(SAN FRANCISCO) — Tyrus Wong, the 105-year-old lead artist for “Bambi,” was honored at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco Wednesday for the rich legacy he left on the art world.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared March 9 “Tyrus Wong Day.” The centenarian can now park almost anywhere in San Francisco without receiving a ticket and can ride certain public transportation free of charge, according to David Lei, a commissioner for the Asian Art Museum.
Wong’s art has inspired young artists ever since the Disney classic debuted in 1942. “His concept for Bambi was to not draw the background in such detail but to use Chinese brushstrokes and colors to show emotions, so the main characters will stand out. For a lot of us growing up, our first encounter with death was Bambi’s mom being shot, such an iconic scene,” Lei told ABC News.
Lei said Wong’s personal story is also inspiring. He came to the U.S. from China when he was merely nine years old and was forced to stay at Angel’s Island, a former immigration station in the San Francisco area.
“He really lived the whole Asian-American experience of exclusion, of not being accepted by American society,” Lei explained. Wong was introduced to art by his father, who taught him Chinese calligraphy at a young age. Lei said when Wong accepted the award yesterday, he said, “I wish my father was here to see this.”
“[Wong] really still thinks about his father, even at 105, who supported him in the arts, which was really quite rare in the Chinese community in those days,” Lei remarked.
Lei described Wong’s personality as “fiesty” and “hard of hearing.”
“He’s lucky to have to women in his life,” Lei noted. “I think they influenced him the most. His wife really took care of him and pushed him to go to Disney. Wong said, ‘I’ve got to take care of my wife and she saw this ad, so I guess I should apply.'”
Despite his old age, Wong can still be found at the Santa Monica Pier flying homemade kites.
A documentary about the artist’s life premiered this January at the CAAM Festival.
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