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Profile: Artist finds home in Sun Rise | Guest Column
"I brought up her name at our board meeting: Chinmayo has applied to purchase a home in Sun Rise, and everyone suddenly applauded.” Not the usual reaction at an often serious-minded San Juan Community Home Trust meeting, recounted Nancy DeVaux, Home Trust Executive Director.
That reaction springs from the enthusiasm and happy energy the well-known community artist brings to her new island address and adventure. Because homeowners at Sun Rise are required to put in “sweat equity” by working on landscaping, Chin’s vision, leadership and energy are a perfect fit.
“Of course this garden is small, I think that’s perfect. And see this water feature I’m building?” It’s the centerpiece of a small garden with circles of rocks, perennials, shrubs, shells, even fruit trees, outside her new home. There is also a view over the gravel pit to Griffin bay as she works. In the usual Chinmayo fashion, she has already recruited the young boy next door as her helper. She is also looking to reach out to others in the Sun Rise complex to share her latest visions.
“Wouldn’t it be great to get together and build a trellis all around this place – I think that could help keep the deer out, don’t you? Although I do think we can grow enough fruit for the deer and for us,” she exclaims.
For islanders who’ve known Chinmayo, this enthusiasm for creating community through her art (and music) is nothing new. San Juan Island is brimming with the projects she has led to fruition – usually with the involvement of island students. She taught art classes for years and realized that art can be something communities can create and do together.
The Compass Rose installed behind the High School came first – a senior class project, funded in part by a grant from the San Juan Island Community Foundation.
Following that, island elementary school children were the main participants in the beautiful and delightfully tiled "Welcome Wall" at the new Spring Street Landing terminal. The entrance to the Fairgrounds, the entrance to the sculpture park at Westcott Bay, and the decorative tiles around the door at the kindergarten classroom were all done by local kids, led by Chinmayo.
“Of course, I get lots of help from others,” she says. “Beth Spadafora is always involved, so is Liesha Holmes, Beth Hetrick, Carolyn Haugen, and people in the community often step up to help pay for these projects – and I’m not really earning my living with this stuff.”
Actually, Chinmayo earns her living working the night shift at Village at the Harbour, working with Alzheimer’s patients. “That gives me time to do this fun stuff.”
She also puts on the Music at the Port program each year and, if a singer doesn’t show up, Chin steps in. Singing is another of her talents.
One Chinmayo project still awaits community and financial support – the long blank wall on Blair Street, behind the Earth Box Motel. She has the permits - and the design - which will show a history of the island - but the needed financial support is not yet there.
Meanwhile, Chin digs another hole in her Sun Rise garden.
“Look at all these plants that people have given me from their gardens. This new home is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me in my life. I want to make it even more beautiful – and involve everyone who lives here.”
No one could doubt that she will.
— Editor’s note: Lee Sturdivant is a member of the SJ Community Home Trust board of directors.