lead a simple life, we can see God every day, in every moment of our everyday life."