By Phil Leggiere
Photo (above) by Candace diCarlo

Before emerging as one of America’s most innovative urban designers and, many believe, social pioneers, Lily Yeh FA’66 spent much of her young adult life struggling uneasily in the interzone between disparate cultural traditions and identities. Born 58 years ago in preńcommunist China, Yeh grew up in Taiwan as the daughter of an army general. She was just out of her teens when she was uprooted from the social, aesthetic and spiritual world she’d known, emigrating to the United States in the early 1960s to attend Penn’s Graduate School of Fine Arts.
    At Penn, under the tutelage of a faculty that included such luminaries as professors Jim Van Dyck, Angelo Savelli and fine-arts director Malcolm Campbell, Yeh experienced an intensive initiation into the techniques, history and aesthetics of classical and modernist Western art, a process she found both exhilarating and “profoundly disorienting,” she says.
    “I had started painting when I was in junior high school, when my father, who loved classic Chinese landscape painting, first took me to a master’s house. The way we learned in China was by strictly copying our masters and studying nature. Personal expression was not encouraged,” she explains. “When I came to the States, though, it was all free-style, abstract and geared toward expressing personalities. In this urban world, no one knew or cared about landscapes. I’d been catapulted across time. I felt like a woman with bound feet, and I couldn’t walk.”


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