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Art from the fire

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Mail Tribune / Morgan Rothborne Bonnie Morgan, owner of the former Malmgren Garage building in Talent, displays pieces of pottery at an April 27 press conference to give a sense of what the “Art of the Fire” show May 7 will look like.
Burned out old building in Talent begins new life, starting with art show called ‘Art of the Fire’

Bonnie Morgan and CiCi Brown are opening the doors, so to speak, for a one-day art show, “Art of the Fire,” May 7 in Talent as a celebration and fundraiser for a historical building burned but not destroyed by the Almeda fire.

The Malmgren Garage might have no roof, windows or doors remaining, but the patterns and colors created by the heat, smoke and flames of the fire have inspired numerous local artists to create art in response to the building and their own experience of the fire.

“That’s the theme,” said Brown, the art director of the show. “All the art is about the fires, and many of the artists lost homes, studios and all their art in the fires.”

The show was postponed from its original April 30 for the same reason the art show is for only one day — the building has no roof. The new time is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 7, when skies are expected to be safely blue.

Brown estimates maybe one third of the 45 artists contributing to the show lost homes, art or studios in the fire. Local artists responded eagerly to the opportunity to make and show art about the fires — more eagerly than Brown expected.

“I thought maybe 10 people would call.”

But through sharing the event with the Talent Public Arts Committee and her own artist contacts, word got around and Brown was soon overwhelmed with hopeful artists.

“Somebody would call me up and tell me their story,” she said, “and I had to say yes.”

Brown said she measured the walls in the building first, to be sure she could accommodate everyone’s work. One 15-foot painting will have to be hung on the walls outside. Brown plans to incorporate easels, and reluctantly discourages other artists from calling unless their work is sculpture or something that could be outside.

The possibility for “Art of the Fire“ to be a catalyzing event for healing, grief and solidarity for fire survivors is first on Morgan’s mind.

“I thought, ‘Should we have therapists there?’” she said, when asked about the potential impact of the show.

“In some ways having a one-day art show is ridiculous, but we thought, why not?” Morgan continued, describing why she and Brown, her longtime friend and fellow potter, are putting on the show.

“It all had to be about how you saw the fire,” Morgan said, “and how you responded to it.”

The roofless, windowless, doorless building stands as a metaphor for all survivors of the fires, and, according to Brown and Morgan, the building as it is now is a work of art.

Mail Tribune / Morgan Rothborne Building owner Bonnie Morgan shows some of the patterns, colors and textures left behind by the Almeda fire.

“I call it found art,” Brown said of the unique patterns, colors and textures within the building.

Brown said many of the artists in the show, herself and Morgan included, were inspired by the building in its current condition, necessitating holding the show now — before the building is restored and recreated by architects working in concert with a historical consultant and Morgan.

The Malmgren Garage nears its 94th birthday roughly now, historical consultant George Kramer pointed out at an April 26 press conference.

“The first notation I can find for this building is May 1924,” Kramer said, describing the poured concrete walls standing behind a stepped parapet façade as a historical building still possessing what he claimed was most important ... its integrity.

“When we talk about how to assess the value of a historic building, we talk about the integrity of the building, it's not the condition so much,” Kramer said, referencing distinctive features that make a building a unique individual structure onto itself.

“On the night of the Almeda fire, as people were posting photos, showing the devastation, there was this incredible photo of this building, completely engulfed in flame,” Kramer said, “and all you could see was the stepped parapet, as a shadow line against all of the flames.”

Some of the art in the show has been donated for the restoration project. Anyone who wants to can buy art at the show to support the restoration and recreation of the Malmgren Garage building.

Jerome White, Christopher Brown and Capucine Clement of the architectural firm Aritek also spoke at the press conference. Brown is the principal architect at Aritek, and with his colleagues addressed some of the unique challenges for the Malmgren building.

The building has no parallel walls, White said, it slopes downward throughout the floor following the slope of the land itself. White explained this kind of building was possible back in 1924, when builders would work by hand on site.

Mail Tribune / Morgan Rothborne Bonnie Morgan, owner of the nearing century-old Talent building, is shown with consulting architects and historic preservationists during an April 27 press conference to discuss the restoration of the former Malmgren Garage.

Now, these unique characteristics have the architects eager to emphasize the building’s challenge alongside its worthiness for restoration.

“Some of the vessels that we see here that Bonnie herself has created, and this building is a metaphor for a vessel, this building is encapsulating a historical past,” Chris Brown said.

“We’re standing on this cusp, looking at the future; [at] what comes next for this building.”

Morgan expressed wonder after the press conference at the volume of artists eager to share their work at the show next weekend.

“It made me think maybe we need a huge space for showing art here,” said Morgan, who sidelined the thought as “a different conversation.”

Next Saturday, 45 local artists will have chance to be seen and to speak about their work, and many will be at the show throughout the day.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.