Wing on Wo & Co., Chinatown’s oldest continually run family business, has changed a lot over the years. When it opened in 1890, it was a general store, selling everything from canned goods and meat to porcelain. In the years that followed, it became a pharmacy for Chinese medicine, then, since the 1970s, mostly an antiques and ceramics retailer specializing in pieces imported from Hong Kong.
In 2015, Mei Lum — the great-great-granddaughter of the store’s founder — took over the shop. And for the past three years, she has been hosting annual exhibitions of contemporary Asian American ceramicists. This year, the show (which will run until December 21 in Wing on Wo & Co.’s storefront and virtual gallery) features exclusively Asian American women.
“I grew up watching my grandmother run the store and seeing how she saw porcelain and ceramics as an expressive form of cultural identity,” says Lum. “I think a lot about the role of women in a neighborhood which began as a bachelor society. It’s important for us to continue to make space for women in the shop.”
“I love the scale and size and texture of Jaye Kim’s work. She hand-builds all her pieces. When I invited her to participate in this year’s show, she mentioned she wanted to include these Napa cabbages because they express part of her Korean identity. They remind her of how she watched her mom make kimchee, and it brings back a specific time and place.”
“Jennie Jieun Lee is a fine artist and usually shows large-scale sculptures in galleries and recently started this separate line called ‘Glazemoods.’ It’s a collection of mugs, planters [shown second from the left], bowls, and vases. She uses glaze to express emotion and symbolize her memories and psychological spaces.”
“Poppy Li has a darker style and uses smudging and black slip to express emotion [like with the Chili Oil Vessel, shown on the top left]. I really love how she uses fire and the heat of the kiln to give her pieces life and energy.”
“Cathy C. Lu is a fine artist who makes large-scale sculptures. She was really excited to make accessible and affordable work people could have in their homes and decided to use the symbol of a peach, which traditionally signifies longevity and feminine sexuality. They’ve very yonic in their nature and are functional, too, because you can put an incense stick in them.”
“Monica Ramos is an established illustrator and has made a few ceramics, but it’s not her main medium. She made this collection over quarantine to use for a potential dinner with friends once the pandemic was over. It became a cathartic way of processing what’s happening, she said. She talks often about exploring a relationship with the earth through clay, and you can see that through the textures that mimic lichen and fungi [like with the vessels shown in the center].”