During Armed Forces Day Weekend, Chinta McCollum is outside of the (now closed) Souled Out art shop in Hawthorne in her Paradise Creations booth, selling her handmade pottery, jewelry, tie-dye clothing, and traditional Sri Lankan almond and coconut-honey treats. I bite into one of the golden cake-shaped candies, the sweet, savory, the coconut notes bringing an instant contented smile to my face. Inside Souled Out, her watercolor paintings are on display, one of which received a first-place award in AFD’s juried art show.

Kayla Anderson
Chinta McCollum sells her handmade pottery, jewelry, tie-dye clothing and traditional Sri Lankan almond and coconut-honey treats during Armed Forces weekend.

McCollum moved to Hawthorne from Reno two years ago but is originally from Sri Lanka where she was into making the traditional candy as well as dabbling in other handicrafts. She grew up in Mount Lavinia and played piano at the famous Mount Lavinia hotel when she met her future husband who she moved with to Northern Nevada.

“[Along with making crafts] I was also a solo professional pianist. I played at the Mount Lavinia Hotel; I was born and raised in that neighborhood. It’s a famous seaside resort that was originally built as the Governor’s residence. But I guess the whole island is seaside,” she chuckles, reflecting back to the beautiful place where she was born.

It was playing piano and the hotel where she met her husband Jerris, who was an educational consultant from Iowa who happened to be out in Sri Lanka on a work trip. He would have dinner at the hotel when Chinta was playing piano and would often request songs. The couple soon fell in love, got married, and moved back to the U.S. Chinta had a brother who was a medical specialist living in Florida who sadly passed away this past January, but Chinta ended up on the opposite coast for Jerris’s work. After his next contract that took him to the Middle East was completed, Jarris started applying for jobs at schools in the U.S. and the Washoe County School District was the first that responded. In the early 2000s, Jerris became a music teacher at Elmcrest Elementary School in Reno.

Chinta volunteered at the school as well, and when she became eligible to attend college, she applied to Truckee Meadows Community College. It was there where she received her Associate of Arts (AA) and Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) degrees, and then went on to earn a BA degree from University of Nevada, Reno, and finally a Master of Science degree from Purdue University Global.

The McCollum’s lived in Reno for 18 years before getting priced out of the area, and fortunately found something more affordable in Hawthorne.

“Housing was getting too expensive in Reno and our rent kept going up. But Reno was the first place I moved to in the United States. I loved it there, it was all I knew,” Chinta says. She admits that she likes that Hawthorne is quiet and small and although that can come with its own set of challenges, Chinta continues to play piano and be involved with the Community Presbyterian Church, as well as go on walks, work on her handicrafts, and visits her 26-yearold daughter who still lives in Reno from time to time.

“I can’t complain,” she smiles, although she confesses that she misses Reno as well as Sri Lanka tremendously.

When asked what her favorite craft activity is between baking, jewelry-making, pottery, tie-dying, and creating watercolor artwork, Chinta replies, “I like to mix colors and see the outcome. I love working on handicrafts, making shell necklaces. I started playing the piano at the age of four and as a pianist I serve the church with my husband, and we have a choir there.”

In my opinion, Chinta is a jane-ofall-trades who has the education to back it all up, but specializes in delicious, one-of-a-kind candy that you can only find in Hawthorne, Nevada.

In her eyes, though, she says, “I did all of my degrees, but at the end of the day, I’m an artist.”

Chinta McCollum’s drawings and pottery are for sale at the Bizarre 101 gallery in Walker Lake. She is also a vendor at the free outdoor markets held every Saturday at the gallery.