Living Life Well
Chuck Gillet: A most remarkable man
By Jim Shere
Chuck Gillet lived in the very heart of our community for nearly half a century, gradually filling his abundant, untamed garden there with a multitude of iron constructions from the forge he called the birthing zone, at the back of his property — as well as from his restless mind, and from his dedicated heart. Glen Ellen has had more than its share of remarkable people, and Chuck was one of them. He died quietly this past month, surrounded by the evidence of a productive life in the home he had christened “Brazen Estates,” about which he once wrote: “Some have wondered what the heck is going on here next to the Garden Court Cafe, across the street from the Glen Ellen Star Restaurant. Well, you’d be looking at a twotowered, habitable work of art. Known to many as “Brazen Estates,” it comes complete with two mobile art cars, the delicately ornate Crested Hatchling [an embroidered VW Squareback] and the intricately formidable Iron Ark [an enhanced Ford F-150 pickup]. Ruling over the estate with his Queen Aleta is Lord Brazen, who reigns restlessly over his realm of rust. By raising up the towers, with all their accompanying touches, Lord B has hoped to add a little extra spice to the rustic Glen Ellen ambience (may we never lose it!). His subjects are a shamanic-totemic clan of crafty, occasionally crazed creatures. Fortunately for his neighbors, they are held firmly at bay by the weathered but still upright Funky Fence, an unyielding phalanx of mutant pricklies, and the labyrinthine totality of the dense jungle wherein they dwell.”
Chuck never thought about himself too much, nor about the things he had done, but he trusted his instinct about them and followed its bidding with the intentionality of a man who pays close attention to the needs of the moment, and of his community. There was an infectious humor in the way he generously shared his passions with anyone who would accompany him — and he welcomed their company with warmth and delight, wanting nothing in return except their companionship. He was absolutely thorough in everything that he did, and inordinately pleased with whatever happened to take place as a result.
Chuck grew up in San Francisco and on the peninsula, where he attended Sequoia High School in Redwood City. After graduation he was accepted at Yale and Stanford, and he chose nearby Stanford to study history and international affairs. Planning to become a Lutheran minister, he went on to Union Theological Seminary in New York City, but while there Chuck began questioning the very existence of God, recognizing instead the presence of divinity everywhere. Still he remained and graduated but, finding gratification in his work as a community organizer with Black and Puerto Rican communities in East Harlem, he chose not to ordain.
During a summer break from his studies, Chuck returned to California to join Mexican-American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez in the Delano grape strike. This galvanized his sense of social purpose, and after graduating from seminary he entered law school. Upon graduation from Boalt Hall in Berkeley, he received a year-long fellowship representing coal miners seeking justice in Kentucky. It was there that he first discovered another, more tangible avenue for finding divinity within things — the folk art of brazed and welded metal sculpture.
Returning to California, Chuck worked for Legal Aid in Redwood City and learned to speak fluent Spanish in order to help serve the Latino community there. In time he became a federal attorney in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He had by now moved to Glen Ellen to continue his community work, becoming active in committees of the Glen Ellen Forum and brandishing his infectious humor, as with the “Glen Alien” theme that he originated. Entering the new millennium proved a significant threshold for Chuck to cross. “In early May of 2000,” he later wrote, “I at last fulfilled my long-held fantasy to dwell in the midst of the exotic labyrinthine jungle creation known as ‘Las Pozas’ (in Spanish, “the pools”) at Xilitla in northeastern Mexico.” This amazingly surrealistic landscape inspired him to continue gathering sculptures within the lush garden and gallery of his home. He retired after a successful career in government work with an eagerness to devote more time to his art, and to the idiosyncratic world he called Brazen Enterprises. This included his Bizarre Tours to extraordinary places in the world, and his ever deepening interest in the significance of the Hindu gods and Tibetan Buddhism.
Chuck had an astonishing relationship with wildlife as well, and wrote several short stories about his encounters in the jungle of his garden, or during his frequent exhilarating runs up mountainsides, with owls, ravens, swallows, pronghorns, skunks — and a formidable brown recluse spider. Like a modern-day Aesop, the animals were significant presences with messages for him, much like the unseen phantoms that hovered and lurked in the jungle of his garden, urging him to bring them into being out of parts of discarded machinery and the household remnants of wildfires.
His constant acknowledgment of, respect for, and willingness to learn from the presence of life beyond the visible made him a witness to the invisible forces of energy that drive all of reality, within each one of us and within the community, within everything that we know, and everything beyond. Much more than a witness to these things, Chuck was a good companion, and an excellent guide.
Jim Shere is a psychotherapist practicing in a cabin on Sonoma Creek at Jack London Village in Glen Ellen. He is a member of the Glen Ellen Writers Circle, www.glenellenwriters. com, and has a website at www.jimshere. com. You can email him at [email protected]