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Wisconsin Folks
Kwong Yem Han

Chinese painting and calligraphy
Pepin, WI

Kwong Yem Han painting in her home.  Photo by Nicole saylor.How many names do you have?

Kwong Yem Han has three. Her Chinese name is Kwong Yem Han. This is the name she got at birth. Her American name is Edna Kwong. Her family gave her this name when they moved to California. Edna Hovde is the name she took when she married her husband, Larry Hovde, a hometown doctor of Norwegian descent. Most people in Pepin, the Wisconsin town where thought.gif (618 bytes) they live, know her as Edna Hovde. But with her Chinese family and in the art world she is Kwong Yem Han. 

Chinese and American names have different orders.  “My American name is Edna, but my Chinese name is Yem Han,” she explains. “At home my parents would call me Yem Han. My last name is Kwong. The Chinese way, when you address someone, you use their last name first and their first name last. So it would be Kwong Yem Han.”

Communicating with pictures

Imagine going to first grade and not knowing the language everyone else is using. That’s what happened to Yem Han. Her parents were Chinese immigrants to Sacramento, California and they spoke Chinese to their children at home. When Yem Han started school, the language she knew was Chinese.

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Yem Han couldn’t speak in English, so she communicated instead by drawing pictures. Soon her teachers discovered her natural talent for art and encouraged her to attend art school. As she grew up, she learned English and kept painting. She earned an art degree from California State University. Then she went to Taipei to study Chinese calligraphy with master teacher Li Pu Tong. Later she lived in Beijing and studied with master calligrapher Yang Xuan-Ting, “The King of the Big Brush.” Now Yem Han is an accomplished Chinese painter and calligrapher.

What is Chinese calligraphy and how does Yem Han do it? Click on over to the next page to find out!

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