Fire destroys. Fire strengthens.
As the smell of smoke wafts through California’s wine country, the scars of our own recent spate of wildfires are still very much apparent, especially along the ridgeline of Cobb Mountain. Yet, in spite of their own catastrophes, a community of Lake County artists turned the sum total of tragedy and loss – into cathartic creativity.
“Fortunately, our structure was spared during the Valley Fire,” says Middletown Art Center’s Executive Director Lisa Kaplan. “We quickly became the nexus for our community – people could drop off or pick up essentials, use our wi-fi – or simply come here as a refuge from the reality of life after a fire.”
A scant six weeks later, Middletown Art Center (MAC) opened a new exhibit.
“We were doing our part to restore a sense of order, and place – to a community profoundly impacted by loss,” adds Kaplan. “Many of our members lost their homes. Yet, we were able to mobilize and began providing free community art classes to adults and children, and a safe place to process their grief through creative expression.
“As artists, we understand the healing power of creativity. We invite any artist impacted by the recent fires to come and create here – we are holding space for you.”
MAC’s vintage, tin-sided building houses a light-filled, SoHo-inspired gallery, populated with contemporary works in curated exhibits. The back of the space is a well-equipped art studio were ongoing classes are taught.
A recent exhibit featured works by Lake County artists, all impacted by the flames. “Witnessing” is a collection of deeply personal works borne from fire’s fury.
A mosaic piece by ceramic artist Melanie Liotta is made entirely from shards of pottery rescued from the wreckage of her studio. Outside the gallery, Diego Harris’s 20’ tall Calder-inspired stabile – “Dancing with Wind,” becomes kinetic in the slightest of breezes.
Textile artist Alana Clearlake’s exquisite felted painting “Dreaming of Home,” gives the viewer a natural world perspective as orange flames consume the slopes of Cobb Mountain. The eyes of creatures, large and small, peer out, patient in their knowledge of Mother Nature’s ability to restore, resolute in their ability to survive.
“We are rural artists inspired by nature,” says Kaplan. “If you look around, you’ll see how the Earth is coming back, replenishing. You’ll see the inspiration from nature’s renewal in the work here.”
This rural community is an unlikely place for a vibrant contemporary art scene. Yet Kaplan and a coterie of Lake County artists are doing their best to change that.
“Now, more than ever, we want to let everyone to know about our thriving art scene,” adds Kaplan. “One that is deserving of your support.”