81-Year-Old Artist Recreates the Chinatown of His Youth in Miniature

Screenshot, “Forever, Chinatown” / Good Medicine Picture Company
Screenshot, “Forever, Chinatown” / Good Medicine Picture Company / Screenshot, “Forever, Chinatown” / Good Medicine Picture Company

Frank Wong’s memories are fading, so he’s creating reminders through art. The 81-year-old San Franciscan recreates San Francisco’s Chinatown as it looked in the '40s and '50s through dioramas, as Hyperallergic reports.

Wong is the subject of the new 32-minute documentary Forever, Chinatown, which highlights his art and process. He uses the detailed dioramas as a way to deal with memory loss, hoping to preserve what he can still recall. “The only way for me to capture my memories is to make them in three-dimension,” he says in the film’s trailer. His miniatures are detailed recreations of the history of his neighborhood, permanent representations of a city that has changed immeasurably in the years since Wong's youth.

The artist worked as a Hollywood prop master at one time, and his painstakingly realistic dioramas include apartments with tiny cups on tiny drying racks; fabric stores with 200 bolts of tiny fabric; and tiny laundromats with tiny plastic-wrapped, newly dry-cleaned shirts and dresses. The pieces are “half wishing, half memory,” Wong says, compilations of real-life scenes laced with details from the past that he acknowledges he might not remember with 100 percent accuracy.

Wong has donated some of his work to the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco, and you can see seven of his dioramas on display there. You can stream the whole film online through PBS until June 7.

Teaser Trailer 1 from Good Medicine Picture Company on Vimeo.

[h/t Hyperallergic]