September 2021  Vol. 2, No.8

Wennie Huang – the Quintessential Teaching Artist

Between Heaven and Earth by Wennie Huang

Between Heaven and Earth

Abaca Fibers, Methyl Cellulose, Monofilament and Wool

120 x 192 x 84 inches

2004

In much of the world, public attitudes toward the teaching profession are far better than in the US. Teachers are revered and enjoy trust, respect, high-status and a strong cultural emphasis on the importance of education. It is detrimentally different in the US. Here, the teachers are too often underfunded, disparaged and disrespected, as evidenced by one of the most moronic quotes to ever make it into popular culture: “Those who can, do. Those who can't teach.” It’s part of the “ignorant and proud of it” undercurrent of mindless, anti-intellectual populism. Evidently, and sadly, pity the fools who think those derogatory thoughts, as they must never have had a great teacher who made a difference in their lives.

Blow by Wennie Huang

Blow

Watercolor Painting from Family Photo c.1979

12 x 9 inches

2021

Apparently, they never met Wennie Huang, a self-described “teaching artist” who is the indefatigable embodiment of precisely that duality: a brilliant artist and an amazing teacher. She is the devoted mother to a college aged son, an art professor and an accomplished, multi-talented, multi-faceted and highly successful artist. She can and she does!

In much of the world, public attitudes toward the teaching profession are far better than in the US. Teachers are revered and enjoy trust, respect, high-status and a strong cultural emphasis on the importance of education. It is detrimentally different in the US. Here, the teachers are too often underfunded, disparaged and disrespected, as evidenced by one of the most 

moronic quotes to ever make it into popular culture: “Those who can, do. Those who can't teach.” It’s part of the “ignorant and proud of it” undercurrent of mindless, anti-intellectual populism. Evidently, and sadly, pity the fools who think those derogatory thoughts, as they must never have had a great teacher who made a difference in their lives.

The Brooklyn based Wennie Huang earned a Masters in Fine Arts degree in printmaking at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Both schools extended full merit scholarships. She also took courses at Pratt in Venice, Italy at the University à Di Baluarte; and, at the Hogeskool vor de Kunsten, in Amsterdam, Holland. She now proudly makes her living teaching art. Even though she is artistically on a master level, the financially oriented arts education system today is not geared to offering full-time, tenured positions, as it was usual in past decades. Wennie Huang subsequently travels to four job sites in New York. She is Adjunct Professor at Parsons the New School for Design and workshop Instructor at Wave Hill, Bronx in painting, printmaking & pastel. At the Art Center of the 92nd Street Y, Huang is a fine art instructor of beginning to advanced watercolor and basic and intermediate drawing. She is a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America, based in Gramercy Park in New York City, and since 2017, a pastel instructor in their School for Pastels and their new Pastel Society of American Academy. Formerly, she was Adjunct Professor in printmaking, sculpture and illustration at the College of New Rochelle.

The Brooklyn based Wennie Huang earned a Masters in Fine Arts degree in printmaking at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Both schools extended full merit scholarships. She also took courses at Pratt in Venice, Italy at the University à Di Baluarte; and, at the Hogeskool vor de Kunsten, in Amsterdam, Holland. She now proudly makes her living teaching art. Even though she is 

artistically on a master level, the financially oriented arts education system today is not geared to offering full-time, tenured positions, as it was usual in past decades. Wennie Huang subsequently travels to four job sites in New York. She is Adjunct Professor at Parsons the New School for Design and workshop Instructor at Wave Hill, Bronx in painting, printmaking & pastel. At the Art Center of the 92nd Street Y, Huang is a fine art instructor of beginning to advanced watercolor and basic and intermediate drawing. She is a Signature Member of the Pastel Society of America, based in Gramercy Park in New York City, and since 2017, a pastel instructor in their School for Pastels and their new Pastel Society of American Academy. Formerly, she was Adjunct Professor in printmaking, sculpture and illustration at the College of New Rochelle.

Vein-Vine by Wennie Huang

Vein-Vine

1,000 Chenille Stems

72 x 96 inches

2021

Installation at River Run Playground, Hudson River Park, New York

AirBorne by Wennie Huang

AirBorne

Pierced Paper

52 x 36 inches

2009

The artist had emancipated herself from the art business to explore her own artistic muses and creativity. She explained, “My business model is to be independent from galleries. I have worked with galleries before and found it limiting. Teaching allows me the freedom to do the art that I want without dependency on the commercial aspect. I practice and teach many types of art: Landscapes, watercolor, pastels, work on paper. I explore many forms – biomorphic, 3D design. Artistic diversity is my genuine self. I feel whole when I do it all. The art market does not like that. They want one category, one direction. I don’t need that."

photo of Wennie Huang by Joan-Menschenfreund

Wennie Huang

Photo by Joan-Menschenfreund

Digital Photo

2021

Yarmouth Port by Wennie Huang

Yarmouth Port

Pastel

9 x 12 inches

2021

Untitled Figure by Wennie Huang

Untitled Figure

Watercolor

8 x 10 inches

2005

Artistic diversity defines this artist. The self-declared jack of all trades is, in fact, a refined master of all, having developed her broad-ranging technical skills over a lifetime of practice. Her stylistic variety is profound, and no matter which genre she works in, be it watercolors, portraits, installations, paintings or whatever, her work is powerfully expressive, poignant and strong. Classically trained artists have always been dexterous in styles and mediums, rooted in solid academics and vigorous practice. Take DaVinci or Michelangelo, who both understood geometry, mathematics and science, practicing a wide range of disciplines. Wennie Huang has also spent a lifetime diligently perfecting her broad artistic range, ultimately achieving preeminence in each. It is the result of hard work and perseverance, “Art has kept me calm and occupied since the time when my mom put me in a highchair and gave me a paper and pencil. I drew obsessively to the point where I used so much paper that my dad brought home rolls of newsprint that my mom cut into smaller pieces for me. I was advanced in drawing by the time I entered school and for all of my life I was referred to as an artist. For a time, I thought that I wanted to do other things, like become a National Geographic photographer, but eventually it was clear to me that, yes, I am a visual artist.” While developing solid artistic skills, she also excelled academically, with a strong foundation in mathematics. As with many artists, however, there was existentialist struggle. Things were not easy and external obstacles had to be overcome. 

She was born in Cortland, New York, a small town in the upstate Finger Lakes region as a daughter of educated Chinese immigrants from Taiwan. Her father was a mathematics professor and her mom a homemaker who had studied biology. As a racial minority in the predominately white, conservative community, her early life was impressed by the feeling of insecurity, of not fitting in and living with racism. “I was very cognizant of being non-white as a cultural minority. My presence in the world was challenged. For all my life I had the sense of not belonging. My family stood out and we were often bullied. Sometimes there was violence and often there was intimidation and threats. I did have friends, but it affected me. I was conscious of being Asian, and I feel this insecurity now more than ever, with the anti-Asian sentiments, the hate attacks. Right now, I feel in danger. Especially, as a woman, I am always aware and careful.” She went on, “I work really hard. I am a survivor. I know what makes me valuable. I don’t give up.”

Red Scab by Wennie Huang

Red Scab

Performance over Site-Specific Installation of Chenille Stems

90 x 42 x 30 inches

2007

Installation/Performance View at Sculpture Space., Utica, New York

Photo: Lucia Warck Meister

She was born in Cortland, New York, a small town in the upstate Finger Lakes region as a daughter of educated Chinese immigrants from Taiwan. Her father was a mathematics professor and her mom a homemaker who had studied biology. As a racial minority in the predominately white, conservative community, her early life was impressed by the feeling of insecurity, of not fitting in and living with racism. “I was very cognizant of being non-white as a cultural minority. My presence in the world was challenged. For all my life I had the sense of not belonging. My family stood out and we were often bullied. Sometimes there was violence and often there was intimidation and threats. I did have friends, but it affected me. I was conscious of being Asian, and I feel this insecurity now more than ever, with the anti-Asian sentiments,

the hate attacks. Right now, I feel in danger.​ Especially, as a woman, I am always aware and careful.” She went on, “I work really hard. I am a survivor. I know what makes me valuable. I don’t give up.” 

Institutional racism affected her deeply. She was the top of her high school class and excelled academically, but astonishingly, the very year that she would have been her class valedictorian, the school declared that in that particular year there would be no valedictorian. There was one the year before and the year after, but when a bright young Chinese American girl achieved the honor, it was denied. Wennie Huang went on with her life. She had a full scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and she was ready to get out of the small-minded small town to make her success in the big city. Yet, she had important mentors in high school. She remembered, “The majority of my teachers in high school were supportive of me, and that had it not been for my three high school art teachers, I may not have attended art school or become an artist. They truly guided me through my young adulthood and into college and I owe them, deeply, for believing in me and continuing to guide me, and in fact, they are the inspiration for my professional pursuits.”

Institutional racism affected her deeply. She was the top of her high school class and excelled academically, but astonishingly, the very year that she would have been her class valedictorian, the school declared that in that particular year there would be no valedictorian. There

was one the year before and the year after, but when a bright young Chinese American girl achieved the honor, it was denied. Wennie Huang went on with her life. She had a full scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and she was ready to get out of the small-minded small town to make her success in the big city. Yet, she had important mentors in high school. She remembered, “The majority of my teachers in high school were supportive of me, and that had it not been for my three high school art teachers, I may not have attended art school or become an artist. They truly guided me through my young adulthood and into college and I owe them, deeply, for believing in me and continuing to guide me, and in fact, they are the inspiration for my professional pursuits.” 

Metallic Mamadou by Wennie Huang

Metallic Mamadou

Watercolor

9 x 12 inches

2021

My Dad by Wennie Huang

My Dad

Watercolor

6 x 9 inches

2020

The Yellow Wallpaper by Wennie Huang

The Yellow Wallpaper

Watercolor

9 x 12 inches

2021

Mamadou in Yellow by Wennie Huang

Mamadou in Yellow

Watercolor

9 x 12 inches

2021

Portrait of Afriyie by Wennie Huang

Portrait of Afriyie

Pastel

9 x 12 inches

2021

Jenne in Red Blouse by Wennie Huang

Jenne in Red Blouse

Watercolor

9 x 12 inches

2021

Summoning the Ghosts by Wennie Huang

Summoning the Ghosts

Paper and Glue, Dimensions Variable

10 x 10 feet

1998 - 2003

Installed at the Hammond Museum, North Salem, New York

Paper Daughter by Wennie Huang

Paper Daughter

Mixed Media on Panel

12 x 12 inches each, Dimensions Variable

1996

Installation View at the Hammond Museum, North Salem, New York

Two Eyes by Wennie Huang

Two Eyes (detail from Paper Daughter)

Mixed Media on Diptych Panels

24 x 12 inches

1996

Installation View at the Hammond Museum, North Salem, New York

Today, she channeled this outrage in her art, for example her poignant mixed media piece “Two Eyes.” In this self-portrait the artist repeats the racist gesture that she and other people of southeast Asian heritage have often been subjected to, the pulled slant-eye, the non-verbal “n-word” for Asians. “It is me making the face that others made to me back to them. It was empowering. Instead of being scared or ashamed, I am reflecting it back.” Wennie Huang overcame all that. “I have no regrets. I am privileged to earn a living doing what I love in the best city in the world. Someone once taught me: ‘Go where the door opens’ and I have lived by that for all of my life. …I have control over my own attitude, and I know that I will make things work out.”

photo of Wennie Huang

Wennie Huang in Home Studio

“I allow my curiosity to guide me. I am wondering and questioning constantly. That’s what keeps me interested.”

Her life’s work as an artist equals her prowess as a teacher. She has exhibited extensively to critical acclaim and she is a frequent lecturer. Wennie Huang’s works are beautiful, wondrous and filled with the natural curiosity that guides her artistic direction, “I am curious. That’s what drives me. I allow my curiosity to guide me. I am wondering and questioning constantly. That’s what keeps me interested. I am a little bit childlike in my curiosity. That’s why I like Brooklyn… Art is satisfying, but I am never completely satisfied. It always leads to more. Art is the only way that I can bring freely all of my interests together.”

Heir/Air/Loom-Hand to Mouth by Wennie Huang

Heir/Air/loom (Hand to Mouth)

Silkscreen on Handmade Silk Kite

18 x 18 x 18 inches

2001

Courtesy of the Lower East Side Printshop

Frank Matheis

Frank Matheis
Writer. Photographer. Producer.


Contributing writer to the Hammond Museum, Frank Matheis, is a music, visual arts and culture writer and photographer. His latest project was the book ‘Sweet Bitter Blues’ co-written with National Heritage Fellow Phil Wiggins (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). His Hammond Museum column ‘In Other Words’ features member artists in all disciplines. He is also a contributing writer to ArtsWestchester, Living Blues magazine (Center for Southern Culture Studies) and thecountryblues.com.