Ice cream social prompts talk of historic Chinese art |

Ice cream social prompts talk of historic Chinese art

I notice a woman standing alone. The occasion is an ice cream social. She tells me her name is Louise Yuhas. Guessing that she’s retired I ask, “What work have you done?“ “I was a professor for 30 years at Occidental College. I have a PhD in Chinese Art History.” “How interesting,” I say, and flee. I’m way out of my league. After fortifying myself with more ice cream, and a double dose of chocolate syrup, I return. “Would it be possible to interview you?” I ask. “Yes. Your place or mine?” she replies. The ice cream in the dish I’m holding, melts.

“When I was in college I traveled to Japan, and fell in love with the place. I went back, and dropped my French major, and through many unplanned circumstances, focused on Chinese art history. I studied 3 years of Mandarin, in a semester and a half, and found myself in Taipei, at the National Palace Museum. Being a translator there opened many doors of scholarly research,” she says. I scribble wildly.

“I did my dissertation on Lu Zhi, a Chinese artist who lived in the 1600s. I’ve made many trips to the locations where he painted,” she says. This seems a trifle bizarre, and ask why. “Lu Zhi painted from a deep, personal perspective. I’d go to the place where he did the painting, and compare what I was seeing to the picture.”

In front of me is a lovely fireplace, layered with narrow stones. Louise recently built her home here in Smith, and her artistic side shows. To my left is a 4-by-6-foot wall hanging. “That was done in 1072. Of course it’s a replica,” she says. We walk over. “‘Don’t try to take it all in at once,’ I would tell my students,” and she points out 13 tiny figures, each one not more than half the size of a pencil eraser.

Dun Huang, lies at the edge of the Gobi Desert, on the Silk Road. For 1,400 years monks, and merchants passed through. She shows me photographs of stupas, temples, and cave sites, covered with dry murals. “I went to Dun Huang every 3 or 4 years, from ’78 to 2000. In the early days, I saw people living in ‘the day to day,’ that wasn’t so different from the 15th Century. There are 500 caves in the Dun Huang alone. Monks would administer to the needs of travelers, as Buddism spread from India, to all across Western China. Now Islam is the main influence. I don’t have a desire to go to Dan Huang anymore. There are big expensive hotels, and you have to have a reservation. The Chinese don’t revere the past the way they did,” she says.

It’s been a delight to listen to Louise speak about a subject she knows, and loves so well. The hour glass of Chinese art has many grains of sand in it, and Louise knows each one.

Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at