Tuesday, February 20, 2024

INTERESTING FOLKS: Lydia Chiappini – The Llama Lady of Blairstown

Chiappini in front of her pre-1920s post and beam barn featuring her mural depicting her beloved llamas including the shaded one honoring one that has passed. Photo by D.L. Dunn, 8/2023

There is a peace that permeates a little corner of Geisler Road in Blairstown. It is where Heaven’s Gate Llama Farm is situated with an enviable view of the Kittatinny Ridge and proud, gentile llamas and chickens graze on the farmstead.

Lydia Chiappini and her mom pooled their resources to buy the farm and moved to town in 1994. They named the property Heaven’s Gate for its stunning view. The house was built in the 1920s and when invited inside, one can see many relics of lives well lived and be served delicious homemade iced tea.

Handmade, the sign is one of two of llamas. Photo by D.L. Dunn, 9/2023

With degrees in fine arts and biology, it was a given that Chiappini would be drawn to the tranquility of northwest New Jersey. Here, she could write her many Children’s books.

For a few years, she commuted to her old job as an art specialist for Elmwood Park Elementary until she began teaching fine arts studio and art history at several local community colleges including Warren County, Raritan Valley and Sussex County.

She is presently an adjunct professor of art history at Northampton Community College. One of her favorite accomplishments, she recently said, was hearing two of her college students debating the merits of two renown painters.

“We originally planned to have chickens and a garden but ended up with two llamas when we read about their fiber and how you go hiking with llamas and use them for cart driving,” she said. “Our herd began to grow and many babies were born and had their own babies.”

“Our first male llama, Claude, was killed by a bear in 1997,” she said. “But Thaddeus, his replacement, lived to be 25. Over the years, we averaged around 10 llamas at a time.”

Sadly, her mom passed in 2006 and she said she misses her every day but has continued their practice of naming all the animals after legendary or historical figures from literature.

Many of the original herd lived long, productive lives; however, she said she’s no longer breeding so she bought many younger ones in the past few years because she plans to keep llamas for as long as she is able to take care of them. She does have several dedicated helpers.

The main herd lives in a 40-foot barn that she said used to be the garage. The original barn is kept as summer quarters for primarily the male herd, and has many large fans operating on hot days. The former hay loft is her workshop and painting studio.

There’s an old post and beam barn across the street used for hay storage and winter housing for the males as well as the portable chicken coop.

Chiappini is a certified fiber artist and uses the llama fiber to craft wearable art such as wraps and sweaters, plus she incorporates it into her oil paintings. Preferring the varied color and added texture she gets processing her fiber by hand, she said the entire process is quite involved where the wool is washed, carded, spun and then woven, knitted or felted.

Her finished products are quite eye catching at local farmers’ fairs and art shows. They have remarkable depth and are known to be quite warm.

Heaven’s Gate Llama Farm products at the Blairstown Farmers’ Market. Photo by D.L. Dunn, 7/2023
Chiappini can often be seen carding her wool in her homemade “tent” on wheels some Saturdays at the Blairstown Farmers’ Market. Photo by D.L. Dunn, 7/2023
In 2021, she converted her vintage animal trailer into a “tiny house” portable studio to use at local shows and the Blairstown Farmers’ Market. Photo by D.L. Dunn, 7/2023

Through maybe mid-November, Chiappini will have Heaven’s Gate Llama Farm products at the Blairstown Farmers’ Market, Saturdays, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

She’s authored the following Children’s books:

  • The Llama Who Wished for Wings
  • Claude’s Wings and Vincent’s Toes, A Tale of Two Friends
  • Picotee the Polka Dotted Llama
  • Freesia’s Little Llama Farm
  • For the Love of Claude, Adventures of a Llama Homesteader
Desiree Dunn
Desi L. Dunn, Managing Editor
Managing Editor at Desiree L. Dunn, LLC

Born & educated in NY with an Environmental Science degree from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Desi's family resides in Hardwick with a young teen and several spoiled pets. Considering northwest Jersey to be a true gem, her commitment to the people and environs is exemplified by the many different jobs she's had - municipal & county official, election clerk, open space plan writer, newspaper & radio journalist, grant writer, events coordinator and farm market manager as well as retail, waitressing, archaeological digger and once for a short while in a very huge warehouse.

Her favorite was as a reporter for many years with the Recorder newspapers, Blairstown Press, Paulinskill Chronicle, Gannett publications plus WNTI Public Radio producing public affairs and human interest stories on-air.

She often has her camera ready to capture interesting people and events. She's thrilled to now serve as RVE's Managing Editor, helping fellow writers hone their skills and show you the issues as well as treasures that exist in North Warren, through their eyes.