Born in South Korea in 1954 to parents who had fled Communist China, Wang’s journey began with an early fascination with her Chinese heritage. At 21 she enrolled in Taiwan’s premier art school, National Taiwan Normal University, where she studied everything from traditional Eastern calligraphy to Western oil painting. She taught art in rural Taiwan until 1978, when she came to the United States to get her MFA at Kent State University.
By the time Wang had completed her master’s program, she was itching for a new artistic outlet.
That’s when she met Homer Tremulis, an interior designer who is still practicing today in Northbrook, Ill. Wang began helping him on interior design projects, focusing predominantly on hospitality spaces. She immediately connected with the fabric work, a more familiar medium than the three-dimensional nature of furniture and architectural planning. She used the time to reflect on the lessons she learned in her graduate art program that went beyond the classroom and the easel.
Wang recalls discussions about Jackson Pollock’s Drip Period—referring to his novel technique of pouring and dripping paints onto the canvas from above—and how galleries pressured him to keep producing the drip paintings to satisfy customer demand, long after his painting style had changed.
“I realized that unless you’re an extremely lucky artist, you might have to live not honestly to your own art,” Wang says. “Rather than do that—rather than be a dishonest artist—I thought I could be an honest business person. I could do commercial art.”
By 1990, she was launching her first collection for Brentano, and soon found herself grappling with the realities of the business.
“The fine art is what the artist wants to say. The commercial art is the reaction of the designer toward the public,” she says. “It requires an interpretation of the public, to do something to make them say, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s beautifully done. I want it.’”
The success of Brentano is a testament to Wang’s ability to do just that. In the course of 23 years, the business has grown to international proportions, with showrooms and sales offices spanning North America, Europe and Asia. The company now manufactures and sells hundreds of patterns in more than 20 collections, three of which have taken home IIDA/HD Product Awards for Innovative Hospitality Textile.