Thursday, April 22, 2010

Five Minutes with Cheng-Khee Chee

"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." ~Pablo Picasso

Last night I had the privilege of attending Wine & Chee's, a fundraiser for the Minnesota Ballet that was held in the Great Hall at The Depot here in Duluth. In addition to the wine tasting and beers (I was coaxed into trying at least one of the beers) there were hors d'oeurves from six area restaurants, each putting their imaginations to the ultimate taste bud test while being aesthetically fascinating as well.

The wine list included wines like Lake Sonoma Zinfandel Port, Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc, Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc, Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc, Rosemount GSM, Coppola Claret, Lindeman's Moscato, Kenwood Merlot and many others, with fascinating descriptions like, "vibrant and full of verve... intense floral aromas that mingle with cool melon and tropical fruit, and a light crisp mouthfeel, complemented by fresh peach, ripe pear, and pink grapefruit flavors"... or "a nose of ripe black and red berry fruits, along with some tar and earth." Or, "a rich dense jammy raspberry and dark cherry fruit core" and "textured notes of vanilla."

Area businesses contributed a wide range of goods and services for the silent auction, and a number of big ticket items were auctioned off by emcee Pat Kelly later in the program. I'm not sure if the wine sampling is designed to heighten our social skills or loosen our wallets, but the effect of the evening was a very lively, enjoyable event for a good cause.

During the early part of the evening I was able to sit with Cheng-Khee Chee, who had contributed some limited edition giclee prints which he was on hand to sign, hence the name of the event, Wine & Chee's.

Mr. Chee is a world reknowned watercolorist and illustrator of the best selling children's book Old Turtle by Douglas Wood. Many of his themes have become instantly recognizable by fans of his work, much of which is breathtakingly beautiful in real life. An Associate Professor Emeritus of the University of Minnesota, Mr. Chee is a Dolphin Fellow of the American Watercolor Society, signature member of the National Watercolor Society, Transparent Watercolor Society of America (Master Status), Watercolor USA Honor Society and others with a list of honors longer than a man's arm.

So I sat for a spell with Mr. Chee and his wife, both of whom exude warmth and generosity. I asked where he was born and how he ended up in Duluth, Minnesota.

He replied that he was born in China, but went to Singapore, which is a multicultural melting pot. This became his stepping stone to coming to school at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, and ultimately to Duluth.

Of special interest to me these days is how to find more time to do art, and I asked what the path is to becoming a full time artist. He laughed and said art students should prepare to do something else for a living, knowing they will have to do their art on the side until they retire, then they can be artists. I noted that he was a full time artist, and he laughed again, saying he took early retirement in the mid-1990s. Throughout his life he supported his family by teaching art. "If you can get a job teaching art, that would be good," he said in answer to advice for young, aspiring artists.

If you are not familiar with Mr. Chee's remarkable work, please visit his site today and bookmark it for when you have time for a more leisurely engagement.

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