From Ashes to Art

American novelist Erica Jong once said, “Natural disasters are comforting because they reaffirm our impotence, in which, otherwise, we might stop believing,” and it sure felt like nobody believed in it last Wednesday, when family and friends gathered at Sonoma State University to observe the new art exhibit within the school’s library.

Entitled, “Reflections: After the Fire,” the entire display is dedicated to, and created by, the people affected by the North Coast fires from last October. With displays featuring the work of 21 local artists, the exhibit is to be on display in the Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center’s Library Gallery until Dec. 14.

Wednesday marked one year since Sonoma State reopened following its nine-day closure last October, when a series of massive wildfires ravaged Sonoma County, killing 24 people and destroying some 5,000 structures, many of which were homes.

To commemorate, the school held an open reception from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., where the public, as well as students and faculty, could come to observe the art and interact with the artists themselves.

The art, featuring a mix of photography, videography, watercolor, ink-on-canvas, mixed media and more, focuses on events both during and after the fires. Some displays featured mixed media found within the rubble of the aftermath, aiming to show that it can be possible to rebuild in the wake of tremendous disaster.

Jerry Dodrill’s “Mutual Aid,” a photo collage on aluminum, depicts images of nearly half of the fire department engines lending a hand to the relief efforts.

“Over the course of several mornings, I hung out on a curb near the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa working on a series project, photographing the door panels of as many different fire trucks as I could while the congregation of men and women came and went from their daily fire line assignments,” he said, totaling nearly half of the 500 estimated departments to aid in the relief effort.

Across the floor at the 2North exhibit area, several more of Dodrill’s photographs are on display throughout the exhibit, including photographs from the Coffey Park disaster, which suffered heavy damages after the Tubbs Fire jumped six lanes over Highway 101 and sent some 1,200 citizens scrambling to safety.  

Other artists contributing to the exhibit include Ulysses Duterte Jr., Christopher Woodcock, Alan Ahmad, Kate E. Black, Mikayla Butchart, Martin Espinoza, and Marie Van Elder, among others, and the works they have included amongst the walls carry with them the unique perspective of the artist. Whether it be nothing more than a creative outlet at times of great stress, or a way to incite conversation surrounding the event, all of the art carries meaning.

The exhibit is a welcome hiatus from the grind of the semester, and Karen G. Schneider, the Dean of the Library, considers this exhibit a strong testament to human resilience and creativity.

“The exhibit is a testimony of the power of art to find meaning in all human experience, including catastrophic fire,” Schneider said. “We are honored that so many artists participated.”

Students and faculty, including friends and family, are encouraged to come and enjoy the exhibit until its final day on Dec. 14, when the school will end finals week before winter intersession.

The crowd on Wednesday, many of whom were closely impacted by the fires, interacted and socialized liberally, engaging in conversation over the exhibit and discussing their experiences with one another; a comforting sign that the impotence of the wildfires can be forgotten, if only for an evening.