By Mary O’KEEFE
Last year’s Station Fire filled the sky with smoke. Later every surface throughout the community was lined with ash. While some residents may have looked at the ash as a never ending cleaning process one local artist was inspired.
“After the fire the wind blew so much ash. I collected some of the ash, basically I just swept it off my front porch,” said Inés Chessum. “I found out that ash was used in some glazes [in ceramics].”
Chessum is an architect by trade but a few years ago she began pottery classes at La Cañada Community Center.
“[A friend] was interested in pottery and said, ‘Let’s take some classes with Jean Taylor [at the community center],’” Chessum said.
Taylor’s classes are well known in the area. She has been teaching the pottery program since June 1966, according to the community center’s website.
Chessum said she learned a lot about the technical side of pottery. Taylor gave artists who took her class the freedom to express themselves so Chessum was allowed to explore different methods of ceramics. Chessum decided to use that collected Station Fire ash in her work.
“Sometimes they would use ash from fireplaces. It gives the [finished product] a certain glaze,”Chessum said.
Chessum took the Station Fire ash and filtered it through water and placed it in a spray bottle.
“The ash is very fine …it is different than from a fireplace,” Chessum said.
Instructors at the community center had thought the result would be more of a Celadon, she said.
Celadon pottery usually has a clear jade color but these pieces with the Station Fire ash created more of a burnt sienna and dark brown color.
Chessum used a small amount of the ash on the first bowl she created which resulted in the reddish brown or sienna color. She sprayed a heavy amount of ash on the second bowl resulting in a darker brown. The difference in the ash appeared to be in the iron content. The varied colors surprised both Chessum and her instructors.
The results are two pieces that combine art and history.
“When I was spraying the bowls you could smell the ash….It’s [ironic] – I have pictures of my kids looking up at the mountain as it was on fire and then now these bowls hold the history of that fire,” she said.
Chessum lives above Foothill Boulevard and watched the blaze on the mountain from her front yard.
“[The fire] is something that overwhelms you at the time,” she added.
She has photos of the fire but the bowls are something tangible. The artist turned philosopher when she reflected on the magnitude of the fire and the two little bowls that now sit on her dining room table.
“Even though everything [seemed] to be destroyed there is renewal. Something beautiful can be transformed from the fire,” she said. “It is a very concrete object that came out of the destruction. I only wish I would have collected more ash.”