Deng Mng-Dao, The living

I’ve made my career as an artist, a published writer, and a book designer. However, the constant feeling and sheer thrill of creativity that began with drawing is what really leads me to continue. From boyhood explorations to professional discoveries decades later, I will be an artist all my life.

Growing Up in a Studio

I grew up in a studio. My mother, Jade Snow Wong, was a potter, enamellist, and author. My father, Woodrow Ong, was a silversmith, potter, and metal spinner, making the forms my mother enameled. I learned metal spinning as well. For many years, my father and I supplied all the copper forms for my mother’s work.

The home I knew as a boy was a loft, long before loft living was popular, and the studio below was filled with equipment and materials quite different from what other children saw at home. There were three gas-fired kilns, two for pottery and one for enameling, a potter’s wheel, a long workbench for applying enamels to copper, jar upon jar of enamels,

many crocks of glazes, and bins with the raw chemicals to make more glazes. Along with toys, I played with kiln shelves and supports, metal stands, tools of all sorts, and fistfuls of clay. On the floor below was metal-working equipment: an enormous lathe, a hydraulic press, metal shears large enough to cut a thirty-six-inch sheet of copper in one stroke, a circle cutter, and a buffer. Machines back then were huge and heavy, made with real cast-iron parts and machine steel. These were machines of an industrial age that has now been supplanted by a digital one.

Throughout my childhood, I could try to make anything I could imagine out of the metal, clay, and wood that surrounded me. Making things was natural as I was growing up: my mother and father designed the forms that they enameled, my mother improvised on the potter’s wheel, and my father might make a needed tool or repurpose an old machine. The copper forms made on the lathe required a wooden template carved out of rock maple. The copper itself came in enormous sheets, mirror smooth, reflecting our faces and hands as we worked it. Creativity and discovery were two intertwined processes throughout my childhood.
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