Firefighter Brandon Tolp working to prevent flames from crossing Highway 29 in Californian on October 12. Photo: Marcus Yam for the Los Angeles Times

Artists Grapple with Devastation Caused by California Wildfires

As Northern California continues to battle wildfires, which have already blackened more than 240,000 acres, caused $1 billion in damages, and killed at least forty-two people, residents are trying to come to terms with the loss of life and property.

Glass sculptor Clifford Rainey, the chair of the Glass Program at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, lost the Mount George home and studio he shared with his partner, floral designer Rachel Raiser, in a Napa Valley fire. He told Charles Desmarais of the San Francisco Chronicle that he had about thirty-four large-scale works he was currently working onm as well as around thirty other glassworks on the premises. “Every single piece of artwork I own, I’ve had since college, was lost,” he said.

Photographer Norma I. Quintana, who was preparing to head to Puerto Rico to photograph the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, was at her Napa Valley home with her family when she was alerted to an approaching fire by a friend. Shortly after, police arrived to evacuate them. When she returned to the house, everything was gone. “I just thought we would be back and never ever thought it would burn, she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We had this house almost thirty years.” Among the possessions destroyed by the fire were Quintana’s collection of photographs, including works by Mary Ellen Mark, Sally Mann, and Graciela Iturbide.

Journalist Sam Whiting of the San Francisco Chronicle accompanied Iranian-born artist Boback Emad as he returned to his Santa Rosa home and studio. They discovered that Emad’s home, filled with works by Pablo Picasso, Henrí Miro, and Salvador Dali, as well as his own hot-tar paintings and aluminum mobiles, were obliterated by the blaze. “I have been paralyzed the last week . . . I can’t even figure out what to eat,” he told Whiting. “The worst loss is the thirty years of my sketchbooks. That’s everything I have.”

While the Santa Rosa Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, dedicated to the life and work of the creator of the beloved Peanuts comic strip, was spared, the home of Schulz’s widow, Jean, burned to the ground. The Schulzes lived in the house since the 1970s, and it’s where the illustrator passed away in 2000. Their son, Craig, also lost his home, reported Keith Allen and Madison Park for CNN. The nearby museum and research center is currently closed due to power outages.

“I am devastated by the loss of the home I shared with Sparky for twenty-five years, the memories of which filled me with happiness every day,” Jean told the Washington Post.

The Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art reported that the fires reached its grounds, but winds diverted the flames before they hit its main campus. The institution’s staff and galleries remain safe. The museum will stay closed through October 22, and it has postponed the November 4 opening of its exhibition “Be Not Sill: Living in Uncertain Times.”

“Our hearts go out to all those affected by the fires and to the many individuals who are stepping up in this time of need. This is, and will continue to be, a deep wound for us all,” executive director Robert Sain said in a statement. “As di Rosa continues its commitment to being a resource for our community, we hope, in the weeks ahead, to provide a space for all to gather, rebuild, and heal from these dark days together.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, as of Friday, October 20, the California Fire Department has managed to contain the majority of the seven fires still burning across the state’s northern counties. A long-awaited rainfall, which dropped an inch of rain on Thursday, has helped the firemen combat the flames.