Dong Kingman: Watercolor Master

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and in honor of this, we will be highlighting records related to the Chinse American watercolor artist, Dong Kingman.  The Moving Image and Sound Branch has two beautiful color films that capture the work of Kingman and show the process of how he painted his masterpieces.  These films are part of the Harmon Foundation collection, titled “Motion Picture Films on Community and Family Life, Education, Religious Beliefs, and the Art and Culture of Minority and Ethnic Groups, ca. 1930–ca. 1953”. 

Artist Dong Kingman, 1950; still from “Art in Action with Dong Kingman” (H-HF-31)

Dong Kingman was born on March 31, 1911 in Oakland, California as Dong Moy Shu.  His family relocated to Hong Kong when he was young, and he was given the name Dong Kingman in school.  His new name was based on his burgeoning interests in art since “King” and “Man” translate to “scenery” and “composition”, respectively in Cantonese.  Kingman kept his family name (Dong) as his first name in line with traditional Chinese naming conventions.  Kingman returned to the United States in 1929 to further study art.  His fist major success came in 1936 with a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Art Association. 

Kingman at work in his studio; still from “Art in Action with Dong Kingman” (H-HF-31).

Kingman worked for the Depression era Works Progress Administration applying his skills in art as a painter, and later served in World War II with the Office of Strategic Service, in the map making division.  After World War II, he taught art at Columbia University and Hunter College, and served as a United States cultural ambassador and lecturer with the Department of State.  He also worked in the film industry, painting landscapes for films such as 55 Days at Peking and Flower Drum Song.  In the early 1980s, Kingman became the first American artist to have a solo exhibition in China since China started diplomatic ties again with the United States.  Dong Kingman passed away on May 12, 2000 from cancer. 

Kingman in San Francisco’s Chinatown, 1947; still from “Dong Kingman Paints a Watercolor” (H-HF-85).

Kingman has had many exhibition of his work throughout his career and he is best known for painting in the California Style of watercolor painting, which is characterized by bright colors and wide brushstrokes.  He has painted everything from landscapes of the American West, such as the Grand Tetons, to cityscapes such as San Francisco’s Chinatown.  His art can be seen in many museums including the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago

Watercolor of the Grand Teton Mountains; still from “Art in Action with Dong Kingman” (H-HF-31).
Watercolor of San Francisco’s Chinatown; still from “Dong Kingman Paints a Watercolor” (H-HF-85).