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Artist Wang Kegang, a visiting scholar at UW-Madison, demonstrated Chinese brush techniques to a class of Madison high school students.

West High Students take up Chinese brushes

With a long, practiced twist of his brush, Chinese artist Wang Kegang 王可刚added a tail to complete his rendition of a squirrel.  Students in Barbara Drews’ West High School art class watched spell-bound. 


That was in December 2012. Just in time for the Chinese New Year, Wang made a second visit to the Madison public school, this time to demonstrate Chinese calligraphy to social studies students in Kathleen Doherty’s regional studies course on China.

“You go from left to right, and from top to bottom,” Wang explained to the students as he taught them how to write, stroke by stroke, the character 福, or “fu,” which means “luck” in Chinese. Since this visit took place the Friday before the 2013 Chinese New Year, which starts Feb. 10, the class used red New Year paper (see the photo at right) for their lucky calligraphy.

Wang is a visiting scholar from Northeast Normal University’s Academy of Fine Arts in Changchun, Jilin Province. He and his wife, a visiting scholar in education, are spending the year at UW-Madison.

Wang has been taking art classes, meeting artists on campus, and offering his own informal Wednesday morning brush painting class.  He is one of two visiting scholars from China currently connected to the University of Wisconsin's Art Department.  The other, Zheng Taokai 郑韬凯of the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, specializes in furniture design and displayed examples of his work done in Madison at the October show, “Random Objects Not In Sequence.”

Wang’s visits to West High were arranged through the Wisconsin China Initiative.  He demonstrated traditional Chinese brush painting techniques to Drew’s art class in December, and then returned to talk about the history and development of writing styles with Doherty’s social studies class in February. 

The day after Wang’s demonstration to the art class, the students tried out his techniques, painting their own squirrels and bamboo fronds.

“It’s really hard to do, so thank you for helping us learn a new art style!” wrote one student in a thank you note.

Drews posted examples of the students work in the main hallway of West High.  During Friday’s return to the school, Wang was able to view the exhibit.

“I really like how they each have their own style,” he said, stopping to point out skilled brushwork and good composition in one of the squirrel paintings.

Besides teaching Chinese brush and calligraphy techniques, Wang was also able to learn about American high schools during his time at West, turning the visits into a true cultural exchange.  Wang watched students change classes and use lockers, shook hands with Principal Ed Holmes, and even took in the West High tradition of “singing Valentines” in the classroom.

He pronounced the visits “very interesting.” He also left calligraphy examples with Doherty and presented Drews with one of his landscape works, framed in silk, for the students to view throughout the year.

West High

Mr. Wang explained bamboo techniques to Barbara Drews' art class at West High.


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Click here to learn about President Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” to increase the number and diversity of American students studying in China.



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