When Chyna Wheatley was crowned Miss Sugar Land 2014, she wore a luminous, asymmetrical, beaded gown with chandelier earrings, and a winning smile. Winning doesn’t always come on the first try, though. Wheatley’s success was the culmination of experience and perseverance from entering six competitions prior. “It was exciting to win, and the previous pageants prepared me to compete,” Wheatley says. Winning Miss Sugar Land has qualified Wheatley to vie for Miss Texas and Miss America.
Although pageant entrants are gorgeous, they are also well-rounded. They show off their fitness and their talent; they stun in a gown and stand on platforms. Wheatley’s talent is art, painting on stage and creating images that reflect her faith in overcoming odds. This led to the creation of Heal and Encourage through Art Rehabilitation Therapy (H.E.A.R.T.) or Hands to H.E.A.R.T. Wheatley explains her aim, “Art has a greater purpose, and I am called to raise awareness for domestic violence.”
Wheatley’s art was self-taught, until winning acceptance to Mississippi School of the Arts. Her family is rife with athletes, but her grandmother, an avid gardener, taught 8-year-old Wheatley how to draw a flower, blooming from a pot, on an Etch-a-Sketch. The child practiced until she could do it perfectly. Then, she drew it on paper, painted it, and gifted it to her grandma. “That first picture is a metaphor for the grounding and growth required to sprout no matter the circumstances,” Wheatley says. This same determination drives her art therapy.
Wheatley moved to Sugar Land to be near family and attend the Art Institute of Houston. She graduates in December and is pursuing a degree in Interior Design. She wants to meld art and design to develop recovery shelters for those abused both mentally and physically.
While at the Institute, Wheatley has played up her focus on domestic violence and art. Setting up an easel in the lobby, she invites people to place their painted hands on a blank canvas, which creates a natural exhibit. “These canvases have often become the background for other performance art,” Wheatley says. “In this way, so many people have participated in portraying this art and creating awareness.”
Both interactive and performance art has helped her introduce a difficult topic at churches, conferences, schools, and charity events. Afterward, Wheatley talks about the psychological, emotional, and financial circumstances the abused face and offers helpful literature. She works in conjunction with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Texas Council on Family Violence. Wheatley must address groups, ranging from pre-school to high school. Art is also a way to tailor her message to these diverse audiences.
Events draw interest to her platform, and Wheatley is engaged in a growing number: Court Appointed Special Advocates for children; Houston Area Women’s Center, adding the Fort Bend location in coming months; Sugar Land Christmas Tree Lighting; 12 Days of Christmas, which helps families dealing with loss; the Sugar Land Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, a mentorship program for middle and high school students; plus Lunches of Love 5K. One week after being crowned Miss Sugar Land, Wheatley ran the race with her crown perched on her head as an attention-getter, bringing awareness to her cause.
Wheatley also holds the Clothesline Project, held by Wheatley, which is open to the public, but geared to abuse victims. Wheatley stresses those suffering are learning to be victors. Blank T-shirts and paints were made available to create a message on domestic violence. “These were hung on the clothesline to dry with the idea to ‘air your laundry,’” Wheatley says. In a children’s workshop, she led participants in a team building, self-esteem exercise. The children had to work together to draw their bodies on paper as they saw themselves in 10 years. Wheatley says, “The message is: Reach your dreams and goals. Don’t settle for situations related to domestic violence.”
Reigning Good Things
In the coming year, the pageant winner hopes to use her reign and public appearances to shine a brighter light on this cause while expanding her personal venture, making Hands to H.E.A.R.T. a non-profit. On her website she shares, “In my work, there are words – Words that make up sentences – Sentences that form paragraphs – Paragraphs that shape stories. These are stories of my life and others around me. Art is powerful, and I’d rather it speak for itself.” SLM