Like many who lost their homes in last October’s fire, Christine Piccin and her husband Francois sifted through the ruins of what had been their home in Wikiup, trying to salvage whatever they could find. “At first, I wanted to save everything I could, every shard, but in the end, I just tossed half of the things I’d rescued back onto the pile.”
Still, they came away with boxfuls of found objects—pieces of her grandmother’s 100-year-old Noritake china, shards of her own wedding china, and bits of pottery from their travels in Asia and Europe—which they lugged to their new home in Sebastopol.
This weekend, at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Piccin, a chef and instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College’s culinary arts program, will be giving some of those pieces a new home at a mosaic workshop sponsored by Santa Rosa Firestorm Mosaics, a project founded by local artist Tawnya Lively.
Like many people whose homes and lives were left unscathed by the fire, Lively wanted to do something to help people who had lost their homes, but at first she wasn’t sure what she could do.
“I work at Santa Rosa Junior College, and we had 68 staff members and over a thousand students who lost their homes,” said Lively, who is at the SRJC in administration. “Several of my colleagues were bringing in pictures of the things they’d found in the ashes—mostly porcelain and flatware. That’s when it hit me. I looked at them and said ‘I can make a new heirloom for you.’”
Lively, who has a degree in art from Sonoma State, began making mosaics for fire victims, using porcelain and other found objects that they had rescued from the ashes.
“It’s really random what survived,” she said. “People bring me boxes of ash-covered bits, and I go through them one by one and clean them. I wear an N95 mask, gloves, and goggles, and wash everything off outside because it’s still pretty toxic.”
Lively has now made 20 mosaics for people—plaques, stepping stones, mailboxes. She has also organized other artists to help with the project and offered mosaic classes for fire victims who want to make their own. She started a Go Fund Me campaign and raised $675 for Santa Rosa Firestorm Mosaics, which has allowed her to underwrite the cost of the workshops.
Chantal Vogel, a former board member and a current volunteer at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, is one of the artists Lively tapped to help with the project.
“I wouldn’t call myself an artist. I’m just an enthusiastic art lover, but I took at class at SCA on mosaics, and I really took to the medium. That’s what I do in my spare time, and it’s taken over an entire room in my house.”
“When I met Tawnya, she just opened up the trunk of her car, and there were several bags and boxes of things that people had collected. I just picked one and went to work.”
As a part of the Firestorm Mosaics project, Vogel has made a wall plaque for a woman who lost her home in Coffey Park, mosaic initials for her friends Christine and Francois Piccin and a small mosaic table for another family.
When Vogel learned that Lively was doing mosaic workshops for fire victims, she suggested she offer a workshop at Sebastopol Center for the Arts. This weekend’s workshop is free to participants, funded partially by Lively’s Go Fund Me campaign and partially by the SCA which donated the space.
Christine Piccine is looking forward to this weekend’s workshop. Interestingly, this isn’t her first time making fire mosaics. She signed up for another mosaic class immediately after the fire, but didn’t feel ready to use any of the pieces from her old house.
“I guess it was kind of like practice,” she said. “I made myself a table, with a mosaic top. It was really cathartic breaking things apart and putting them back together in a different way. It was interesting emotionally. But I wasn’t ready to use what was left of my own things. I’m in a better place now. I feel ready to break up my old stuff and create something new. I’m not sure I could have done it earlier.”
There are still a few places left in the Firestorm Mosaic workshop this weekend. The workshop is June 2, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and June 3, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sebastopol Center for the Arts. If you have lost your home in the fire and have artifacts you’d like to turn into a mosaic, contact Tawnya Lively at email@example.com.