Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by H. B. Qin
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Philanthropist Pin-Jen Chen was a lifelong collector of fine art from East Asia, and cared deeply for the timeless pieces made by the hands of those who truly loved their craft. In 1970, Pin-Jen and his wife, Lynda, left Taiwan for the United States, and in 1999, after Taiwan’s tragic 921 earthquake, Lynda devoted her time toward helping fundraise for Tzu Chi’s disaster relief efforts. This act of selflessness and compassion created many lasting friendships, indeed.
In 2004, Lynda was diagnosed with a long-term illness, and Tzu Chi volunteers vowed to forever stay by her side, offering their love and companionship throughout it all. The sincere mutual love and care moved Pin-Jen and Lynda’s eldest son, Charles Chen. After his parents’ passing, he wished to pay this love forward by graciously donating the cherished art collection to Tzu Chi in the hopes of continuing the cycle of love.
On July 3rd, Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region will hold the grand opening event for a special charity art sale. Individuals will have the chance to explore the collection and bid on seven featured pieces. Proceeds will be devoted to the charity missions fueled by Tzu Chi New York.
Behind the Scenes
Tzu Chi volunteers in New York organized nearly 2,000 pieces of artwork, photographing and measuring the dimensions of each with the utmost care. The warehouse where they’d been stored had been transformed into a temporary photography studio — one team of volunteers arranging the lighting and setting up cameras, while others diligently recorded item details. Each piece of art was numbered and packaged, and a catalog was produced accordingly.
The winter of 2021 was unexpectedly cold, with the heaviest recorded snowfall in five years. But the passion of Tzu Chi volunteers brought their own warmth to the warehouse: “What we did with the 2,000 pieces of donated artwork was unpacking, cleaning, taking photos, and finally, creating a file with numbers and prices for the easy creation of a booklet for sale later on.” Min Liang Chang led this fundraising event with Chih Rong Tang as his deputy.
Jhong Sing Ling took the photographs, while volunteers Jin Huei Liu, Dian Wei Chang, and Chu Lai Chen set up the photo booth, helped move the art pieces, and acted as the lighting technicians. Jhong Sing Ling, who was responsible for the intricate post-production and retouching processes, said, “If you make a mistake in the numbering and archiving, you may have to start all over again, so it’s a lot of pressure. But I enjoyed working with the team every week; such hardship is nothing.”
Due to weather conditions, the warehouse occasionally lacked heating, and other team members were concerned for their fellow volunteer, Chu Lai Chen, due to his age. Chu Lai Chen nevertheless reassured them with a smile, remarking upon the joy he received through teamwork. “With you guys around, I’m steaming hot,” he joked, and indeed, whenever Chu Lai Chen speaks, he always strives to bring laughter into the room.
Jack Chen, a staff member from the General Affairs Department at Tzu Chi’s Northeast Region, was pleased to keep them company as well. “They are willing to take on the challenge, and I am really grateful. I just do my part with the little things, offering hot water and making sure lunch is delivered. In the past, I took on the general services at the branch together with Jia Tsong Chen, leading this group of volunteers when they used to follow our management. But this time, they planned and took the lead themselves, and there’s a sensation of inheritance that’s touching.”
The only member of their team absent from the scene was Jia Tsong Chen, whom everyone shared concern for as well: “Even with his health condition, he sometimes buys bread and coffee and brings it to the warehouse. Although we are likely to be lighthearted, we’re actually very concerned about our brother’s condition,” Min Liang Chang echoed the thoughts of all. Facing illness, Jia Tsong Chen had stayed at home last year to recuperate, but he still does everything he can to help his dear friends. “We witnessed Jack Chen and Jia Tsong Chen volunteer from their young age to their senior years,” said Min Liang Chang. “We must undertake these tasks and then pass them on, and inspire more young volunteers.”
And in the hearts of these volunteers, the steadfast spirits of Jack Chen and Jia Tsong Chen are indeed models they’ve long looked up to and honored.
Background Information of the Works
It was more than ten years ago that Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region received the precious gift of nearly 2,000 pieces of artwork, each with a touching story behind it.
Pin-Jen Chen and Lynda had immigrated to New York from Taiwan in the 1970s, the couple soon opening a laundromat and finding comfort together. They had also known Tzu Chi volunteer Jing Jhih Syu for many years. Lynda and Jing Jhih Syu joined Tzu Chi New York’s choir, and raised funds for the 921 Earthquake. After Lynda faced a cancer diagnosis and began to undergo chemotherapy, Jing Jhih Syu went to the Chen family’s home almost every day after work to care for Lynda and keep her dear friend company. Then, in 2007, Pin-Jen Chen suddenly passed away, marking a profoundly difficult time for the family. Two years after the passing of her beloved husband, Lynda passed away as well.
Charles Chen, the eldest son of the family, expressed that his mother wished all of his father’s collection to be donated to Tzu Chi. And so, Charles contacted Tzu Chi Northeast, hoping that Tzu Chi would accept the art pieces as a gift for the companionship and care they provided.
In 2007, Tzu Chi volunteers Jack Chen and Jia Tsong Chen visited the family to receive the donation. Because of the quantity and their delicate nature, they were worried about possible collisions during transportation, and carried out the packing with extreme care. “It took us more than two weeks to organize and place them in the warehouse. This is the love of Mr. Chen, and should be preserved with extra care,” the volunteers had said as they carefully sorted the collection into categories.
Over the years, the volunteers have regularly maintained these cherished works, and will finally be able to hold a fundraiser featuring them on the 30th anniversary of the founding of Tzu Chi USA’s Northeast Region. “Because of the pandemic, we turned the fundraiser into an online event, presenting the 2,000 artworks in the form of a catalog. We were set to showcase the best presentation; we took photos while checking if the items were damaged, which took a lot of time,” explained Jin Sheng Liou, the volunteer in charge of the fundraiser. Tzu Chi volunteers in New York, Min Liang Chang, Chih Rong Tang, Jhong Sing Ling, Jin Huei Liu, Dian Wei Chang, and Chu Lai Chen, went to the warehouse every Sunday for three months to organize the artworks and take pictures of them, one-by-one. Indeed, these artworks have united many hearts across the years, and this event will help support volunteers as they continue to serve the community with love.