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Chinese immigrants inspire Victor Elementary art students

From left to right, ward clerk Susan Peddie and nurses Pam Meck and Karla Mariska look at the tangram horse puzzle that was donated to Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital by Victor Elementary School art students.

DAVID ERICKSON - Ravalli Republic

Few people are aware of the major contributions to Montana’s rich history made by Chinese immigrants, but a group of Victor Elementary School art students is working to change that.

The youngsters spent the last several months studying the influence of Chinese culture on western Montana, and the result is an elegant paper tangram horse puzzle that has been on display at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, to the delight of visitors and staff alike.

Victor School District art teacher Jennifer Ogden said the project was inspired by a trip to the Mai Wah Museum in Butte. Run by the nonprofit Mai Wah Society, the museum is dedicated to preserving the state’s Asian heritage, including the history of Chinese mine workers, Butte’s old Chinatown and the legacy of Chinese culture in Montana.

“My fifth and sixth-graders participated in mail art, and my student teacher Sierra Bauer helped collaborate on a project inspired by the Mai Wah Museum,” Ogden explained. “We had gone there for a National Endowment for the Humanities teachers’ fellowship called the Richest Hill on Earth. These are teachers from all over the country that got to go. I met up with some folks from the museum that honors Chinese pioneers in the state and asked if we could collaborate on something for the museum.”

Ogden learned that 2014 is the Year of the Horse on the Chinese zodiac calender.

“So we did something on tangram horses,” Ogden explained. “A tangram is a Chinese puzzle made with seven intriguing shapes. The kids did a realistic horse over the top of the tangram. That’s how the recipient knows how they go together.”

The Victor kids actually made four horses, and they got to vote on where the artwork was placed.

“They chose to donate the pieces to the University of Montana Rodeo Club, the Bitterroot Backcountry Horsemen, Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and the Ravalli County Museum,” Ogden said. “They worked in groups to do this. Each participant designed one of the puzzle pieces, and we wrote letters to the recipients describing who, what, where, why and how.”

The staff at the hospital has been very appreciative of the gift, according to marketing manager Amy James-Linton.

“Everyone who walks by and sees it just loves it,” she said.

Ogden said Butte actually has a lively Asian culture, due to the thousands of Chinese workers that moved in in the 19th Century before the passage of the anti-communist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

“They have a Chinese New Year parade, and it gets bigger every year,” she said. “They have a 10-man dragon that walks up and down to businesses to collect money and donations to keep the museum’s doors open. Butte’s diversity is really exciting. Everyone celebrates everyone else’s holidays.”

Ogden said her kids got a kick out of learning about a new culture and being able to share their art with the community.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said. “They got to know more about the richest hill on Earth, and it’s cool that the hospital accepted the gift.”

Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

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Reporter for the Ravalli Republic.