Heidi Doornenbal, founder of Lynden’s Jansen Art Center, says that the venue fondly known as “The J” grew out of a need for a place equipped with the necessities for artists to create within their own disciplines.

“The goal was to build a beautiful, vibrant place where artists would have a place to experience various art forms and collaborate and learn from other artists,” she says, “to provide a place for artists to exhibit and perform and sell their art,” she says.

The Schimmel piano is the center showpiece in the Jansen Art Center’s Chamber Hall. Photo courtesy Jansen Art Center

What was once Lynden’s City Hall and Fire Hall at 321 Front Street became the 20,000 square-foot Jansen Art Center in 2012, with six creative art studios, a 110-seat performance hall, two floors of exhibit space, a cafe, and gallery shop.

“As renovations to the building progressed in 2012, questions from fixtures to finishes were all answered with ‘quality,’” says Brad Williamson, Heidi’s son. The grand room that had once been the City of Lynden’s Chamber Hall was no exception, and they knew it would take a very special piano to fill that space.

“While shopping for grand pianos in Bellevue,” Brad says, “we played Steinway Bosendorfer and Yamaha concert grands. We had not heard of the Schimmel but were convinced we should try one. From the very first note we were blown away. In fact, many great artists have said it’s the best-feeling and best-sounding piano they have played.”

The Jansen Art Center, at 321 Front Street in Lynden, offers performances, classes, exhibits and more. Photo courtesy Jansen Art Center

The Chamber Hall—so named because it’s the site of the former chamber meeting areas—is now one of the J’s vibrant gallery spaces, often featuring a solo artist or a group show like the upcoming Whatcom Artist Studio Tour Showcase Exhibit.

“The Jansen Art Center’s Shimmel is 9’-2” long and weighs 1,180 pounds,” says Brad.

“In order to get it up two flights of stairs it had to be stood vertically nine feet tall and moved with blocking one step at a time by four very strong guys. I hope we never have to move it again!”

Heidi says that the Schimmel is known for its excellence by all who have experienced the joy of playing it. Western Washington University professor of music Jeffrey Gilliam says that the J’s Schimmel is a magnificent instrument and well-suited for the space.

Brad Williamson: “While shopping for grand pianos in Bellevue, we played Steinway Bosendorfer and Yamaha concert grands. We had not heard of the Schimmel but were convinced we should try one. From the very first note we were blown away. In fact, many great artists have said it’s the best-feeling and best-sounding piano they have played.” Photo courtesy Jansen Art Center

Bob Milne, America’s foremost ragtime pianist, whose venues have included the White House, says it’s the best piano he has played.

When he was only 10 years old, Henry From played the Schimmel at the J’s Sunday@3 Young Artists Concert Series. Henry has gone on to win numerous awards, including an associate diploma in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada.

Karen Visser, music director at the J, agrees with Heidi. “Some of my favorite performances are the aspiring young artists that perform on the Schimmel during our Sunday@3 Concert Series,” she says. “It’s an amazing experience for these young students that have spent so many hours practicing and perfecting their pieces to sit down at the Schimmel and make it come alive with their playing. It’s a thrilling experience for budding artists to play such an outstanding instrument.”

Gary Evans, a longtime music teacher in Lynden, was the bass in the Fiji 4 Barbershop Quartet that Jansen Art Center founder Heidi Doornebal’s husband, Jerry, and her father, Hank Jansen, sang in. Evans is shown here with his wife, Christina. Photo courtesy Jansen Art Center

She believes that what makes the J’s Chamber Hall and Schimmel so special is the intimate connection between the performer and the audience.

“Rather than seeing the performer on a distant stage,” she says, “the audience is on the same level experiencing the performer’s energy and expression up close and personal.”

First up at the J this season is Schmid & Guest—the competitive yet congenial new duo formed by former Americana band Polecat musicians, fiddler Cayley Schmid and pianist Aaron Guest. They’ll perform tunes from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton, and the United States at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 4.

This is the married couple’s new project, focused on weaving traditional instrumental tunes together in new and dynamic ways. If this performance matches what the talented duo did at the recent Subdued Stringband Jamboree, there may not be a dry eye in the house (and there may be even a jig or two!).

Masks are required this season at the J for all visitors, staff, students, and instructors.

The J is a non-profit art center, and admission is free to visit the building. Classes are open for registrations now in all areas, and there are financial scholarships available.

Heidi adds that after a recent board retreat, the board members were asked to walk through the J as though it were their first time there, and then report back to the board what their thoughts were.

“With COVID,” she says, “I had been absent from the J and was able to see it with fresh eyes. As I walked through each studio—textiles, dance, music, ceramics, jewelry—I was in awe at the beauty, interest, excitement, and vibrancy in the building.”

When the board gathered afterward to share its thoughts, Heidi spoke gratefully of her satisfaction in the outcome of 10-plus years of generous support from donors and hard work from dedicated volunteers and competent staff. “The J is complete,” she says, “It has become its own vision.”

“It was a very generous donor that made this wonderful gift [of the Schimmel] to our community a reality,” adds Brad. “For me, it is the cherry on top of the Jansen Art Center.”

For more information on the Jansen, please call 360-354-3600 or visit jansenartcenter.org

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