CHESTER — Wires run from artist Cindy Chinn's small control room like strings of spaghetti, connecting with thousands of Christmas lights on the front of the old school building and schoolyard.

The setup looks as complex as the inner works of a computer, and Chinn has painted a makeshift diagram on one wall to track the lights for 32 school windows and two doorways. She programs the lighting sequence — white, blue, red or green — on a nearby computer.

"Every window is wired into this room," she says.

Chinn's "Christmas in Chester Light & Sound Show," now in its sixth year, uses more than 30,000 LED lights and 4,000 feet of wire and includes a 22-foot-tall Christmas tree, two giant nutcrackers, a snowman nicknamed Chester, a herd of tiny reindeer and an inflatable helicopter.

Chinn and business partner Art Whitton found the old Thayer Central Middle School on eBay, bought it for $100,000 and moved to Nebraska from Las Vegas.

The investment has been well worth it, she said. The 33,000-square-foot building, which was already wired for Internet, serves as an art studio, living quarters and playground. The gym floor is ideal for laying out murals.

Chinn has no regrets about leaving the bright lights of Vegas for Chester, a town of about 230 people a stone's throw from the Nebraska-Kansas border.

She went back to paint a mural recently and discovered most of her friends were gone and she couldn't stand the traffic.

"I just didn't care about being there. This is my home. I love the space in the building and I like Nebraska, too."

When she's not in Chester painting, Chinn is on the road. She drove to Norfolk, Va., Thanksgiving week to install a commissioned mural on a ceiling at The Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters.

A winter storm on the East Coast delayed her trip home, so she got started on her Christmas light show late this year. Typically, it takes two days to set up, but she had it ready for the Dec. 1 opening.

"I don't know how I did it. It was just like magic. I'm glad it happened," she said.

She added more lights to the Christmas tree this year for a total of 5,600 and added two inflatable nutcrackers as "security guards."

Chinn said the annual show is their contribution to the people of Chester and nearby towns, who have supported her work over the years. Once, she said, 125 people showed up for one of her art openings.

"It is a big draw for a lot of people," Chinn said of the annual light and sound show. "It brings a lot of people into town."

Village Clerk Judy Smith said she sees vehicles there when she drives by in the evening, and busloads of retirement home residents from Deshler visit on occasion.

"I know me and my neighbor lady go every year. It's a nice thing to watch. It's pretty," said Smith.

Visitors let Chinn know if a light isn't working, and they also show gratitude.

"I've had people in the store hand me money," she said. "It's fun."

The light show runs nightly from 6 to 10. People are encouraged to park in front of the school and tune their radios in to Christmas music on 90.7 FM.

No need to worry about parking.

"I wish we had traffic jams at the donation box but we don't," Chinn said. "I just hope we get enough to cover the electricity."

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Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.


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