Irene Poon was born and raised in San Francisco’s Chinatown where her father operated an herbal store on Grant Ave. Chinatown in the 40s and 50s was still a tight knit community not marketed as a tourist destination as it is today. In those decades Chinatown was “home” to many artists because an area on the southeast corner of Montgomery and Washington Streets known fondly as the “Monkey Block” was home to many artists like Dong Kingman, Sargent Johnson, and many others. The ceramic artist and later author of Fifth Chinese Daugther, Jade Snow Wong had her first studio in a storefront on Grant Avenue. Dong Kingman and Jade Snow Wong were inspirations showing that there is life in a world of art. Poon unbeknownst to her would be documenting Chinatown later when she became interested in photography while studying art at San Francisco State University (then College). She studied with Don Worth.
In the 90s Poon became immersed in discovering Asian American art as well as confirming her own identity as an Asian American artist. Poon was active for seven years with the Chinese Historical Society where she served on the Board of Directors as well as curated shows celebrating Chinese American artists for the museum. Her interest in artists of Asian descent led her to produce her photographic book Leading the Way… celebrating 25 artists of the older generation.
Poon photographed Chinatown and its environs many times and still goes back to it as a “foundation” for her seeing.
Photographs by Irene Poon, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA 1967
Photographs by Irene Poon. De Young Museum, San Francisco, 1968
Photographs: Chris Enos, Joanne Leonard, Irene Poon, San Francisco Museum of Art,
Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents 1900-1970. De Young Museum, SF.
Fall 2008-January 2009.
Frankenstein, Alfred, “The Color Sense of Irene Poon” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/24/68
Harvey, Nick, ed., Ting: The Caldron, Chinese Art and Identity in San Francisco, SF.,
Glide Urban Center, 1970
Chang, Johnson, Karlstrom. Asian American Art: A History 1950-1970. Stanford