where the writers are
If you lost your notes in a fire
Constable sketch extant

Two women into the gallery last week on consecutive days who are artists who also teach art. Both lost everything in California wildfires last year, one in California's Big Sur, the other several hundred miles north.

Homes, studios, paintings, art libraries, sketch books. All lost.

``Thirty years of sketch books,'' said one, who has moved into a nearby town with her family.

Sketches, to artists, are visual ideas. A sketch made in 1988 might lead to an important painting in 2010.

 (Turner had 300 sketch books, did 30,000 sketches; Constable would tell his wife as he left with his sketchbook, ``I'm going skying,'' and return with brilliant cloud formations.)

The other artist was looking for books to rebuild her collection; she will resume teaching this month and the books are valuable tools.

``It's difficult, looking at all these books I once had in my library and are now ashes,'' she said. ``Oh well.''

Fires are an occupartional hazard for many artists. After all, turpentine and other flamables are things they work with. Forest wildfires are a threat probably not often considered.

Still, neither artist showed a trace of self-pity; rather, a determination to continue on.

Writers keep notebooks or notes, or fragments of novels or plays or stories or poems they still have hope for, or are the beginnings of still developing ideas and themes.

We must have a pretty god idea of how those two  women  feel.



10 Comment count
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Very Sad

I feel for these artists -- and for their families who will never get to see these as their inheritance. I am sure there are artists in Atlanta feeling the same way tonight.

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I think you're right, Sue.

There are probably artists and writers who have lost work in the South thse last few days. We tend not to think of the individual losses when these great catastrophes happen.

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Hi Steve

Artists should digitalize their works and keep them in safe places so they could face any accidental loss of the originals. The technology exists.

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Really good idea.

I know of some artists who do that. But you have to discipline yourself. I just started backing up material on the computer after a couple of severe losses.

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Not quite the same, but...

Helly Steve,

My Dad is a Fan Tail Fancier. That is another way of saying he breeds Fan Tail Pigeons for color, form and beauty. That makes him a genetic hobbyist. To me its an art form of a different nature.

A couple of years ago (perhaps a few), my Step Mom called me and said, "Will you talk to your Dad, he's been pretty upset lately."

I said, "Sure, what's up?"

"I'll let him tell you."

She found and handed him the phone he held it to his ear and gruffly said, "Hi."

"What's up Dad?" I asked.

"The barn burned down. I lost every experiment I've been running. I lost all the ices, most of the saddles. I lost forty years of genetic lines."

I thought, "Oh Geez," took a silent deep breath and said something to break the icy moment, to keep him talking. I can't remember what I said, funny how that works. (While editing, I realized I asked if they suffered, he assured me the smoke put them to sleep long before the fire got to them, but he may have just said that for my sake, my Dad's like that)

At one point later in the conversation it was clear that he was like a lost soul who'd fallen off the cliff that was his comfortable path. He asked me, "What am I going to do Son?"

The answer rolled off my lips like a gift from the divine. My muse got me and man am I thankful.

"I think you'll find that you'll study what's left, examine the histories of all the remaining lines and think of new ways to recreate what you lost. You'll think of ways to do things that you'd never have conceived before the fire, and I'll bet in a few years you'll restore them all and have found out so much more about how genetics works."

That's not precisely what I said, but it is what I meant. He heard the message although not at that moment.

I talked to him a few months later and he thanked me. He said, "You were right, I am getting so many ideas and [having so much fun] ... Thanks son."

I once lost four chapters of a book in a hard disk crash. I was so very plixed. But after I sat down and started writing again, I realized that I would do a better job the second time around. I realized that the loss was merely an opportunity to grow and become more than I had been before.

I know that all negative experience is an opportunity to respond with care and compassion, to learn and grow and rise above.

My wife has a gift card that says, "There is the positive side and the negative side. At any moment, I decide." That sums it up nicely, I think.

Great topic. Thanks.

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Brian, your father's is a heartbeaking and then inspiring story.

It seems a theme for a play or novel, there's so much richness there. On your loss of the four chapters, I agree with you. That's happened to me. You sometimes do a better job the second time around.

There's a famous Steinbeck story. He'd finished writing Of Mice and Men (I think it was, perhaps The Red Pony) and his dog ate the manuscript. Steinbeck looked at his dog, quipped ``Critic!'' then rewrote it. Of course, he had the advantage of having a nearly photographic memory.

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I laughed out loud at "Critic!"

I'd never heard that story, thanks, it will be one I tell joyfully until my dying day.


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"There is the positive side and the negative side. At any moment, I decide." That sums it up nicely, I think."

Amazing how a blog suddenly turns out to be a wisdom teaching one.
Thanks Steve and Brian.

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I'd have to make more art...

Laura J. W. Ryan

Being both a writer and a painter...and during the day job I'm a registrar for an art collection, therefore, fire is one of my concerns. Prevention is the key, but then as we all know...shit happens. My imaginative mind has run through the drill of the aftermath, the staggering heartache of such loss would be horrible to experience...but life goes on, and as long as I'm upright and going forward, I would just go ahead and make more, creating art and writing my books keeps me going every day.

Great topic, thanks!


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I'd like to think, as you are suggesting, Laura,

some great stuff is created coming out of disaster. Maybe Steinbeck's rewrite of Of Mice and Men was better than the version his dog chewed up.

Great combination, by the way, writer, painter and art collection registrar.