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Canyon Artists Still Climbing Out After the Great Flood

 

Artist Julita Jones is recovering after double disasters last year and is rebuilding her home. Photo by Ted Reckas.

In mid-August verdant Laguna Canyon reveals nothing of the disaster that swept many of its resident out of their homes in torrents of water and mud last December. Canyon artists were especially affected since most live and work onsite, with studios either attached to their homes or close by. Tools, supplies and inventory were ruined by the 100-year-flood and river of mud with little or nothing to salvage.

Despite losing his studio and most tools, sculptor Troy Poeschl resumed selling his unique wooden creations this summer at the Festival of Arts and the Sawdust Festival. Inventory is smaller than before. Not for sale is a hanging charred assemblage of organic wooden forms, a poignant reminder how far he and his wife Sîan, a fused glass artist, still have to go to return to normal.

“The shop is still not put together and it’s hard to get work done with some tools working and some not,” he said. While Poeschl feels a sense of accomplishment at completing enough work in under six months to enter the festivals, he finds sales slow due to the shaky economy.

“A remaining challenge is having enough available work to make money,” his wife added. “We have to work on a different timetable than we have before and we are also taking greater creative risks.”

When the epic storm subsided, multi-media artist Olivia Batchelder’s garage studio looked like a crushed box. Her garden was buried in mud, as was the kitchen and living room. Miraculously, a bedroom containing a trove of Batchelder’s painted silk garments and accessories survived dry, thanks to newly purchased patio doors.

Today, repairs to the kitchen and living room are nearly finished, but it’s the remodeled and refurbished garage-studio that elates her. “I transformed an inner space that was angry and sad into one that is peaceful and happy,” she said, though the process was arduous. “There had been lots of confusion, lots of decisions to make, where would one begin to rebuild,” she said.

She resolved to stay and remains philosophical about the force of nature. “The area I live in is vulnerable. I am never without an adequate supply of sandbags,” she said.

Printmaker Julita Jones lost her Arroyo Chico home to a fire last summer along with most of her own art and a sizable personal art collection. Flooding in Laguna Canyon dealt her a second blow. Jones had stored a number of works with fellow artist Marsh Scott, a metal sculptor whose studio was destroyed by flooding.

“We still have our lives,” said Jones, undaunted. She and husband Leonard are rebuilding their house on the same tree-lined street. “It’s in the framing stage now, but we are still trying to figure out everything we lost for the insurance,” she said.

Devoid of studio space, she is not making prints, but shifted her focus to photography. She also teaches art classes at the Sawdust. But, while remaining upbeat, she concedes that it’s hard to make art while also being preoccupied with building a house. At her Sawdust booth, a helper is sometimes reluctant to sell some rescued prints due to their sentimental value, she said.

Scott is still dealing with the loss of her studio and her father, who died three months after the flooding. Nevertheless, she has finished commissions, including an installation at Oklahoma State University, and is now making jewelry. “Emotionally it’s been a rollercoaster,” she said. “Working at the Sawdust makes me feel better, almost back to normal, even if I am not settled yet in any form.”

Sculptor Louis Longi, too, experienced that rollercoaster ride, which for him has yet to fully ascend from the jarring depths of last December. “We are hobbled right now. It’s six months later and we have moved back into our little house but I have not been able to fulfill commissions until now,” he said.

While artists and other flood victims received financial help, furnishings, food and volunteer labor from arts and civic groups in the flood’s immediate aftermath, Longi has resorted to savings to pay his bills since he is ineligible for unemployment insurance. “Now reality has really set in. I have no new inventory and will do maybe half of what I could do last year,” he said.

“I am shot emotionally, but everyone is healthy and often I feel rich at heart,” said Longi, reaching, like his signature sculptures, for an uplifting emotion.

 

Lessons on Saving Art from Disaster

 

Floods, earthquakes and household mishaps can inflict avoidable damage to cherished works of art and art conservator Scott Haskins last week offered Festival of Arts’ visitors a range of tips.

 

Haskins, featured in the Festival’s art talk series, urged art lovers to anchor ceramics and sculpture to surfaces with museum wax or museum putty, available at most hardware stores. “My job is not to give people lessons in the history of restoration but to teach them with examples they can relate to,” he said. “A lot is just based on common sense.”

 

How to protect paintings from “jumping” off walls during earthquakes or lesser jolts also involves anchors and special hooks that embed the picture wire rather than the conventional ones that just carry it on the surface, said Haskins, of Santa Barbara’s Fine Art Conservation Lab.

 

Vigilance does not stop with hooks. Owners of framed works or anything that hangs should periodically check fastening hardware and the wires themselves, he said. Museum wax will keep edges close to walls without ruining them and boards affixed to paintings’ stretcher bars help protect the back of paintings, equally vulnerable to damage as the front.

 

Haskins also cautioned against do-it-yourself cleaning or repairs. “Often the disaster causes less damage than amateur attempts to clean or restore works of art,” he said in a follow up interview.

 

Haskins authored a pamphlet “How to Respond to an Earthquake: Conservation Materials Ltd,” after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. His websites are www.tipsforartcollectors.org and www.fineartconservationlab.com

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