Nearly 100,000 people swarmed to the California gold fields in 1849. Approximately 25% were foreign emigrants, and within a few years the Chinese population—who referred to the new country as Gum Shan (Gold Mountain)—had grown to over 20,000. In 1850 the infant California legislature introduced laws and taxes discriminating against the Chinese people, who were restricted in the gold mines to working abandoned claims for specks of gold.
Willing to work long hours for little pay, many hired out as laborers; others were entrepreneurial and started small businesses. The family laundry was an outstanding opportunity as the entire family worked in the laundry to provide excellent service at a reasonable cost. The more affluent families supported these establishments, which allowed the business owners to grow, prosper, and become part of the citizenry.
San Francisco’s Chinatown was a vibrant commercial center where goods and services between the city’s two cultures dominant were exchanged. Situ’s turn-of-the-century historical paintings capture the vivid energy of this period and its people with beauty and grace. And, for the collector of important American historical art, they also offer a rare glimpse and insight into this thriving cultural crossroad.
Situ received the Gene Autry Memorial Award given in recognition of the most outstanding presentation of three or more works at the 2013 Masters of the American West Exhibition and Sale. Chinese Family Laundry, 1880 was the featured work of this award-winning presentation.