Wildfire survivors turn pieces salvaged into art at workshop

Wildfire survivors turn pieces salvaged into art at workshop

23 March 2008

published by www.signonsandiego.com

San Diego, USA — Lisa Horner figures her beloved antique plates fell about eight feet from a china hutch and pie safe when the Rice Canyon fire ravaged her mobile home park in October.

She can no longer serve food on her grandmothers’ and great-grandmother’s special-occasion dishes – they’re in shards – but she won’t let them go. The remnants bring up warm memories from childhood when the plates were used each Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

“You don’t lose what the plates were,” Horner said. “You can go, ‘That’s Grandma’s plate.’ You don’t lose the memory.”

Yesterday, she joined others who had lost their homes in the October wildfires for a free workshop at the Art Campus at Fallbrook. They made pie-sized cement stepping stones decorated with wreckage salvaged from the fire – broken pottery, silverware and other mysterious, melted items.

Some people brought their own items, while others used provided materials, including colorful glass stones. The event was a mental health project sponsored by the county Wildfire Recovery Project and funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The idea came from helping families sift through ashes using 2-foot square screens and finding almost nothing, said Sharon Stika, an interior designer whose Fallbrook home wasn’t affected by the wildfire.

She noticed a lot of broken glass and melted pieces that still meant a lot to their owners. Stika said she received donations from four homes, including Liz Mullholan’s, to use in the project.

Mullholan lived in Valley Oaks Mobile Ranch, where 120 units, or about half the homes, were wiped out. In Fallbrook, 206 homes were lost. Countywide, more than 1,700 houses and 368,000 acres burned during the wildfires.

Horner lost her Valley Oaks home but has bought another one at the park.

Mullholan said she has her cat, important documents and some clothes from her old home and has learned to live more simply in her new place.

“I feel such freedom from all the clutter,” Mullholan said.

But she said she misses her purses and shoes. Yesterday, Mullholan used three plate fragments that still had some of the Serenity Prayer on them for her tile’s center. The pieces were surrounded by yellow glass, including a rose.

Suzanne McLaughlin didn’t have time to go through her pottery fragments for the project and worked with pieces donated by others. She had collected hundreds of glass works, including vases and bowls, in the house she lived in for 18 years until the wildfire. “Just the chimney survived,” she said of her home.

McLaughlin’s eyes welled with tears as she talked about hanging on to the broken pieces. She plans to make a mosaic wall out of them one day.

“It’s heart value,” she said. “They can’t be replaced. You can’t just go out and buy another one.”

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