An uncle’s handmade suit of armor, a stand of beloved fruit trees, a 5-foot-long snake named Bob; the list of what was lost in the Camp Fire continues to grow. Like grief, it evolves as time passes, adjusts as items are recovered and remembered. The aforementioned items are just a few of the things that artists have paid tribute to for Remembered: Art Honoring Loss from the Camp Fire, a collaborative, multimedia art exhibit opening this weekend at the 1078 Gallery.
Local artists Rebecca Shelley and Rebecca Wallace wanted to help those who lost so much to the wildfire, but at first they weren’t sure how. “I had to do something, but I didn’t have any financial means. I figured I could offer what I did have—my art skills,” Wallace said.
The two women are friends and colleagues. Shelley is an associate professor of art at Butte College, Wallace an adjunct fine art teacher at Yuba College. “Separately we each had our own kind of epiphany,” Shelley said. “We both wanted to create art for people based off of things that were lost.”
They decided to create a Facebook page for people to share their stories and then invited artists from all over the world to adopt one story and create a piece of art in tribute. More than 30 artists and survivors participated, with pieces being shipped in from as far away as Oslo, Norway.
Shelley delegated much of the responsibility for the planning and execution of the project to her gallery production class. “It was an amazing opportunity for students to connect directly with the community and learn the process of setting up a show,” she said. “They helped with everything from making the poster to connecting artists with volunteers to hanging the show and collecting the work. Without them, it couldn’t have happened.”
Many of the artists involved are strangers to the community, but all have been excited to contribute and grateful for the opportunity to help. “For me, as an artist, I wanted to create a visual for somebody, something they could hold onto and could connect with that they could no longer see,” Shelley said. “That’s how art can be really impactful—it can give a little bit of something to somebody who has lost everything.”
The response from survivors started slowly, as many people are still experiencing deep trauma. “I think this has taught me a little about the process of grief—that it takes a while for people to start filtering it,” Wallace said.
“The drawing that I did for one family was of trees in their front yard that they used to take photos in front of,” Shelley said. “The mom is so caring for her children, and her house in Paradise was something that she wanted to make such a happy place. I tried to re-create that for them.”
Wallace made a drawing of a man’s four cherished dogs lost in the fire. The process was difficult, she says, and she cried her way through it. “For me, I was drawn to people who had lost their pets. I felt so horrible.”
Each piece in the two-day show will be accompanied by the story that inspired it and the name of the artist. Donations are being accepted to help get the artwork to the participants after the show, as many of the survivors have relocated since the fire.
With the project coming to an end, Shelley said, “It’s been a lot of work, but I keep telling myself that this is bigger than me.”
“I can’t speak for victims,” Wallace added, “but as an artist I just wanted give survivors something meaningful to bring to their new home, to remind them of where they came from.”