"Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children" Captures China’s Golden Age of Poetry

August 12, 2013

Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers Spotlights Illustrations

of Children’s Books from China’s Golden Age of Poetry


New Brunswick, NJ – The Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers invites visitors on an enchanting journey in the exhibition “Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children Illustrated by Jean & Mou-sien Tseng.” Inspired by 14 of the most celebrated poets of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the Tsengs’ vibrant illustrations appeal to children – and the young at heart – with timeless insights about the world’s wonders. On view from September 1, 2013, through June 22, 2014, this exhibition is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Class and group tours are available by appointment Tuesday through Sunday. Please contact the Education Department at 848.932.6766 or education@zimmerli.rutgers.edu at least two weeks in advance.

“The Tang Dynasty is known as the golden age of poetry in China's 2000-year literary history and the Tsengs’ illustrations are a captivating introduction to that rich heritage,” notes Marilyn Symmes, the museum’s Director of Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings. Many Chinese children have learned to read by reciting poetry; a repertoire of simpler Tang-era poems has been particularly popular since the 18th century. The poems published in the Tsengs’ illustrated book titled “Maples in the Mist” (1996) were translated into English by Minfong Ho, who sought to engage her children and other readers with China’s traditions.

Selected from the Zimmerli’s extensive collection of original artwork for children’s books, each image is accompanied by the poem that inspired it. “Maples in the Mist” showcases the Tsengs’ mastery of composition and color, as well as their ability to transform poetic verses into brilliant images. “The Zimmerli is grateful that the artists donated these illustrations in 1998, allowing the museum share yet another facet of children’s literature that demonstrates the craft and process of designing books before computer-generated illustrations became common practice,” states Suzanne Delehanty, director of the Zimmerli.

Twenty-two original watercolors capture the intimacy of China’s customs and the splendor of its countryside. Glimpses of domestic life and nostalgia are revealed. “Traveler’s Song” by Meng Jia evokes a memory of a mother mending her son’s coat by candlelight before he leaves home. In “Quiet Night” by Li Bai, the Tsengs depict a young man in bed, gazing at the moon and longing for home. The majesty of nature also appears throughout the book. “Symmetry” by Du Fu is accompanied by a picture of a flock of white egrets flying between nearby willow trees and distant snow-capped mountains, while a grand panorama at sunset illustrates the poem “Climbing Stork Tower” by Wang Zhi-Huan. In addition, as an example of the Tsengs’ creative process, three preliminary drawings for Wang Jian’s poem “Little Pine” document how the artists developed the pose, clothing, and gesture of a little boy tending a sapling.

Born in Taiwan in 1940 and 1935, respectively, Jean and Mou-sien Tseng met while studying art at the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. After graduating, they married and embarked on careers that included teaching and design. They also worked for a UNICEF Project in Taiwan, editing and designing 165 picture books, 30 of which they illustrated themselves. By 1974, the Tseng family had immigrated to the United States. Since then, the couple has illustrated more than 30 children’s books, including “The Seven Chinese Brothers” (Margaret Mahy, author; published by Scholastic, 1990), “Kenji and the Magic Geese” (Ryerson Johnson, author; published by Simon & Shuster, 1992), and “Fa Mulan” (Robert D. San Souci, author; published by Hyperion, 1998). In 1999, they illustrated their daughter Grace’s book, “White Tiger, Blue Serpent” (published by HarperCollins). The Tsengs, who live on Long Island, New York, have remarked that they are “constantly amazed that two minds can have so much in common and yet be so different, but we strongly believe that two minds are better than one.”

“Maples in the Mist: Chinese Poems for Children Illustrated by Jean & Mou-sien Tseng” was organized by Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, with Beth McKeown, former Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings.

Docents are available to lead guided group and class tours of “Maples in the Mist” in English, French, and Spanish. Please schedule at least two weeks in advance by contacting the Education Department at education@zimmerli.rutgers.edu or 848.932.6766.


The Zimmerli Art Museum’s collection includes more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is supported by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, as well as the income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment Fund, and the Voorhees Family Endowment Fund, among others. Additional support comes from the Estate of Victoria J. Mastrobuono and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Contributions from other corporations, foundations, and individuals, as well as earned income, also provide vital annual support for the Zimmerli’s operations and programs.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street at George Street on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and the first Wednesday of each month (except August), 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Z Café featuring the Food Architects is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The museum is closed Mondays, major holidays, and the month of August.


Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for 65 and over; and free for museum members, children under 18, and Rutgers students, faculty, and staff (with ID). Admission is free on the first Sunday of every month. For more information, call 848.932.7237 or visit the museum’s website: www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu


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