Artist Profile: Valda Hsu, Guest Artist for the Chinese New Year Celebration at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Valda Hsu was born and raised in Taiwan. Hsu had traditional art training and as a child, she studied with a master at least six decades older than her. She spent months training in the traditional Chinese brush painting, absorbing her heritage with each stroke. But her Western education put her Chinese brush painting away and she came to America in 1983 to attend college and study art. After more than four years of study, she graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., with honors.

Hallmark Cards Inc. recruited Hsu to design and no one there knew of her traditional training. She worked for Hallmark for six years until she left to raise her children and become an art teacher. She is currently involved in teaching the Mandarin Chinese language and culture at St. Teresa’s Academy and at the Kansas City Art Institute. She is also a teaching artist with Kansas City Young Audiences. “I didn’t really use my traditional art for 12 years until some language learning students asked me to demonstrate something unusual. I showed them Chinese brush painting and they said that I should teach that as well.”

Hsu says she discovered that life took her full circle and she had to embrace her roots. “It was a little like going back to the beginning for me.” However, the interest in what she paints and what she teaches about culture, she knew she had intrinsic ties. While many museums and galleries feature Chinese art, Hsu wanted to make the work even more accessible. “When I perform at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for the Chinese New Year, I am immersed in my heritage. I have the masters’ works around me. What I do allows people to see behind the glass. They can see how I hold the brush and feel the paper. They can smell the ink. I move this ancient and traditional art from behind the barriers.”

Image-14Fundamentally, people appreciate art and often want to understand how the art is made. Hsu says the process strengthens the appreciation. Hsu demonstrates the connection between Chinese characters and painting with a Chinese brush. With her curriculum, students participate in painting animals, trees, and other traditional subjects from nature. They also make a signature stamp known as a chop, to sign the work as Chinese painters do.

“Our first written language was simple pictures so clearly writing and painting come from the same family,” she says. “In that realization, I take an audience through a sort of cross-cultural experience. It makes the world more interesting as we expand our minds. We see what we can share that is similar and what is different. The Nelson provides that place. I am proud to be in a city that has such treasures from China. The galleries at the Nelson represent some of the masters and it’s a gift. For me, I have the same spirit and I want to express that journey of life and of nature in ink. I want to share the experience.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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