Dong Kingman (and contemporaries)
As I searched back in my “treasure of artists” (a very large part of my “morgue” or “scrap file” kept as a commercial artist), I realized that just in this SF Bay Area there were events and places and creative people — all coming together for this brief telling of those times.
Born in 1911 in Oakland, California, Dong Moy Shu traveled at the age of five years with his parents to Hong Kong. He was taught traditional Chinese arts. As a very talented young painter, he was given the name of “King‐man” (this was Cantonese for ”scenery composition”). Dong married Janice Wong and when he became eighteen years of age he returned to Oakland with his new bride. In 1933, Dong moved his family to San Francisco and in1936, he had his first large showing of 20 paintings, gaining him high critical acclaim.
For income during the difficult Depression of 1939, Dong Kingman worked for the WPA‐the Works Progress Administration. Quoting Dong Kingman: “An angel descended on me…for the first time in my life I had a studio of my own…my studio was right behind a café called The Black Cat, which was where all the characters hang out”.
There is a lot to be found on the web about “The Monkey Block”, “The Black Cat Café” and neighboring buildings where artists had studios and housing on upper Montgomery Street in San Francisco.
FDR’s New Deal offered a lot of work under government sponsorship. Paul Cary was there at the Montgomery Block. He has described figure drawing sessions and as an artist, earning $75 dollars a month!
The Montgomery Block Building, March 1940. (No credit found for this photo.)
Built by 1853, demolished in 1959 and replaced with the Transamerica Pyramid starting in 1969 and completed in 1972.
The Black Cat Café, 710 Montgomery Street. (No photo credit available.)
During WWll, Dong Kingman served as a cartographer in the Office of Strategic Services. Following the war, he taught at many collages and universities including the Famous Artists Schools of Westport, Connecticut (in 1953) and the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, serving on its board and receiving its honorary doctorate.
I can’t find the year of his time at the Academy of Art, but it would have been when its founder Richard S.“Pappy” Stephens (also from Oakland) taught there.
Richard and Clara Stephens founded the Academy of Advertising Art in 1929. At that time, Pappy spent half of his time as creative director for Sunset Magazine.
Again, the US government helped artists and schools. After the Korean War, the GI Bill helped the Bay Area’s artistically talented to school at the Academy. Of the new enlarged enrollment of 54 students, 50 got placed in jobs.
The San Francisco area, with its natural cool climate, was a major printing location before air conditioners reached hotter climes. So artists, art schools, advertising agencies, and printing houses flourished.
I was lucky to have even one class with ”Pappy” Stephens when I won a summer scholarship in 1962. Pappy would take his sketch class to Telegraph Hill and have coffee with the students at a Fisherman’s Wharf coffee shop at water’s edge that later became “Scoma’s” restaurant.
In 1951, from Time magazine, “At age 40, Kingman is one of the world’s best watercolorists.” Dong Kingman is known for his fine art paintings, but the general public was able to know of his talent through the price of a magazine or a box of Christmas cards.
1. Here below, are two pages of “An Old Tune” with Dong Kingman’s illustration. It continued on page 230, which sadly, I have lost. In a 1961 issue of McCall’s Magazine, I had read this fanciful story by an author living in Mill Valley — Jack Finney (also born in 1911). Finney wrote “The Body Snatchers” (made into the movie the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) and many, many other works. The McCall’s short story was about a man living in Mill Valley, having “an irresistible urge to rise in silent, effortless detachment from gravity, up into the blueness till he could feel the sky around him touching his skin and it occurred to him that he could do what he wanted to do — not in a plane fighting the air, but in a balloon.”
2. The two ads, February and March 1963, were for the Hong Kong Tourist Association. Sunset Magazine, Lane Publishing.
3.“San Francisco, with variations” was the first of a series of Dong Kingman’s paintings of America’s great cities for the “American Weekly”, (a Sunday newspaper supplement) December 3, 1961, ©Hearst Publishing Co., Inc.
4. Also, I include the Christmas cards that I have also saved, lo all these many years, not sending them in order to keep them in my collection. There is a “union bug”, but no date. Printed by Cathay Arts S.F. Cal. Litho in U.S. A.