Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Painting the Mural: Memory Wall

Behind the Dragon Wall, I painted the Memory Wall. I do not have the sequence on this one, as the photographer was away at that time and my camera was out of commission. It was begun Aug. 18 and completed Sept. 15. School began Aug. 29 and from then on I could only paint three mornings a week, so it took more time than otherwise it would have.

Helena once had a thriving Chinese community (aka Helena Chinatown) which reached from where the library is now, over to Reeder's Alley and up to the Chinese gardens at the split to Unionville and Grizzly Gulch. There were hundreds of Chinese that worked and lived here between 1865 through the 1890s, but they began to leave over the later decades until by the 1950s there were only a fraction of what there were previously. Abuse and racism took their toll. There had been Chinese physicians and herbalists, restaurants, stores, groceries, hotels, laundries, gaming houses. By the 1970s, there were pretty much only three descendant families left in Helena, to all accounts.

The completed Memory Wall. 
The art style is influenced by the Ashcan School of urban New York during the early 1900s and Muriel Wolle's paintings of the mining camps in Montana... I wanted it to be intimate, familiar, gritty, industrial. Wong See Q. was a leader in the Helena Chinese community.

List of historical sites in Helena with Chinese heritage.
These are the ones remembered by the descendant families still connected to Helena. There were once hundreds of Chinese and their businesses, most now lost to memory.

Helena in Chinese characters. 
Written Chinese is not alphabetic, each character represents an idea or word, but can also represent a syllable. Each of these three characters represents one of the three syllables in Helena, although it is pronounced differently in different Chinese languages, such as Cantonese (the Chinese language spoken by the great majority of Helena's Chinese population historically) and Mandarin (a northern language used as the common language by most in modern China).

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