Feeling Form of Chinese Art Festival

Janet Kinosian is a free-lance writer who occasionally contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

The dragon--a Chinese symbol for good fortune--takes center stage at the Children's Museum at La Habra during this month's exhibition of Chinese art.

The exhibition, which runs through June 8, has a 30-foot, fire-breathing dragon made of colored paper bags stuffed with wads of paper and suspended from the center of one room's ceiling. Artwork from 51 of China's top student artists, as well as Chinese-style art done by children in the La Habra school district, is also on display.

"We put (the dragon) up there for good luck," said Melissa Banning, assistant director of the museum. "We were so surprised when we got this huge thing, we almost didn't quite know what to do with it. It took two separate classes of first- and third-graders (from Las Positas Elementary School in La Habra) to make it. But we thought it was so beautiful, we suspended it to let people feel its form and beauty."

Feeling the form of China's art is the theme of this year's international exhibition--which each year focuses on a different country--and the free, daylong Chinese Art Festival, complete with workshops and demonstrations, scheduled for Saturday.

Information packets sent out by the museum staff in March to La Habra school teachers plied students with Chinese informational tidbits (such as the fact that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object that can be seen from outer space) and suggestions for projects in calligraphy, dragon-kite making, lacquer painting, lantern making and fortune cookie making.

A whole wall of the exhibition is devoted to extraordinary paintings done by a collection of China's top young artists, ages 6 through 13, from the Municipal Children's Palace in Shanghai. The works are done in water color, ink and mixed media, and besides being amazingly well crafted, they give us an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of China's children.

"You'll notice that the works are exceptional in their form," said Banning. That's because these kids are hand-picked to be taught art. In China, they stress form and technique over imagination and originality." She says that there are trade-offs, however, and that American children seem to exhibit more inspiration and color in their work.

La Habra school children offered their own take on Chinese calligraphy, painting words such as Moon, Sun, China and Peace. They also crafted dozens of beautiful, delicate hand fans and Chinese paper lanterns, original haiku and fortunes (a sample fortune from an 8-year-old girl: "You will find diamonds on the sidewalk"), plus kites, lacquer plates and rice-paper drawings.

The traditional highlight of the children's art exhibition is the all-day festival, which this year will be a visual and performing art day with a host of workshops. Included in Saturday's lineup of performers are the Lion Dancers of Southern China; the Orange County Chinese Dancers; the Little Panda Chorus; sword, ribbon and clog dancers, and magician Mike Wong.

Workshops and demonstrations during the day will include face painting, lantern making, cartooning, calligraphy, chalk painting and brush painting. Clowns, mimes and cartoon characters will also dance about for the very young.

What: Children's Chinese Art Festival Exhibit and Festival Day.

When: Saturday, May 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Gallery exhibition runs through June 8.)

Where: Children's Museum at La Habra, 301 S. Euclid St., La Habra.

Whereabouts: Take the Orange (57) Freeway to Lambert Road exit. Drive west to Euclid Street and turn right.

Wherewithal: Admission to the festival is free. Admission to the museum exhibit is $1.50 to $2.

Where to Call: (213) 905-9793.

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