Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Their Spirit is Fireproof

On Labor Day I went to my gallery for a little while to meet with some folks who were visiting from out of town and wanted to come to my studio. When I drove to the gallery it was a clear and beautiful day. When I headed back home the world had changed for some folks living in the foothills west of Boulder. I came up over a hill heading back home and it looked like the mountains had disappeared...behind a big, dark wall of smoke that seemed to go on as far as I could see. I quickly scanned the horizon (what there was of it) to get a feel for where my home was compared to the smoke. I felt a momentary sense of relief, but the further I drove, the grander in scale this thing seemed to get. This did not look good. The air was thick with smoke and by time I got home ash covered my back deck.

When all was said and done over 60 homes were destroyed many in a beautiful place called Sunshine Canyon. Darkness had come to the happy mountain road. But what I was most concerned with was whether my friend Rosie's childhood home, the home her dad grew up in was still there. Yes, this was a family home, but it was so much more. This was Colorado Mountain Ranch. A kid's camp, an adult retreat, a place for weddings, horses, fun, adventure. This was a piece of this area's history for over half a century. Families could trace generations that had spent childhood summers at this place.

Finally I got a hold of Rosie's boyfriend TJ. Now let me digress a moment....because here is how I came to be connected to Rosie and the Ranch. TJ is Rosie's guy, but he is also my third stepson. Seven years ago I backed my U-Haul up into a driveway here in Longmont and this cute, thirteen year old kid knocked on my door and asked if he could earn ten bucks helping me unload. I said sure....and he has been a part of my life and my family ever since. When he got a little too rambunctious in his teens and got in a wee bit of trouble...Logan and I helped steer him clear of bigger problems. We believed in him. In the last years of my aging Labradors lives it was TJ I most often trusted them to when I couldn't be home. My Chocolate Lab, Josie, was completely blind the last few years of her life and I was devoted to her well-being. I trusted very few people to see to it that she was kept safe. I trusted TJ. When Josie would hear his voice she would get into such a hurry to get to him that she looked like she was inside a pinball machine...ricocheting off of walls she couldn't see in her hurry to get to him.  He loved my Yellow Lab, Buster, and he cried with me when we lost him.
Today, at almost 21, he has a family with Rosie and Baby Jade.

So when I heard his voice the day after the fire started...I knew it wasn't good. But I asked anyway. "Is Rosie's house ok?" "Nope,"  he said bluntly. "It's gone."  "The Ranch?" I asked.  He just got real quiet. "Alot of it is gone."

Somehow they managed to get over 30 horses down off the mountain to safety that day. Rosie's dad, Mike, never left the property during the entire firefight. Through his efforts the Lodge and other buildings that would have been lost are still standing. And even though their home is gone, Mike and Lynn Walker's main concern is to rebuild the Ranch so the kids can come again next summer. Not five years from now. Next summer!

That's where Art comes in. The week after the fire Rosie asked me if I wanted some horseshoes. TJ had told her I liked old, rusty stuff. I have NO idea where he got that notion. Rosie said they had horseshoes "and other stuff." She also explained that if I didn't take some of these things from the rubble, bulldozers would haul them away. The next day she and TJ unloaded a Suburban full of wagon wheels and saddle parts in our driveway and a few days later they took Logan up to The Ranch and he came home with another truck full. We stood looking at the piles and we immediately knew what needed to be done. We would make art from the remnants of the worst fire in Colorado's history and we would benefit the Colorado Mountain Ranch with the sales. From my Ranch to their Ranch. Made perfect sense.

 So to make a long blog even longer....for the past 6 weeks the Lipstick Ranch studio has been on fire in an entirely different way. Logan has been making amazing larger pieces with components of the ranch fire debris and me and my gals (Rosie included) have been making our own tributes...big and small. When Rosie first brought me piles of horseshoes I thought I most likely wouldn't do anything with them. Horseshoe art is a little cliche for me. I vowed to not touch them unless I could do something really different...something that looked like what I do. Something Lipstick maybe girly horseshoes?

And this piece, one of my favorites, has become the Signature Piece for the Ranch to Ranch Art Show and Benefit. I made it from items that had been in the barn. Curry combs (horse combs), hinges from the doors and buckles from harnesses all housed in a beautiful frame that Logan made. It's called The Garden. Things in a garden "go to ground" as they say in the south and then they grow again. Parts of Colorado Mountain Ranch have gone to ground...but they will grow again, as well.

So tomorrow night, November 4th, 2010, Logan and I will welcome the Walker Family and a hundred or so of our closest friends into our gallery for  the Opening Reception of this benefit show that will run until December 4th. Some of the artwork is available on line. A great way for folks who can't make the show to own a piece of the work and contribute to the rebuilding.

All of us who have worked on art for this show have been honored to hold pieces of this wonderful place in our hands and breathe new life into them. The iron and rust have survived the flames, but so has the spirit of this community and the Walker family, along with everyone who loves this Ranch. It will come back to life. Kids will stand on the wagon and have their pictures taken. Horses will be saddled up on a cool, mountain morning...and laughter will echo off the mountains again.

Fireproof hearts...fireproof dreams.

Ranch to Ranch Benefit
KC Willis Studio and Gallery
321 Main Street
Longmont, CO
November 4th-December 4th, 2010
Opening Reception, Thursday, November 4th... 6-9 p.m.
Open Gallery Night, November 11, 2010 6-9
Closing Reception, December 4th, 6-9

To donate directly to the Colorado Mountain Ranch visit


Lille Diane said...

What an awesome idea to give a new beginning to the Colorado Mountain Ranch. I am a CO native (Durango) and I know how sad I was to see how fires had destroyed many acres and memories around Durango, Silverton, Bayfield, Vallecito Lake area...all places my childhood memories came from. I gave my husband a tour of those places recently when we were there on our honeymoon. I'll take a look in the gallery for something for myself & will help spread the word. I'm also sending lots of positive energy & will pray for good things to rise up out of the ashes. Great post, K.c.!

The English Romantic said...

KC this story really touched me and I wish you every success with your sale. I'm sure the ranch will rise again like a Phoenix out of the ashes and along with it create a special bond with all these amazing people.
Hugs, Angela.

Bohemian said...

I'm so very sorry to hear of such great losses due to the fire. It is a wonderful thing you and other Artists are doing to bring something beautiful and positive ... resurrected out of the ashes! When we are able to focus on what is left rather than what is lost, God can do amazing things... since He always uses what we still have. I pray you have the most amazing success with this Sale of your awesome Art!!!

Dawn... The Bohemian

Marrianna said...

Excellent blog posting and beautiful artwork created from the ashes. I especially love the girly horseshoe wall hanging. I am soooo looking forward to taking the February classes with you in Mesa, AZ, and again in June in your studio. You are an inspiring woman.

Lee said...

Great idea, great work, great cause. I am glad everyone else is safe. This just goes to show that dreams really can be rebuilt. xo

Dixie Sargent Redmond said...

Dear KC - from God's heart to your heart, from your heart to theirs, love is beautiful.


Miss Sandy said...


This is one of the most touching posts I have read in a very long time. I kept picturing days of old when communities gathered around their own to support and help them. I love this "barn rais'in" spirit. I pray much success from the benefit and somehow I suspect that there will be a summer camp this year. I adore the new art piece with the curry combs so different from your other work but wholly recognizable as having been made by your hands.