BY GARY IWAMOTO
Special to the Examiner
After close to 20 years of being on the partisan political frontlines, Joby Shimomura was burned out, a political junkie who had overdosed on doing things to get her candidates elected and re-elected. It was time for Joby to spend some time on herself for a change – something challenging, something creative, and most importantly, something fun. So, whatever happened to Joby Shimomura? Well, today Joby Shimomura is a craftswoman specializing in the art of contemporary stained glass.
Fueled by the social-justice activism of her mother, actress and educator Bea Kiyohara, Joby made a career of being a political activist. As a youth, she wasn’t afraid to try something different, to do what others of her age and gender weren’t expected to do. When Joby was 12, she was one of three girls on a flag football team, darting between bigger and heavier boys, helping her Jefferson Park Community Center team to a community center championship. When Joby was 15 years old, she led other teens in a demonstration outside the King County Council for lower bus fares.
At the age of 16, Joby joined Kidsboard, a youth leadership group whose purpose was to give advice to adults. She organized kids to defeat a proposed curfew ordinance which was being considered by the city council. She organized a Teen Convention which brought hundreds of teens together to discuss teen violence. She volunteered on the Teen Outline and listened to the problems of other teens – drugs, depression, pregnancy, family problems. She testified at congressional hearings about the need for youth participation in the political process. She was even featured on the “Today Show,” discussing teen issues with then Congressman Joseph Kennedy.
As a young adult, Joby Shimomura immersed herself in politics. She worked for then Mayor Norm Rice. Joby volunteered for, then managed several political campaigns. In 1994, she managed Kip Tokuda’s successful campaign for the state Legislature. In 1995, she managed a successful Seattle Schools Levy campaign, a levy which had failed on three prior occasions. In 1996, she managed Tina Podlodowski’s successful campaign for the Seattle City Council. Her political savvy caught the eye of the state Democratic Party and in 1997, Joby became its political director. In 1998, she was called upon to manage Jay Inslee’s successful run for U.S. representative. She became chief of staff for Inslee, a position she held for seven years. And then in 2005, Joby Shimomura left the political arena. She didn’t have a job, didn’t want a job, and decided to face the uncertainties of her future head on.
Even while working as Inslee’s chief of staff, Joby felt that there was something missing in her life. She wanted an outlet to be creative. Joby’s father is the well known artist Roger Shimomura. The artistic genes have always been a part of Joby. When Joby was eight years old, she decided to have her own solo art show. She had made some drawings, put them in saran wrap for protection, and hammered nails into plywood to hang her drawings, then waited patiently in her backyard for people to come. Nobody came. It then dawned on her that nobody came because nobody knew about her art show. So Joby organized the neighborhood kids and they went door to door in the neighborhood selling her drawings. It’s a vivid reminder of what she faces today as the “struggling artist” she has now become.
After some thought, Joby narrowed her creative choices to photography and stained-glass art. As luck or circumstance would have it, the Covenant Store in Everett was offering a six-week course in stained glass. Joby had held a fascination with stained glass from an early age so she signed up for the class and dutifully attended each class while continuing her responsibilities as Inslee’s chief of staff.
Today, Joby goes to work without the need for a calendar and appointment book. She has her own studio, in Pioneer Square, of course. She spends her time designing glass, cutting glass, and thinking of creative ways to express her liberated creativity. When asked to describe her style, Joby said that she creates “by a sense of feel” – creative instincts are probably best described as intuitive.
Like many struggling artists, Joby’s biggest obstacle now is getting the word out about her work. She organizes Arts Walks to her studio to showcase her work. She has a network of friends, colleagues and family who have loyally supported her work. And given her background in running someone’s political campaign, she’ll be successful in getting the word out about her artwork. As she explained, there’s more to stained-glass art than a few pieces of glass. Give her an hour and she’ll tell you how.