Article by Grace Woelbing | for the Ukiah Daily Journal
Art holds great emotional power within it and has a healing process connected to it. With the anniversary of the Redwood Complex Fire coming up, the past months have been filled with creative expression of the tragic loss that occurred in 2017. Elizabeth Raybee, a local artist, has been managing and taking part in a mosaic project along with fire survivors of the Complex Fire.
Photo: Elizabeth Raybee, a local artist, has been managing and taking part in a mosaic project along with fire survivors of the Complex Fire. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)
“During the fires last year, I had seen several friends who had lost their homes. They had gone back to their properties and brought back broken things, bringing up the idea of creating a mosaic out of the broken and burnt pieces that were left,” says Raybee.
She mentions that her original idea for the project solely included her lending out her studio since she felt her involvement with the fires wasn’t as intense as others, but after receiving a call from the Mendocino Ceramics Association, Raybee decided to bring her passion and experience with mosaics to the project.
Following an agreement to lead the Art from the Ashes Redwood Complex Fire Mosaic and after applying for project funding, the first step for Raybee was to set up two-weekend workshops that were free to anyone who had lost their homes. The participants were asked voluntarily to bring materials that were left over from their homes and properties, but when the number of remains wasn’t enough for a complete mosaic, Raybee offered to use tiles from her studio for part of the piece.
She developed the design of the mosaic, along with the help of the fire survivors and fellow artists helping with the project, over the summer of 2018. She describes the piece by saying, “There is a memorial tile for every person who died in the fire, as well as ‘thank yous’ for community generosity. Different people have come from the community to create personal tiles that represent their stories during the fire. There are tiles that feature vehicles leaving properties, farm animals that were taken or left, and firefighters and firetrucks among many other designs.” Pictures that different photographers—Chris Pugh, Ree Slocum, Nori Dolan, and Allyson Brooker—had taken last year have also been painted onto tiles and included in the piece.
The 16-foot-wide mosaic encompasses three different aspects of the Redwood Complex Fire. On the left side is the direct reaction to the fire, with desperate phrases like “wake up” and “run” being placed purposefully among tiles that describe the tragedy. The center of the mosaic is the heart of the project, which is where the memorial tiles have been placed in the literal shape of a heart. From the heart blossoms a tree that holds the acknowledgments to contributors. Turning to the right side of the mosaic, special tiles and phrases such as “how can we help” represent the community’s response to the fires.
Sara Shepherd, a fire survivor who has been involved with the piece, reflects, “It is such a beautiful weaving of the fire story. My children who I lost in the fire will be memorialized forever in this mosaic and I’m so grateful.” The list of dedicated helpers who have worked on the mural, along with Shepherd, include Ada B Fine, Cathy Monroe, Sage Mountainfire, Jan Hoyman, Jannah Minnix, and numerous others.
Photo: Allyson Brooker, artist intern, and Sara Shepherd, a fire survivor, have been working with Raybee throughout the summer to complete the mosaic before the one-year anniversary. (Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal)
Raybee comments, “Having people come to work at the studio is good; it has been a safe place for people to share their experiences with the other people who are working alongside them.”
For further aid on the mosaic, Raybee enlisted the help of Allyson Brooker, who became a paid intern during the process. The two artists have worked on mosaics together, previous to the Art from the Ashes project, with this particular art project being personally beneficial to Brooker.
“After the fire last year, I felt so isolated and stopped creating art. Months prior, Elizabeth had notified me that she was doing a workshop for the mosaic, but I was still stuck at that point. A few days before the workshop, I told myself that I had to go do it; I felt like I needed to create art and open my heart again,” says Brooker. She continues, “It gives you a sense of putting the pieces back together. Having to assemble something in a way that it makes sense for anyone viewing it was the best exercise for me, and out of it comes this great, artistic contribution to the community.”
The mosaic will be displayed in front of the Redwood Valley Grange, with an unveiling ceremony occurring on Oct. 12, during the series of fire-related events beginning with the First Friday event on Oct. 5 at Art Center Ukiah.
The project was funded by grants and donations from the California Arts Council, the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, Adventist Health & Howard Hospital Foundation, Butch Bainbridge, Dot Brovaney & The Arts Council of Mendocino County, Jan Hoyman Studio, the Rotary Club of South Ukiah, and Santa Rosa Tile.