With the heat of the embers still glowing from one of the worst wildfires in California history, it's difficult to imagine anything beautiful coming out of such destruction.
Artist and native Angeleno Joy Feuer grew up witnessing the ruin and constant threat of fires in her hometown, and in 2007, after leaving a career in the music industry and as fires raged from Central California down the coast to San Diego, she was inspired to form ART From the Ashes. The nonprofit organization, whose philosophy is "Making a Sense of Loss Through Art," takes its mission to help individuals, businesses and organizations affected by wildfires by transfiguring fire site debris into works of art.
This Saturday the group will hold its second exhibit and benefit art sale at The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which was devastated by the 2009 Jesusita Fire that burned more than 8,700 acres of land and destroyed 80 homes. A portion of the proceeds from the one-day exhibit will go to the 83-year-old garden to replace what was lost; 60 of its 78 acres and 9,800 plants were scorched along with several structures, including the century-old Gane House, which contained the horticulture center. Most of the garden has recovered, though some paths are closed and some sections will take years to recover.
"We lost all of our tools except for one shovel that was left intact," said Nancy Johnson, vice president of marketing and government relations for the gardens. "Our first priority is to replace all those tools."
After fire sites have been cleared and personal items removed, Feuer, along with a small group of staffers, digs through debris to salvage materials such as glass, metal, charred wood, burned leaves, rock, damaged sandstone and twisted bark and stores them in a warehouse. She then recruits artists who walk through and select the materials and pieces that resonate with their creative instincts. "It's intriguing to see what the artists leave with and what they come back with," said Feuer of the repurposing of raw materials that would have otherwise gone to a landfill.
Some 120 artists from across the West and South Korea donated more than 50 pieces of art that cover a wide spectrum of media, including paintings, photos, sculptures and jewelry.
L.A. based multimedia artist Karen Sikie crafted "Botanical Remembered," a 1/8 -inch engraved Lucite with acrylic paint, backed with paper mosaic made from burned pages from a botanical book. Laura Lynch fashioned a festive 10-foot-high sculpture in the shape of a watering can using the door from one of the burned-out vehicles as the base.
Jewelry designer Rachel Rose produced an entire jewelry line with metal from the fire site, and Evan Vieser mixed a glaze from actual ashes for artists to use for ceramics.
The inaugural exhibit of ART From the Ashes was held last November at the Pasadena home of Cisco Pinedo. When a warehouse owned by the L.A.-based furniture designer and owner of Cisco Home burned down, he contacted Feuer. Pinedo donated all proceeds from the exhibit to META (Making Education the Answer), which provides scholarships and mentorships to Hispanic youth.
"It's a very orchestrated effort," said Johnson of the strict guidelines and process. "All debris came solely from the garden and staff supervised the disbursement to the artists. Fire can be devastating, but this exhibit struck the right note with what we want to accomplish."
Visit www.santabarbarabotanicgarden.org or www.artfromtheashes.org.