Wah Chang was a Chinese-American artist and prop designer. Today he’s most recognized for his iconic designs on the television series Star Trek. He was born on this day in 1917 and with that in mind, it being Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, me planning on going to see the Star Trek Into Darkness tonight, and The Wrath of Khan on in the background, now seems like a good time to reflect on his genius.
Wah Ming Chang (鄭華明) was born 2 August, 1917 in Honolulu, when Hawai’i was still a territory. His father, Dai Song Chang, owned an art store and framing gallery. The Chang family moved to San Francisco in 1919 and the parents opened Ho Ho Tea Room on 315 Sutter Street, which quickly became a popular hangout for artists and bohemians. Wah’s mother, Fai Sue, was an artist and graduate of the California School of Arts and Crafts. As a young child, Wah also displayed a talent for art and at seven, he began a tutelage under artist Blanding Sloan. Wah had his first solo gallery show when he was just nine years old. His mother passed away when he was eleven and his father moved to Europe, leaving the child with Sloan and his wife, Mildred Taylor. Taylor, was a feminist writer, organizer and lecturer who in the 1920s displayed a strikingly non-stereotypical interest in East Asian cultures. Taylor introduced Wah to puppet-making, a skill which he would employ when he eventually began working in film.