May is full of celebrations too - as I think every month is in our Hallmark and candy and flowers dominated culture. Asian American Heritage Month is particularly important I think because, as always, our country has never appreciated properly or fully the amazing contributions of every group who has lived here or come here. And in our history we have treated Asian people abysmally -- Chinese building the railroads, Japanese in World War II, etc. Lets change that pattern and highlight the great accomplishments of so many people to our world.
Off the top of my head - who would be my top picks for honoring this month for Asian American Heritage? I always want to pick people one has never heard of, or rarely knows about. I start with WAH MING CHANG -- the creative presence behind many Disney creations and the STAR TREK phaser!! Did you know that? Besides being so amazing, Wah Chang, as my daddy called him, hired my dad to work for him when he could find no other job. I once got to visit the factory where Wah Ming Chang made beautiful little toys to sell, though sadly the business closed. I kept them until they fell apart. Wish I still had them. Watched the workers having to paint tiny eyes and insert the working mechanisms to make them move.
Wah Ming Chang began his art early as his mother was an artist and provided materials for him to use. Sadly she died when he was young. But others saw his promise and he went to live with Blanding Sloan and his family. Wah Ming Chang is involved with many efforts with Sloan and on his own. Some of these are the following:
"Blanding Sloan teamed up with the Changs to do an animated Anti-A-Bomb film titled The Way of Peace. The film debuted at Constitution Hall in Washington DC with President Truman and Albert Einstein in attendance
"Work slowed up for the Changs company so Wah joined with Gene Warren and formed Centaur, an effects company. The company worked on several projects, from commercials, costumes, props, and even a toy line.
"In 1956, Wah, Gene and Tim Barr started a new company, Project Unlimited. It was through this company that Wah and Gene would work on the projects for which they are best remembered."
"The first major work would be for George Pal's production of tom thumb in 1958. George Pal had finished principle photography on tom thumb and was looking for someone to do the stop motion sequences for the film. One company submitted a budget which was too high and George had looked for Wah and Gene's company Centaur but by then they had closed that company. The story goes that George met Gene walking down the street one day and they struck a deal then and there.
Wah Chang during the filming of The Time Machine
Project Unlimited eventually also closed its doors, but Wah continued to keep busy. During the years that followed he worked on various other projects as an independent artist. During this time he created several props and costumes for the Star Trek television series. Among them are: the federation communicator, tricorder, hand phaser and the Salt Creature. Wah was also created masks for The King and I starring Yul Brynner and the massive headdress worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra."
"Film historian Bob Burns reported that Chang didn't object to this. "He was the most humble, gentle man I've ever known in my life," Burns said. "He never boasted about anything he did, and he just did remarkable stuff."
Wah Ming Chang and his wife Glennella Taylor
"In 1992 Wah experienced post polio syndrome as a result of his earlier bout with polio. It was now necessary for Wah to use a walker to get around and Glen was now doing more of the business dealings regarding his bronze sculptures.
"A few years ago Glen passed away and today Wah has a live in helper who takes care of the daily tasks. Now at age 83 he is still solving problems with creativity. He gets around the house with the use of his walker which he has modified by the addition of a metal basket in which he has on hand paper, pens, his incoming and out going correspondence and his cordless telephone, in essence his own portable office.
"In 2000 Wah had a showing at his local art gallery of a photographic study of many of his accomplishments ranging from his early years up to his sculptures.
"Although he doesn't have the strength and stamina to do his sculptures any longer, he has discovered the PC. On our recent visit with him in January this year he showed my wife and I his current art projects he has created using his PC. We've not seen the end of the creative endeavors of this great talent yet!" (from http://colemanzone.com/Time_Machine_Project/wah_chang.htm )
There is so much to say about Wah Ming Chang. I hope you will consult the books written about him and his great contributions to art. He was also a humanitarian, someone who cared deeply about the environment. He hired my father knowing what my father's reputation was. He was not afraid.
I wish I could find some photos of the smaller items he produced - The Flying Milkman Exhibit at Disneyland in the early 60s. The wonderful toys from his factory. So much much more.
Wah Ming Chang died December 22, 2003. You will find lots of tributes to him on the Internet. I hope you will explore more about this wonderful human being!!
Below are two books still available:
Wah Ming Chang - http://www.herocomm.com/BeginHere/CreatorsStory.htm
Part 2 of Wah Ming Chang - http://www.herocomm.com/BeginHere/CreatorsStory2.htm
A blog on Wah Ming Chang - http://www.amoeba.com/blog/2013/05/eric-s-blog/happy-birthday-wah-ming-chang-happy-asian-pacific-american-heritage-month.html
Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wah_Chang
The Time Machine Project - http://colemanzone.com/Time_Machine_Project/wah_chang.htm
Star Trek Chang - http://www.startrek.com/database_article/wah-ming-chang