The Chinese Historical Society of America rediscovered eight watercolor paintings by renowned Chinese-American artist Jake Lee. Jake Lee (1911–1991) was born in Guangzhou, China and grew up in Monterey, California. Lee studied at San Jose State College and Otis Art Institute and had a prolific career as a commercial artist and an art teacher.
In 1959, Johnny Kan, owner of the landmark Kan’s Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, commissioned a series of twelve paintings by Jake Lee. Each painting showcases specific aspects and milestones in early Chinese American history. These paintings were displayed for many years in the private Gum Shan (“gold mountain”) dining room of Kan’s Restaurant.
After Johnny Kan’s death in 1972, the restaurant changed hands, and the paintings disappeared in subsequent years. For decades, these paintings were believed to be lost, until eleven of the paintings resurfaced at a 2010 auction in Los Angeles. CHSA acquired seven of the paintings at auction, then found and retrieved the missing twelfth painting “Deadwood” shortly afterwards.
As a steward of the Chinese American community narrative, CHSA is extremely proud to bring these spectacular paintings back to their home in San Francisco.
Select Images of the Jake Lee Paintings:
Finding Jake Lee: The Paintings at Kan’s
February 12 – September 16, 2011 at CHSA
“Lost” Cultural Treasure Brings Record Prices at Moran’s February 16th Art Auction
Article about Jake Lee paintings from John Moran auction house