Famous Artists Who Also Happen to Be Living Centenarians

Daniel Hautzinger
Tyrus Wong in his kite studio. Photo: Ildiko Lazslo
Tyrus Wong in his kite studio. Photo: Ildiko Lazslo

American Masters: Tyrus airs Friday, September 8 at 9:00 pm, and is available to stream the following day.

The Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong, subject of a new American Masters documentary, lived to be 106 years old. Wong exhibited work at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1930s in group shows with Picasso, Matisse, and Paul Klee and created the austere world of Bambi as the film’s inspirational sketch artist in 1942, but he was also still active seven decades later, building elaborate, fantastic kites. He left behind a legacy of paintings, prints, calligraphy, greeting card illustrations, Hollywood studio art, and his kites when he died on December 30, 2016. In celebration of indomitable, long-lived figures like Wong, explore the lives of some other centenarians still living today. To put it in perspective, all of these people were born before or during World War One.

Ruthie Tompson

Wong isn’t the only Disney artist to live past 100. Ruthie Tompson grew up near Walt and Roy Disney’s studio, and eventually found work there as an inker and screen painter, working on Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Fantasia, among other films. Only nine years younger than Walt Disney himself, she has outlived him by 51 years and is now 107 years old.

Toko Shinoda

A Japanese artist who works in inks and prints, Toko Shinoda combines calligraphic training with abstraction, for a modern style grounded in ancient practice. She has exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago owns some of her work, though none of it is currently on display. At 104 years old, she still paints and is the oldest living Japanese person on a Japanese stamp.

Milton Quon

Like Ruthie Tompson and his friend Tyrus Wong (Quon appears in American Masters: Tyrus), Milton Quon was a Disney animator. The first film he worked on was Fantasia in 1939; he remained at Disney through the ‘60s. He has acted in movies such as Speed, and now paints in watercolor and ink. Quon is 104.

A watercolor by Milton Quon.A watercolor by Milton Quon, from the artist's website.

Don Lusk

There must have been something in the ink used at Disney in the ‘30s and ‘40s: Lusk is another Disney animator. He worked with Wong, Tompson, and Quon on many of Disney’s iconic movies, then moved to Hanna-Barbera in the 1960s, working on Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, and more beloved cartoons. He is 103.

Herman Wouk

Wouk is best-known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny, from 1951, which was made into a movie with Humphrey Bogart. He has written numerous other war novels and has been called the American Tolstoy. His latest book came out in 2015, when he turned 100. He’s now 102.

Beverly Cleary

Kirk Douglas on the poster for 'Spartacus.'Kirk Douglas on the poster for 'Spartacus.' The beloved children and young adult author of books about Ramona and Beezus Quimby, Cleary has been praised for taking children’s emotional life seriously, an approach to kid’s literature that was radical when she first started writing in the 1950s, and has been influential on later adored children's writers like Judy Blume. She’s now 101.

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas’s film debut was in 1946. Most famous for his film Spartacus, with which he helped end the Hollywood blacklist by giving screenwriter Dalton Trumbo an official credit, he’s been around long enough that even his son, actor and producer Michael Douglas, is in his 70s now. Kirk Douglas is 100.

Vera Lynn

An English singer who was known as the “Forces’ Sweetheart” during World War II for her performances to British troops, she is known for her performances of “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover” (her image was projected on Dover cliffs for her 100th birthday, in March of this year).

I.M. Pei

Chinese American architect Ieoh Ming Pei is famous for his glass pyramid marking the Louvre in Paris as well as various geometric buildings throughout China, the Middle East, and the U.S., including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the JFK Library in Boston. He retired from his firm in 1990, but still consults on projects. Pei is 100 years old.

I. M. Pei's JFK Library.I. M. Pei's JFK Library.

Florence Knoll

Knoll was close to or studied with some of the most important architects of the last century: Eliel Saarinen (Eero’s father), Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe. She became an influential furniture and interior designer, working on the interiors of huge corporation campuses for IBM, GM, and CBS, among others, and moving offices away from dark, heavy designs to modern, sleeker ones. Knoll is 100.

American Masters
Tyrus Wong