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Art in the Family

Three Generations of Talent



Elisa Khachian, granddaughter Christine Quinn, and daughter Nancy Quinn near Khachian’s pictures of family and one from her “Aprons” series.

Photos Stan Godlewski

When Christine Quinn was a youngster, like most little kids, she would draw pictures and then proudly present them to her grandmother, Elisa Khachian. Unlike other grandmas, Khachian would offer a loving yet detailed critique of her granddaughter’s work and then send her back to the drawing board. This is what happens when your grandmother is a celebrated and prolific artist of multi-media work—including drawing, watercolor, collage, and printmaking. A Fairfield resident since 1960, Khachian has over 1,000 pieces in her portfolio, several shows and exhibitions behind her, and more planned for the future. 

Growing up in Worcester, as a first generation American and the daughter of 1915 Armenian Genocide survivors, Khachian poured her thoughts, dreams, ideas, and emotions into her art. From a young age she was always creating, painting, and drawing. “My art—every piece I create—is telling a story from my life,” she explains.

The Khachian household was filled with creative types. Her mother, aunt, and grandmother were adept at such handiwork as sewing lace and needlepoint. “Something artistic and interesting was always going on around me,” explains Khachian. Her father was

a hard-working immigrant and ran a successful rug import business, Tufenkjian & Co., while in his spare time tending his rose garden and listening to classical music. 

“My biggest influence was my high school art teacher who told me I had to go to RISD,” says Khachian, referring to the Rhode Island School of Design. Without him, the parents—whose English was minimal—would have had difficulty enrolling their daughter in college, explains Nancy Quinn, one of Elisa’s four children. “My mom was awarded a four-year scholarship to RISD and the only one in her family to attend college,” explains Nancy Quinn, one of Elisa’s four children, who lives nearby. 

Providence, Rhode Island—where RISD is based—proved to be a serendipitous place in more ways than one. Khachain met her husband there. “He was also Armenian, on scholarship to Brown University, and the two met on a blind date,” explains Quinn. After marrying they settled in Norwalk and had four children. 

Nancy, who has always been close to her mother, pursued her own artistic path. “My mom would feed us craft projects as kids and I especially enjoyed working with my hands. I’ve always loved to make things,” she says. When her children were small she needed a creative outlet and began sewing—which after years of lessons led to a custom-sewing business.

After 20 years, Quinn decided to take a break from design and now uses her creative talents as the Special Events Coordinator for the Fairfield University Bookstore. “For the past five years I’ve had the opportunity to work with University faculty, staff, and students, local town officials, artists, authors, musicians, and more. “Each new event is another opportunity to innovate and create,” she says.

Not surprisingly, Christine Quinn—that little girl eager for her grandma’s artistic feedback—grew up to follow in her mentor’s footsteps. Her own application to RISD included a drawing of a bicycle that was so fine the admissions committee remarked on her exceptional talent.

Post-RISD, Quinn received her MFA in computer art and animation from NYC’s School of Visual Arts. She was hired by Blue Sky Studios in Greenwich and worked on the final stages of the movie, Ice Age: Collision Course. “My ultimate dream would be to create my own graphic novel and then see it up on the big screen,” she says. Right now she works in the digital arts department of NBC Universal. Her bedroom is decorated with shadow boxes filled with butterflies and other flora and fauna that catch her eye.

Every inch of the Quinns’ charming home is filled with artwork.“We are truly surrounded by our family’s history,” remarks Christine. “And it’s a wonderful thing.”

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