On permanent display in the CHSA Learning Center is an historic mural by James Leong (1929-2011), “One Hundred Years’ History of the Chinese in America.” James Leong was born in San Francisco Chinatown. His work as reporter and ad salesman for the Chinese Press put him on the radar of Chinatown businessmen, who commissioned him to paint this mural for the newly built Ping Yuen Housing Projects.
The mural was met with stiff criticism by the community for its depiction of the history of Chinese in America. Hurt by this backlash and feeling stifled by an overstimulating Beat-era North Beach art scene, Leong sought opportunities to work and paint elsewhere.
Following his graduation from the California College of Arts and Crafts, he received a Fulbright Fellowship to live and study in Norway. After decades in Europe, spent working out of a studio at the American Academy in Rome and dealing with mostly “Eurocentric” imagery, Leong began to grapple with the impact of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student uprising – and his dormant Chinese American identity. Leong returned to the United States and settled in Seattle in 1991, where he continued to work. In his long career, Leong has exhibited widely, in institutions and events such as the Whitney Museum Annual, Gimpel Fils Ltd. (London), the Brooklyn Museum Biennial, Carnegie International (Pittsburgh, PA), the Princeton Art Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery.
In 2006, the Chinese Historical Society of America welcomed James Leong and his art back to San Francisco, in the show “James Leong: Confronting My Roots”, themed after Leong’s struggle and reconciliation with identity and his native city.