From Trauma to Triumph 9

How Lyn Hiner’s Love of Art and Cars Helped Her Navigate Her Most Treacherous Journey

While many little kids are quizzed on the alphabet, when Lyn Hiner was growing up, her dad was quizzing her on a topic that was much faster paced. As he cruised his “earwax yellow” 1971 Porsche 912 through the streets of Santa Barbara, he was teaching his daughter all about driving a manual. “He’d be driving and say ‘All right. Shift,’” Lyn recalls. At the time, her dad rebuilt and raced cars. Not just cars. Porsches. And if you’re thinking “Porsche” has one syllable, you’re about to hit a road block. “My dad has drilled it into my head. It’s Por-shuh.” Lyn clearly remembers learning the sounds and the rhythm of the manual transmission. As her dad whizzed about town, he would ask his daughter, “What kind of car is that?” Lyn got so good at identifying cars that she could tell what kind of car was coming her way just by seeing the headlights. What she could not have seen coming way back then was a freak accident that would change the course of her life forever.

When young Lyn wasn’t brushing up on her car knowledge, she kept busy drawing and creating. Her father told her she had a gift. So, after high school graduation, it was off to art school in New York. But it was short-lived. After about a year, she chose to put her passion for pastels on hold and head back to the west coast. That decision ultimately allowed her to spend the final months of her mom’s life with her. She died of cancer in 1989. 

A couple years later, Lyn decides to head back to art school and while visiting the Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) in Laguna Beach, she goes on a job interview at one company but is drawn to another office. It was a publishing and trade show company called PRI. Lyn tells us, “There was a big black and white photo of Mario Andretti in an open-wheeled car on the wall.” PRI, by the way, stands for Performance Racing Industry! She told them she wanted to work there and three weeks later, she was a full-time employee. Her dad must have been thrilled, right? Wrong! When Lyn told him, he said, “Why aren’t you going back to art school? You should be doing art.” Shortly thereafter, a man named Rob gets hired at PRI and Lyn meets her future husband.

By 1993, the two racing industry professionals were married and getting settled in their San Clemente home. As Lyn excelled though the ranks at PRI, art school fell by the wayside. When she and Rob became parents to two daughters, the full-throttle role of motherhood took the lead for Lyn. Eventually, she taught art classes to kids at her house, but she herself stopped creating.

Then, one Saturday in May of 2012, Lyn and Rob take their two girls to a nearby beach for a picnic. Lyn and her daughters go hunting for interesting rocks and shells, just as Lyn did when she was little. Lyn was putting all their special finds in her shorts’ pocket. “We found a blue piece of sea glass, a couple of green, a clear and then I thought I found a piece of amber and you just don’t find amber at the beach.” The Hiner family went about their day and returned home a few hours later. Once inside, Lyn felt a pain in the top of her right leg. When she looked down, she realized that her shorts were on fire. She tried to put out the flames, but the fire wouldn’t stop. Lyn’s shorts kept burning until Rob took them off and ran them outside. Lyn recalls, “It was all together chaotic and crazy… The entire house was completely caked with smoke, smoke you couldn’t breathe in.”

But why would her shorts just ignite on their own? It made no sense, not even to the e.r. doctors. No one knew how hazardous and toxic the situation could be. What they did know is that Lyn received mostly third degree burns down her legs and hands.

Though it took about a month to determine the actual cause of the fire, it turns out that the “amber” rock Lyn put in her pocket was actually white phosphorus, a material commonly used by the military as smoke screens or to mark targets. White phosphorus remains neutral when it’s wet, “but once it dries out, once it has oxygen to breathe,” Lyn says, “that’s when it goes. And it doesn’t stop going until it burns out.” Lyn says that little rock had turned into phosphoric acid and heated up the other rocks in her pocket, “Each one had become its own little fire pistol, because the acid had wrapped its way around all those other rocks and started dripping onto them.”

Lyn spent 10 days in the hospital and had to endure a year of surgeries and occupational therapy. Then, literally one day before her final surgery was scheduled, she dislocated her left shoulder. The burns affected her right side and now her left shoulder was out of whack. She thought, “I can’t teach. I can’t do anything… I am a mess right now.” Lyn says she camped there for a little while in her “pity party” until her husband asked one night, “What do you want to do?” Their kids were getting older and they had notions of retiring early, but that would mean putting some money away. Lyn didn’t have an answer for Rob and asked him for a week to figure it out. A couple days later, she says the answer came to her, “I felt like I audibly heard God say ‘I gave you this gift. Why aren’t you painting?’” Lyn was confused. She thought, “I don’t paint.” Yet each day, it became more pronounced. She had God’s approval and her dad’s. Now, she needed to get the go-ahead from her husband. Once Lyn revealed her plan to Rob, she remembers her “sweet, level-headed husband” staring at her and saying, “But wouldn’t you be painting already?” A solid question. And an honest response from Lyn, “Therein lies the mystery, because nothing about it makes any sense.” Regardless, the sweet part of her husband agrees they’ll give it a year and see what happens. Of course, the level-headed side of him was thinking, “This is going to be our retirement plan?” 

Things were about to go Lyn’s way, because less than a week later, an acquaintance randomly tells Lyn that a relative wants to commission a painting. That job turned into five pieces and eventually leads to Lyn’s breakthrough, artistically and emotionally. Her “Beauty from Ashes” series grew from all she had gone through and now understood. Even with so much pain, there is still hope. During difficulty, there is still light. Though there are tears, there is still joy. That series of florals solidified her as a fine artist, but it wasn’t until 2017 when someone commissioned her to paint a car that she even tried it. Not just a car. A silver Porsche (por-shuh!). Though Lyn admits to having an early love affair with Porsches, it’s certainly not the only automobile she appreciates. “I LOVE cars. I love the design of cars. I love the beauty of cars. I feel like they are sculptural art on wheels.”   

Rob attributes Lyn’s successful crossover from the femininity of flowers to the masculinity of cars to her style and strong presentation, “There’s a boldness in her style, so when painting with a palette knife, the backgrounds tend to be very complex and deep and there’s a lot of texture.”

Lyn tells us, “I am a life-long lover of the automobile,” so painting cars for others to enjoy is very fulfilling. Rob, who still works at PRI, is excited that he and his wife can share their passion for car culture in a new way. And her dad loves that her career now combines cars AND art. Lyn and Rob’s daughters are now 18 and 16 and will soon be charting their own courses in life, likely gaining inspiration from Mom.

If that accident hadn’t happened, Lyn says she definitely wouldn’t be enjoying a successful career as a painter. “This was unknown. And when you kinda realize that life can be very short very quickly, you open yourself up to things that you wouldn’t otherwise open yourself up to.”

“I’ve long admired and appreciated my wife for who she is,” Rob says, “so it’s really neat to see that part of her, where she’s expressing who she really is outside and people can respond to that and appreciate it.”

As Lyn sits on her breezy patio where she paints most of her pieces, she appreciates the rocky road to realization and realism. “To be able to be in an industry I love, both for the cars and for the art, I am blessed. I am hugely blessed.”