Longhua Xu (1954–)

Longhua Xu of Hot Springs (Garland County) is a native of China who came to Arkansas in 1990, becoming a leading member of the state’s artistic and cultural community. Among other accolades, in 2019, he was named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council.

Longhua Xu was born in Shanghai, China, on December 31, 1954. His older brother encouraged him to paint landscapes by taking him to a local park. At age seventeen, Xu was chosen by the Chinese National Arts and Crafts Company to be part of an elite group of young artists who would be instructed in traditional Chinese art. He studied at the Luo Qing art academy in Shanghai province, a school that admitted only the most talented students from across the country.

Starting at age eighteen, Xu began displaying his art at exhibitions all over China, including at the renowned Shanghai Art Museum. He graduated from East China University of Technology with a degree in fine arts, going on to teach art at Shanghai University of Technology.

During this time, he created several large sculptures that were exhibited in Shanghai. Some of his works were presented to foreign dignitaries as gifts from the government of China. Prints of his artworks were published in several of China’s national magazines.

After leaving Shanghai University of Technology in 1989, Xu was allowed to move to the United States with the title of “Outstanding Artist” under a program sponsored by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. He received an “O-1B” visa classification, which is for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the arts. They must demonstrate exceptional accomplishments and be recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. Later going on to becoming a U.S. citizen, Xu said that his move to America was motivated by seeking artistic freedom as well as his belief that there would be greater access to artists and arts venues all over the world by living in America.

His first American post was teaching at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. His wife, Chen Shun Ying, who was director of human resources at Shanghai University, joined him. He moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1990, having heard that it was a friendly town that was supportive to artists; he later said in interviews that the warmer weather in Arkansas was also a plus.

Although she had little experience in cooking, either domestically or professionally, having been a college-educated professional in China, Chen helped support her husband’s artistic dreams by opening the Shanghai Restaurant in Hot Springs. The restaurant was a success, helping to support Xu’s work as an artist as well as providing for their two children, son Yang and daughter Annie, both of whom eventually became medical doctors.

Soon after arriving in Hot Springs, Xu was chosen to create a monumental statue for the city, a project that was a highly sought-after commission in the arts community. Xu’s massive sculpture, called Mother Nature, has been praised by admirers including President Bill Clinton, whose letter of commendation stated that it was a “beautiful addition to Bathhouse Row and should bring enjoyment to millions of visitors for years to come.” The marble sculpture depicts a woman pouring water from a jug as deer gather at her feet. Since 1992, Xu’s Mother Nature sculpture has been a main attraction in the city’s historic downtown district, where it can be seen in front of the Arlington Hotel.

In the years that followed, Xu created numerous pieces of art for hospitals, public parks, and schools, as well as countless works for private collectors. His primary medium is sculpture, but he has also created oil paintings, acrylics, bronzes, pottery, stone carvings, and woodworks. He also taught art for five years at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (Clark County).

In 2018, Xu presented an exhibition titled The Soul of Arkansas at the Hot Springs Convention Center. The popular exhibition featured forty of Xu’s works that illustrated the diversity of the people of Arkansas.

He recreated a portion of that exhibition at Woodlands Performing Arts Center in Hot Springs Village (Garland and Saline counties) for the 2021 Arkansas Heritage Festival. In his artist statement for that event, Xu wrote of the transition from his life in Shanghai, one of the world’s most populous cities, to what he referred to as rural, small-town America. In Hot Springs, he said he found acceptance and assistance from people who embraced him and his family. Xu noted that his “Soul of Arkansas” series was inspired by his admiration for hard-working Arkansans such as farmers, as well as by children and musicians, all wearing what he called “smiles that beam with acceptance.” His portraits of average Arkansans also reflect the Chinese tradition of honoring the elderly.

In 2019, Longhua Xu was named an Arkansas Living Treasure by the Arkansas Arts Council. Presented by an independent panel based on the quality of the individual’s work, the award recognizes Arkansas artists who have preserved and passed on traditional crafts. In addition, Xu was recognized by the Arkansas Arts Council for being an active artist with a large body of work that is widely sought-after, for participation in community outreach, for continuing to build and expand the range of Arkansas art, and for inspiring other artists.

On November 22, 2020, Xu’s wife, Chen Shun Ying, died at the age of sixty-five.

For additional information:
Brown, Grace. “Chen Remembered for Going ‘Extra Mile.” Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, December 11, 2020. https://www.hotsr.com/news/2020/dec/11/a-ray-of-sunshine-chen-remembered-for-going-extra  (accessed June 23, 2022).

———. “‘Soul of Arkansas’ Exhibit Opens Oct. 5.” Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, September 26, 2018. https://www.hotsr.com/news/2018/sep/26/soul-of-arkansas-exhibit-opens-oct-5-20/ (accessed June 23, 2022).

Clancy, Sean. “Relished Recognition: Hot Springs Artist and Shanghai Expat Longhua Xu Is Arkansas’ 2019 Living Treasure.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 24, 2019, pp. 1E, 6E. https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2019/mar/24/relished-recognition-20190324/ (accessed June 23, 2022).

Hall, Rebekah. “The Soul of Arkansas.” Inviting Arkansas, August 31, 2018. https://www.invitingarkansas.com/featured/the-soul-of-arkansas/ (accessed June 23, 2022).

Longhua Xu. https://www.xu-longhua.com/ (accessed June 23, 2022).

“Longhua Xu Art Exhibit Opens in October.” The Springs, August 9, 2018. https://thespringsmagazine.com/2018/08/09/longhua-xu/ (accessed June 23, 2022).

Longhua Xu Paints the Soul of Arkansas. Hot Springs, AR: Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance, 2018.

“NPC Makerspace Partners With Local Artist.” National Park College, August 27, 2021. https://np.edu/news/2021/press-releases/longhua-xu.aspx (accessed June 23, 2022).

Peacock, Leslie Newell. “Longhua Xu Named 2019 Arkansas Living Treasure,” Arkansas Times, February 9, 2019. https://arktimes.com/rock-candy/2019/02/09/longhua-xu-named-2019-arkansas-living-treasure (accessed June 23, 2022).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated: 06/23/2022

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