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Family, colleagues recall skill of longtime University of Michigan painting professor Mignonette Yin
Source: The Ann Arbor News Author:Dave Gershman Updated Date:06 May 2009

Mignonette Yin Cheng didn't want to learn how to paint in the traditional Chinese way.

Born in China in 1933, she was sent to learn from a Chinese master by making meticulous copies of the artist's work. The closer the copy, the better the student.

"After a year, the Chinese master told (her) mother Mignonette is unteachable because she wants to do her own thing," said her husband, Richard Cheng.

Cheng, 76, of Ann Arbor, died April 23. She taught students for more than 30 years at the University of Michigan.

A professor of painting, she taught from 1963 to 1996 and was known for getting her students to see color and capture it in their paintings, as she did in her own work.

Ted Ramsay, a professor emeritus who taught figure drawing and basic drawing classes at U-M, admired her skill as a colorist.

"It was just a phenomenal blending of colors and the sensitivity to her form," he said, "both through her skill as a painter and through the choice of colors."

Cheng's work is represented in numerous public and private collections. She was recognized through national and international awards and exhibitions.

In 1996, she published "Watercolors of Italy," a collection of landscape paintings of Italy. Later, she completed "Distant Places," a collection of paintings of southeast Asia.

A retrospective of her art is in the works.

Kirsten Neelands said Cheng was the first person to open her eyes artistically when she was a student. Neelands said Cheng had her class spend an entire week mixing colors, using a limited pallet to teach students how creativity can bubble up when it's slightly suppressed.

At first, Neelands rolled her eyes at the assignment.

"By the end of the week, I thought I could just sit and mix colors for the rest of my life because I had never seen such beautiful colors," said Neelands, who stayed close to Cheng after graduating in 1978.

Cheng studied painting in China and came to the United States to study at Ohio University with a full scholarship.

She later taught in Detroit while her husband, Richard, worked at Bendix Corp. The couple came to Ann Arbor after he decided to pursue a doctorate in engineering mechanics at U-M.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 1432 Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor.

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