Anna Wu Weakland, notable Chinese artist, dies at 90

The Palo Alto transplant was well known for her hybrid style, blending traditional Chinese art with Western techniques

Anna Wu Weakland, a notable Chinese-born artist who lived in Palo Alto since the 1950s, died on Feb. 8. She was 90 years old.

She was known for a wide range of artistic tendencies, from traditional Chinese form in ink and water color to monotype, tapestry, calligraphy, painting and mixed media. Born in Shanghai, China, she described her art in a 1997 Palo Alto Weekly article as a merging of her two worlds, "a Chinese image with a Western technique."

Anna Wu Weakland, a longtime Palo Alto resident and well-known artist, died on Feb. 8. Photo by Steve Kiser.
After graduating from the University of Shanghai in 1943, she first entered the advertising world, becoming the first woman in China to open and run her own agency. In 1947, she came to the United States to study sociology at Columbia University in New York City. At Columbia, she met her future husband John Weakland, a psychotherapist and Stanford University professor.

After receiving her master's degree the next year, a chance meeting brought her into the art world. She was introduced to Wang Yachen, a Chinese scholar and painter, who took her on as his interpreter while he was in New York to curate an exhibit of 20th century Chinese paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She said in the 1997 Weekly article that during her time in New York City, she attended various art classes and explored museums.

However, she said she was expected to return home to fulfill a duty to her home country – where pursuing a career as an artist was not seen as acceptable – and work as a professor at her alma mater.

"If I stayed in China, I would never have become an artist," she told the Weekly in 1997.

But in 1949, the Communist Party took over China and she couldn't return. In 1953, a job offer for her husband at Stanford University brought the couple to Palo Alto. She studied Western art at Stanford.

In 1965, she had her first solo show at the Stanford Museum of Art. She later had exhibits at the DeYoung Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Marin County Civic Center, among many others both nationally and internationally. She also taught art classes at Stanford, other local organizations and her own studio.

She was included as an artist and educator in the 1995-'96 edition of Marquis' publication "Who's Who of American Women." Local nonprofit Avenidas also selected her as one of six Lifetimes of Achievement honorees in 1996. She was again profiled by the Weekly that year.

In later years, she traveled extensively to explore and learn. In 1978, she was invited by Canadian Pacific Air to lead one of the first North American commercial tour groups to China.

She was preceded in death by her husband, who died in 1995. She is survived by her three children, Alan, of San Marino, Calif.; Lewis of Palo Alto, and Joan of Ames, Iowa; a daughter-in-law, son-in-law and two grandchildren.

Some of Weakland's artwork is available for viewing on her website.


Like this comment
Posted by Irene
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm

For many years Anna shared her art and her conversation with some of us fortunate ones through her classes in Chinese brush painting.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

For those of us who had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Wu, a mainstay of the local art scene, and sharing art and ideas with her, the wonderful memories shall remain. She influenced many artists, and some of them have gone on to teach, train and educate others. I'm grateful for having known her. Such is the wheel of life - and she is greatly missed!

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