Flo Oy Wong reinvented herself at age 40, transitioning from a schoolteacher to an internationally renowned, award-winning visual artist.
Now 75, the Sunnyvale grandmother is doing it again, developing and nurturing her passion as a poet, incorporating her words into her artwork and giving back to the community in any way she can:
Tell us how your early life shaped your career path. "Well I definitely am a late bloomer, and now I'm blooming again. I was born and raised in Oakland's Chinatown as the sixth daughter among seven children.
"My parents had a restaurant, and as an immigrant family, we were poor and suffered through a lot of struggles. But because of this and our hardworking parents, my siblings and I were infused with this drive to live and to contribute to the world.
"My father taught me life is a two-way street. If I take, I need to give."
How did you transition from teacher to artist? "I taught elementary school in Los Altos, and then at age 40, I became an artist because I needed to find my voice. When I left the regular classroom, I became an art teacher in the Sunnyvale school district and some Catholic schools in the South Bay.
"For years, I was a visiting artist at colleges and universities throughout the U.S.
"I consider myself a visual storyteller, a contemporary multimedia artist. In 2007, I received the city of Sunnyvale's Art Award and the following year, I was the recipient of the Norman Y. Mineta Lifetime Achievement Award. I was a founding member of the Sunnyvale Arts Commission and later served on the board of directors of Arts Council Silicon Valley."
What was your most recent work? "I just ended a 75th birthday show in San Francisco called 'The Whole Pie,' where I had invited 75 local and national artists to participate and make pies -- actually multimedia works in the round shape of a pie, or triangular pie slice -- using the pie as a metaphor for storytelling, to tell the story of someone who contributed to the building of this country.
Could poetry be considered your "Third Act?'' "Yes, my latest creative adventure is that of writing poetry. From ages 9 to 75, I yo-yoed back and forth, thinking of myself as a poet and not a poet. Now at 75, I finally have the confidence to call myself a poet.
"I have often used text in my artwork, both English and Chinese. And now in some ways, I'm self-educating myself, acquainting myself with a variety of poets, finding voices that speak to my heart.
"I write almost daily, personal autobiographical poems, poems remembering my parents who worked 17 hours a day.
"I just want to honor people like my parents, who were so courageous to come to this country when it didn't want them, and also to honor the workers who worked for us. They were good souls, who were also under everybody's radar screen.
"I want to tell the stories that are not already on the American landscape."
What does the future hold? "In 2015, I have a show scheduled, presented by the University of Reno. It involves stories of my husband's experience as a Chinese American from Georgia. Few know of the Chinese in the South in the era of segregation.
"For me, it's important to keep learning, growing. My goal at 75 is to develop my literary voice, collaborate and give back. I'm physically taking care of myself so I can do these things. While I have chronic osteoarthritis in my hip, I have joined a gym on a weights program, I go out on walks. This physical activity feeds my brain, too.
"Being creative as an elder is keeping me connected to myself and to the surrounding community. I am blessed and grateful. It's almost as if, at 75, I decided to grow up."
Follow Angela Hill at Twitter.com/GiveEmHill.