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On Display: Daughter shares father Mike Ning's story as an artist

by Jimmy Mustion, For the News Tribune | May 5, 2019 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated May 9, 2019 at 1:16 p.m.
<p>Photo courtesy of Kristina Ning Whipple</p><p>Mike Ning plays the keyboard during a show.</p>

This week, Kristina Ning Whipple sheds light on the talents of her father and artist, Mike Ning. She shared the following information about his career and what he is doing now.

Ning is a retired artist from Hallmark Cards, Inc. He is also a pianist for the elder Statesman of Kansas City Jazz, adjunct music educator and jazz piano accompanist at Kansas City Community College.

In 1964, Ning was an art student at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque when he was offered a job by Hallmark Cards to be a calligrapher at their offices in Kansas City. Then 24 years old, the Shanghai-born Ning Kwok Ming accepted a lettering designer job using his American given name, "Mike," anxiously ready to learn in a new environment. As a self-educated pianist he was a long way from China. Not yet an American citizen, he hoped the Midwest jazz scene would be as inviting as it seemed to a young artist and aspiring musician from Asia, Whipple said.

He worked for the card company nearly 35 years, creating thousands of hand-scripted original pieces for all sorts of merchandise in the days prior to Xerox machines and digital printers, Whipple said. During that time, he played hundreds of gigs in and around Kansas City, becoming a regular fixture on the jazz scene and honing his melodic craft and extraordinary piano accompaniment skills. Whipple said he continued to explore different artistic media at his day job and on his own as the commercial art industry shifted from hand-drawn to software programs and computerized presses.

Today, Mike's art medium has migrated from two-dimensional pen and ink to three-dimensional wire calligraphy. Of the many mediums he has visited - paint, sculpture, wood, ceramic and metal - the use of wire has by far been the most prolific phase, Whipple said. Previous hand-script experience allows him to create with very little design or planning time. Often the names include an item within the design which personalizes the piece for the recipient, such as a music note, guitar or horn shape, Whipple said. After that, the only tools he uses are simple pliers, the wire, and his hands to shape the complex, finished pieces. Having created hundreds of these over two decades, he now stays busy making the single-piece wire calligraphy names at home while watching baseball with his grandchildren. Mike is also an adjunct music educator at a local community college and still plays regularly around Kansas City.

An exhibit of Mike's spectrum of artwork was on display at Kansas City Kansas Community College in 2014 and again in 2016 at Community Christian Church in Kansas City.

A short, jazz documentary film simply called "Mike Ning" was released in 2016 by David Berry of Smoking Monkey Pictures, Whipple said. It won the award for Documentary Short Film category at the 2016 Kansas City Film Festival and can be found on YouTube.

Mike remembers playing a concert in Jefferson City at Richardson Auditorium at Lincoln University campus on March 2, 1971, Whipple said. He still has the program for Concert of Chamber music, featuring "The Art of Jazz concert series: Faculty recital of Seymour Gopman." Whipple said the personnel included Seymour Gopman on alto tenor clarinet, bass clarinet and flute, Dave Gordon on drums, John Hatten on electric bass, and Mike Ning on electric piano.

Mid-Missouri art happenings and exhibits

The "Icon" exhibit is now showing at Columbia Art League, 207 South Ninth St. in Columbia. The exhibit gives the artists a chance to explore their feelings about "iconology" and idolatry in modern society. Art in the Park is coming up on June 1-2. The gallery is open from 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 573-443-8838 or visit

The annual High School Sketch Day will be Monday through May 12 at Capital Arts Gallery, 1203 Missouri Blvd., and is sponsored by Jefferson City Art Club. The artistry seen is the best Jefferson City Public Schools has to offer. Many of these artists are graduating and going directly to art school. A reception will be 3:30-6 p.m. Wednesday at Capital Arts Gallery. For more information, call 573-635-8355 or visit

Capital Arts will host its "Celebration of Missouri" exhibit May 18 through June 26 at its gallery, 1203 Missouri Blvd. This exhibit features works of art celebrating the history, culture and nature of Missouri. A reception is set from 1-4 p.m. June 3 at the gallery. For more information, call 573-635-8355.

The Jefferson City Art Club will be meeting May 20. They will honor the winners of the club's annual High School Sketch Day and instal new officers for the next regular year from September through May 2020. The meeting is 5:30-7:17 p.m. at 409 Ellis Blvd.

Fred Schollmeyer will be the next Jefferson City Art Club's featured artist, with his artwork viewable from May 13 through June 26 on the JCAC website, Featured artists will also have an exhibit during this time at Department of Motor Vehicles, 1617 Southridge Drive, which is open 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-noon Saturday.

The Village Art Studio is gearing up to offer its 2019 summer art camps, available for children ages 6 and older. Each camp is $125 per session, held 8:30-11:30 a.m. or 1-4 p.m. Additional classes available at The Village Art Studio are homeschool art and clay hand-building on Tuesday and Thursday, after school art on Tuesday, adult or group painting on Wednesday and Thursday, children's clay class Thursday, fused glass Friday and children's art workshop the first Saturday each month. The studio is also available for birthday parties for all ages. For more information, call 573-230-1414 or visit

Rick Jey hosts two video programs, including "Spotlight On The Arts" that showcases a 30-minute, in-depth interview with one artist and "Mid-Missouri Art News" that presents two guests for 15 minutes each. Episodes are available on CenturyLink and Mediacom public access channels (check provider for broadcast times) or on YouTube by visiting the "JCTVAccess" channel.

The Sedalia Visual Arts Association maintains a rotating art exhibit at The Sedalia City Hall in Sedalia Municipal Building, 200 S. Osage in Sedalia. They feature two new artists every two months, with Maren Schenewark and Linda Schwermer's work currently on display. Hours of operation are 8:30-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The association will have an exhibit May 24-Aug. 18 at Goddard Gallery in Daum Museum of Contemporary Art at State Fair College in Sedalia. A reception will be held 6-8 p.m. June 27. For more information, call Hoover at 660-238-6242, association secretary and treasurer Glenda Miller at 660-458-6575 or visit

Art House will hold the Callaway Plein Air event and exhibit from May 23-26, with a reception May 26 at its gallery at 531 Court St. in Fulton. Stop by Art House from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 573-592-7733 or visit

Jimmy Mustion is a professional artist who is involved in area arts organizations and galleries.

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