Members of the Minnesota Hmong and Chinese communities along with many city and state government representatives recently attended a special unveiling ceremony for Nkauj Hmong Lucy as guests of the Hmong Cultural Plaza Advisory Group held at the Community School of Excellence in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Nkauj Hmong Lucy is one of five Peanuts characters that will be sent to the City of Changsha, Hunan Province, China this spring as part of the Saint Paul-Changsha Sister City gift-exchange project established by the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society to coincide with the 30-year sister-city celebration in 2018.
The program included cultural performances and presentations from leaders from the Hmong community, local and state officials and the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society. It also included comments from Kao Lee Thao, the artist who painted Hmong Lucy.
When the idea of a Chinese friendship garden was first proposed for Phalen Park, the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society wasn’t sure the location was appropriate, since the park is used by so many Hmong people. However, throughout the process, people involved in the project learned Hunan is actually an ancestral homeland to the Hmong, with a current population of 3 million Hmong.
Hmong people lived in Changsha and other parts of China until they were forced out in the 18th and 19th centuries into mountainous regions of Southeast Asia. For that reason, and because the Hmong community is so strong in Saint Paul, the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society included the Hmong Lucy design and invited artist Kao Lee Thao to create the design. Thao was excited to be part of something aimed at uniting different communities through art.
For the project, Thao considered how to impart her artistic voice while bringing her Hmong culture into the work. She has always been fond of Hmong textiles, which she incorporated into the design. There are also symbols that are more personal, “I’m surrounded daily by Hmong customs,” she says.
Around Nkauj Hmong Lucy’s neck is a beautiful design of a Hmong necklace. “Hmong necklaces are typically made of silver,” Thao says, adding that they are worn as protective amulets to ward off evil. “Due to persecution, Hmong women would sew our written language into traditional patterns to keep them secret, and we continue to carry hidden messages.” Thao decided to give Lucy a bright eye color, and she also changed the shape of her eyes. “Peanuts characters’ eyes are round in appearance,” Thao says. “I chose to bring Lucy’s eyes to life by slightly changing the shape to appear more ethnic, while still echoing the vibrant Hmong color palette.”
In addition to Lucy, Saint Paul will also be sending four other Peanuts characters to Changsha’s park with artwork by Chinese artist Yudong Shen and TivoliToo, the company that has made hundreds of the statues around Saint Paul. Additional statues to be sent to China include Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy’s Dog House with Minnesota state symbols such as a loon, lady slipper, pine and butterfly. Shen painted the dog house.
The society is pleased to announce that it has already raised all of the funds to complete the 2018 phase of the garden that includes the gift of the replica of Changsha’s famous Aiwan Pavilion and construction of an entrance arch, donor wall, the Hmong wall and garden designs.The total cost of all the future plans for the garden will be about $7 million. The future plans for the garden include an arched bridge, covered walkway, decorative pathways and a classroom pavilion.
The China Garden will be built north of the Phalen Park picnic pavilion and east of the Stone Arch Bridge along the lake. It will be near Public Art St. Paul’s “Minnesota Rocks!” sculpture “Meditation” that was created by internationally known Changsha sculptor Master Lei Yixin in 2006. Visit www.mnchinagarden.org for more information and see the accompanying article about fundraising for the garden project by the West Suburban Chinese Association.