In Paradise, an Artist Draws Out ‘Beauty Among the Ashes’

An atmospheric river storm has gripped Northern California this week, pouring almost two feet of rain on parts of Sonoma County and swelling waterways.

Santa Rosa had its rainiest day in recorded history on Tuesday. Residents of Guerneville, a small, picturesque Wine Country resort town, were trapped by rising floodwaters. The storm also led to canceled flights out of San Francisco and closed roads across the region.

All this makes it feel almost inconceivable that only months ago, much of Northern California was devastated by fire, and that a raging blaze almost completely wiped out a community.

In the weeks and months that followed the Camp Fire, residents of Paradise returned to find their hometown in ruins.

I recently talked to Shane Grammer, an artist who grew up in nearby Chico and has worked on installations at Disneyland, Universal Studios and Legoland. Now based in Los Angeles, he said he started to see images of the destruction posted by people he knew.

“The fire didn’t really hit home for me until friends I grew up with started posting on Facebook,” he said. “It’s not devastation where in six months, everything’s going to be normal.”

One friend’s home had burned, but the chimney was still standing. He asked if he could paint a mural on the chimney, continuing a series he had been working on of images of a woman’s face, inspired by a story from the Bible.

“The woman represents us, or people — it kind of challenges me to say that God really loves me,” he said.

He painted the mural — in three hours. And viewers on Facebook were moved.

Mr. Grammer ended up going back to the area for a week, spray-painting images on burned-out cars and other rubble. On another wall, he painted a portrait of Helen Pace, an 84-year-old woman who died in the blaze.

He completed 12 pieces in all, with homeowners’ permission, and the response from community members has been powerful, he said.

“They’re so grateful and thankful for beauty among the ashes,” he said.

Jeana Darby, who works for Hope Christian Church, told The Washington Post that the portrait of Jesus that Mr. Grammer painted on the church’s “charred baptismal is as encouraging as the wooden cross still standing after the wall burned to the ground.”

But Mr. Grammer knew that the work was temporary from the start. “They will all be torn down,” he said.

And that, Mr. Grammer said, is part of the healing.

“My goal is to move people emotionally, and I think with tragedy and heavy issues, doing artwork for me is also a way to process,” he said.

Learn more at the Los Angeles Times.


Kate McCartyC.A., art, revitalization