written by Haley Martin | photos by Talia Galvin
I was born in Vietnam and came to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War. During my childhood, we had lantern festivals at the end of the Lunar New Year. The lanterns were crafted in the shapes of zodiac signs and the animal of the year. Some were very basic lanterns with candles in them.
Years later, I started making paper and experimenting with shapes. Eventually I wanted to see what the paper looked like behind light, so I started resurfacing old lamp shades with paper that I’d made—painting and waxing them and playing with different textures. My wife, Kestrel, joined me in our business Hiih Lights (pronounced hi hi) in 2005, and she now does all the painting of the lights. I had to wrangle her in a bit, but it didn’t take long!
We moved to Astoria two-and-a-half years ago. We had been looking for a place somewhere in Oregon that was more rural than Portland, where we had been living. When we first came to Astoria, we fell in love with the friendliness of the people we met, the small-town feeling and the beauty. It’s comforting to know that our children are also growing up in a beautiful place with a solid community.
For Kestrel, it felt like home right away because she was born in Gold Beach, on the southern Oregon Coast, and spent the second half of her childhood in Ashland. She thinks Astoria has elements of both of her beloved places.
About 38,000 people live in Clatsop County, with just over 9,500 in Astoria—the oldest city west of the Rockies. People have been here for generations, but it’s also changing. There’s a creative movement. People are opening more restaurants, store-fronts and galleries.
With the farming, fishing and hunting, there’s a sense of food abundance, which is wonderful. We love being part of a culture that’s so rooted in the earth. People want to be a part of the process, whether it’s going hunting or growing vegetables and sharing with others. I am still blown away by the generosity of our neighbors and the local commitment to community service. People aren’t just nice, they take the time to be good to one another. We are finding this in the art community as well.
There’s a slower pace of life here, and it’s made its way into our process. Our work is becoming more intricate and detailed. We’re fortunate to have a huge barn to work with. Our studio in Portland was less than 300 square feet, and now we have 2,000 square feet for a studio and showroom. This has allowed our work to become much larger. I am teaching papermaking classes, and every season we’re bringing in fellow artists. We want to be a destination for people outside of Astoria and also be a resource to bring culture to town.