By Jane Logan
The new college graduate takes a break from setting up Friday’s art show in the Gallery of Creston’s restored Depot, and sits quietly on an oak bench at the train station: white sneakers, cuffed blue jeans, and a short-sleeved black T-shirt with a large red Chinese dragon on the front.
Her eyes light up, her ponytail bobs and her smile broadens as she speaks of her art, her family, and of growing up in Creston. “May Ling” is her American name, explains MayLing Chuong, adding that it translates to “beautiful and delicate.” The freelance artist then reveals that she has a second name: “Lotus” is a translation of her Chinese name “Yu Lian.”
And her watercolors, origami and murals are all beautiful and delicate.
Although Chuong, the daughter of Jen and Simon Chuong of Creston, has four years of college art classes under her belt, “I guess I’m still figuring out my personal artistic style.” Her inspiration comes from traditional Chinese art, explains the Coe College graduate, but then she adds a Western influence with overtones of nature to her pieces. “I like Midwest flowers, animals, butterflies, gold [calligraphy] ink ...” she trails off and then looks up with a shy smile. “My college professors called it ‘whimsical.’ I guess I just like creating Midwest prairie flowers in Chinese watercolor.”
As we speak, Chuong’s former high school art teacher stops to chat; she has come to inspect the prep for Chuong’s art show. “I’m incredibly proud that MayLing continues to explore her passion,” says Bailey Fry-Schnormeier, also a Coe College alum and, according to Chuong, an “incredible mentor.”
A brief reflective silence falls over the duo until Fry-Schnormeier, in true teacher fashion, encourages Chuong a little: “She’s done her research into the traditional materials of her culture.”
Chuong agrees her Chinese heritage has become more prevalent and invaluable in her work as she continues to explore its traditional medium and techniques. “I can read a little Chinese,” she says, adding that she signs her name in Chinese using a bamboo brush dipped in black sumi ink. She also confesses, albeit hesitantly, that according to the Chinese zodiac, she was born in the Year of the Rabbit; some believe that rabbit people are artistic, creative, and in constant pursuit of their ideas.
Chuong has exhibited her artistic and creative work elsewhere in Iowa, and Friday is her third solo show in Creston. “Some were virtual, some were through the college, and some in Cedar Rapids,” she says of her college-years shows. This month’s local exhibit, which is open throughout July in the Depot Station Gallery, includes some pieces that are new, and others that Chuong “worked on all year” for her senior thesis and exhibition.
A 2018 graduate of Creston High School, Chuong recalls that COVID made fine-tuning her college major particularly tough for a few months. Among other issues, online work during COVID means she does not have access to materials necessary for her college art classes, nor is it easy to garner feedback on her progress. “Art classes are collaborative; we advise and critique our classmates’ works. That’s hard to do by ZOOM,” she says. Even so, at the end of her sophomore year in May 2020, Chuong is one of two recipients of Coe College’s “Susan Lawson Bouma Award in Art.”
The first in her family to attend college, Chuong, a CHS valedictorian, recalls writing essays and taking part in interviews for post-secondary scholarships to the private liberal arts college in Cedar Rapids. Fry-Schnormeier was a “huge influence” on the teenage Chuong in her choices for college and career. Chuong adds that her fiancé Isaac Wignall, also from Creston, is also very supportive.
Support also comes from Chuong’s family, who emigrated from Vietnam to Creston, and operates the Chuong Garden on West Townline Street; MayLing says her heritage, which is “mostly Chinese,” influences her art medium and “most of the art I make.” Although she hasn’t yet completed her mural at the Creston Arts Center, two of her most recent local murals include “Dragon and Flowers” (2021) located at her parents’ restaurant, and “Lotus Garden” (2020) which can be viewed from the alley behind Jade Garden.
“I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her,” says Ms. Fry-Schnormeier. “MayLing will move mountains.”
A reception for Creston artist MayLing Chuong will be held from 6 p.m. -8 p.m. July 1 in the Creston Depot Gallery. The show will be open during gallery hours and holidays during July. On display will be her watercolor art, origami mobiles, and traditional Chinese scrolls. “Most of it will be available for purchase,” the artist says. Her work can also be viewed at maylingchuong.wixsite.com .