It was my honor many years ago to meet Thomas Chen when we both served on the board of the Queens Museum. Over the years I’ve learned what a visionary he is, besides being an extraordinarily successful businessman, husband, father and philanthropist.
Our lives have been connecting in many ways — from his inviting me to visit China, to honoring my dearest friend Claire Shulman by commissioning a sculptor to create a statue of her in the mid-Hudson region of upstate New York.
Last Saturday, Claire and I took a drive to Thomas’ Crystal Park, a unique private nature retreat and outdoor art sculpture gardens on his mountainous lakeside property.
I asked him, “How did you find this place miles from the main roads hidden away in the woods?”
And I was touched by his answer.
“First, it’s only 60 miles from my home in Queens and it reminded me of where I grew up on a farm in Taiwan with mountains and lakes,” he said.
He is a sentimental man, finding ways to reminisce about his home and his roots. He even named the lake on his property for his mom and dad.
Thomas grew up in rural Taiwan, but left his home for the United States, having friends in Queens. His first job was in a garage making metal window guards, but within a few years he expanded his metal works by fabricating windows.
During the mid ‘80s, he acquired property in College Point as part of the redevelopment along the Whitestone Expressway. Today, Crystal Windows employs 700 people in factories around the country, with 500 people in the expanded Queens location.
But Crystal Windows is more than just a factory — it has its own art gallery and the involvement by Thomas in cultural and philanthropic activities.
I asked Thomas how he began collecting art and he said he started collecting old windows and never stopped!
I find his friendship is bottomless. He’s admired and appreciates all Claire Shulman has given to Queens, a true public servant who put more shovels in the ground creating countless public works.
With his love of encouraging artists by commissioning their work, he decided he wanted to honor Claire with a sculpture of her and have it installed at his private retreat.
Being a gentleman, he invited us to meet him first to have lunch and then to follow him through the winding roads to his property.
As we pulled up to Thomas’ Crystal Park, his public relations guru Bob Nyman and his wife Carole explained that the metal gates opening onto the grounds are a cutout of the map of Taiwan.
Claire’s sculpture site is part of where a collection of Notable Persons like her will be located overlooking the 12-acre lake where boats and canoes will allow for fishing and rowing. We heard the ducks and geese squawking away as we took a bump ride around the property in a four-wheeler!
Lucky for us, the sun shone brightly and glistened off the lake and we delighted in seeing the ducks, chickens and peacocks in cages and horseback riders enjoying the grounds.
Further adding to our fantastic day, Thomas’ friend Chloe Sun brought her artist friend Howard — whose Chinese name is Qiu Zi Hao — who shared several of his works with us, including artwork that has an app that plays music as your phone travels over the canvas. Remarkable!
The day is one both Claire and I will cherish and remember forever!