Watercolor by Jake Lee

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Champion Firehose Team of Deadwood, South Dakota, 1888
Champion Firehose Team of Deadwood, South Dakota, 1888

In the early 1960’s, Chinese American artist Jake Lee was commissioned to paint a dozen watercolors depicting Chinese life in the years between 1860’s to 1900 for Kan’s Restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown. The paintings graced the walls of the elegant restaurant whose regular customers included popular movie stars of the day such as Cary Grant and Kim Novak. The restaurant closed in 1970, and the paintings were lost for forty years until rediscovered in 2010. Chinese Historical Society of America owns 7 of the original paintings that captured representations of various industries in which Chinese worked. Early Chinese immigrants did not only help build the Transcontinental Railroad or work in laundries and restaurants, they also worked as shoe-makers, miners, cigar makers, farmers, fishermen and firefighters. 
“Though there is much still to learn about the history of Chinese America, Jake Lee is emerging as the visual chronicler of the Chinese American past,”  wrote Gordon Chang, Professor of History at Stanford University. 

Place(s): San Francisco, California

– Pam Wong, Chinese Historical Society of America

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