She was Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff. Now she’s the proud proprietor of a stained-glass art studio. Joby Shimomura talks politics, art, and how to have multiple careers.
The hour drive from Seattle to Olympia can be a stress-maker — not for the traffic, but for the talk-radio that accompanies it. The Trump-Clinton clash of the day. The backwash from the debates. The dirty road to Nov. 8.
One step into Joby Shimomura’s glass studio, though, and it’s forgotten.
There is light here. Color and creativity — just blocks from the state Capitol where, until last fall, Shimomura spent her days as Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff.
Shimomura, 44, is now the proud proprietor of Joby Glass, a storefront studio where she designs and assembles stained-glass art.
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“I asked myself, ‘What do I really love to do? What can I get really excited about?’ ” Shimomura said the other day. “I was just listening to my gut.”
Hers is one of the more head-turning political departures in recent memory, for Shimomura went from a world of polls and policy, speeches and strategy to one of sketching and slicing and waiting on results — these from a kiln.
“It is embedded in me,” she said of her passion for politics and art. “It’s where I come from.”
Her father is Roger Shimomura, a Seattle native and celebrated contemporary artist whose work is part of the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others, and whose public art is in the Metro tunnel at Westlake Center, the Othello Light Rail Station and McCaw Hall.
Her mother, Bea Kiyohara, was the vice president of student development at Seattle Central College and the artistic director of the Northwest Asian American Theater.
After her parents divorced, Shimomura and her two siblings were raised in Seattle by their mother, who filled the house with artists, educators and community activists.
Shimomura became a civic and political animal in middle school, when she joined a friend on a city-sponsored program called KidsBoard. The program was then-Mayor Charlie Royer’s effort to get young people involved in civic life.
“I became completely immersed in this world,” Shimomura said.
She unsuccessfully lobbied for lower bus fares for young people, helped defeat a teen curfew and established a confidential and free telephone crisis line. She even juried talent at Bumbershoot.
“All the while, I was creative,” she said. She drew and painted and made her own clothes.
“Pants that I actually wore to school,” she said with a laugh. “But it kind of seeped out of me in high school. And I got sucked into the political world.”
After graduating from Ingraham High School, and after she didn’t get into Georgetown University, Shimomura moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for Congressman John Miller — a Republican.
“I was conflicted, but I took the job and it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said. “It broke down stereotypes for me. It was a nonpartisan, collaborative delegation.”
When Miller chose not to run for re-election in 1992, Shimomura returned to Seattle and worked on various campaigns, including Tina Podlodowski’s race for Seattle City Council in 1995.
At Podlodowski’s inauguration party, she met Inslee, a fellow Ingraham High graduate who was considering a run for governor.
“I picked the right people to partner with,” she said of Inslee and his wife, Trudi. She helped get Inslee into the Governor’s Office and stayed for three years — the last two as chief of staff — before resigning.
“I was fantasizing about being in this different life,” she said. “I wanted to be in this creative space full-time again.
“I miss the people,” she added. “But when you’re done, you’re so done.”
Her studio on Fifth Avenue in Olympia is next to a tattoo shop and below a chocolatier’s workshop. It is her community now.
She draws her designs on graph paper, traces the design onto a piece of glass with a Sharpie, then cuts the glass with a knife. She solders the pieces together with lead or copper foil.
“Sometimes the breaks are magical,” she said, “and so it’s really gratifying to be open to that.”
Her first commission was for former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and his wife, Sharon. Shimomura made a stained-glass window for their remodeled kitchen.
“I was terrified,” she said.
Her style is clean; lots of clear panels for the light to pass through. Tiger lilies. A ginkgo leaf that stretches out of the frame. A dulcimer and a guitar for the door of a musician’s studio.
Politics rage on just outside her studio door, which is fine with Shimomura.
“Now, I am paying attention, but I am not a junkie,” she said. “I feel optimistic about this state and where it’s going.”
As for the race for president?
“Naturally, it’s terrifying,” Shimomura said. “But we have to recognize that there is a large part of the country that feels disenfranchised. Insecure. Afraid of their place.
“And I don’t just think it’s (Donald) Trump supporters,” she continued. “There’s a segment that wants greater progressive change.”
The campaign veteran was hesitant to say what she would do for either of the presidential candidates.
“I don’t even know where to start,” she said. “Even giving advice is something I can’t even verbalize.”
The tenor of this presidential race, though, makes her sad.
“It is a real turnoff for me, who has been in politics,” she said. “I can’t imagine how it feels for somebody who hasn’t been so embedded in it. I can see why — if it wasn’t as entertaining — why some people would want to shut it all out.”
She listened to the first presidential debate in her studio. The barbs and the jabs. She doesn’t miss politics at all — especially since the nonpartisanship she remembers is gone.
In that sense, Shimomura is happy to be living and working on the other side of her heart.
“We can have multiple careers,” she said. “We don’t have to do the same thing for the rest of our lives.”