Jade Greene thought her sister was joking when she got a call on Saturday morning as she headed out the door for an art show at Briscoe School in Ashland.
It was true, however: Fire had destroyed Marie Callender's restaurant on Biddle Road in Medford. She was stunned and bewildered.
"I started sobbing," she recalled.
While 30 people lost their jobs for the time being, much of Greene's life work went up in smoke.
Eight acrylic paintings — priced collectively at $7,600 — hanging in the Biddle Road restaurant's private party room were destroyed.
"Pretty much all I've done in the last two years," said Greene, who took up painting while pregnant with her 4-year-old son.
Greene has displayed her work at Evo's coffee shop and the former Grilla Bites in Ashland, but considered it a coup to see her work go on the walls in a popular Medford venue.
She read on Craigslist that Marie Callender's was seeking art and exchanged some emails with dining room manager Bernadine Lawson.
"At first she said 'Your art doesn't match our theme,' " Greene said. " 'I love it personally, but I can't have it.' Then she said 'I've been looking at your art, I love it so much I just have to have it.' "
The 23-year-old Greene's understanding was that her work appealed to younger audiences the restaurant hoped to attract.
The brightly colored abstract art with bold marks weren't a set as such, but showed similar handiwork. The largest measured 40 inches by 60 inches, the smallest was 18 inches by 24 inches.
Some were done in her own studio and others painted at an outdoor music festival put on by the company her husband works for south of Sacramento.
When her sister conveyed the news, Greene said, "it was a feeling of total devastation."
"My art is very special to me," she said. "Especially all of those paintings I've done since I've been with my husband, there were a lot of great memories."
Just last week, she put the finishing touches on a ninth piece that was also destined for Marie Callender's. Instead, it will be a present-reminder of what is no longer.
"Memories I can hang on to, because they are memories," Greene said. "But looking around my apartment, and all the walls are blank, it's just so sad. If they were sold, someone would be able to look at them and appreciate them; now they are just ash."
While she took photos of the pieces, there were no prints.
"It's not possible to recreate them, they were all originals," Greene said. "I could try to do something with the same color, but it wouldn't be the same thing."
The paintings were price from $600 to $1,500.
"The manager I talked to asked if they were insured personally — they weren't," she said. "I told them the sentimental value was priceless. It would be nice to see $9,600 for the sentimental loss. It would be $9,600 for a corporate restaurant, but for me it's the world."
For now — like the employees who cooked, waited tables, washed dishes, baked and sold pies — Greene will wait to see how the ashes shake out.
Her painting has slowed a touch since she gave birth to her second child earlier this year. "Those paintings were pretty much all I had to show."