Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Art from the ashes holds Black Forest memories

By Carol McGraw Updated: May 18, 2014 at 8:37 am

They arrived with buckets and boxes and plastic tubs filled with memories.

The items were rusted and charred, melted and chipped - unidentifiable to most eyes.

But to those who had lost their houses, cars and family treasures in the fire that raged through the Black Forest last June this flotsam gathered from the ashes is precious: bent spoons, pocketknives, coins, shattered teacups, cracked figurines of finely attired ladies and galloping horses.

It is just about everything they have left. Worth nothing, but priceless.

Several dozen residents gathered at the La Foret Conference and Retreat Center in Black Forest Saturday to "honor their treasures," as the event promised.

AspenPointe Health Services partnered with artists from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center to help the Black Forest residents create works of art from the ashes that they can hang wherever they go from here. The experience can be cathartic, making something beautiful out of tragedy, explained Karen Hilborn, AspenPoint program manager.

The participants got long slabs of Ponderosa pine on which to design and glue their treasures. The wood was honed at the local Black Forest Mill - flat on one side with rough bark on the other. The ponderosa came through the fire, like those making art out of pieces of the once towering trees.

"It's incredible to see what survived," said Tara Thomas, director of Education at the Fine Arts Center. Several times during the afternoon she was near tears, hearing the residents tell stories about their found objects and the lives represented by them.

Heather and Lucas Callanan-Attebery and 7-year-old daughter Lilly, made two wall hangings. Among the items Heather placed on her art board were pieces of the Noritake china that her late grandfather had gotten in Okinawa for her grandmother decades ago. She also had retrieved from the ashes of her home her grandfather's favorite mug emblazoned with his name: Andy. There was also a scorched ring from their chandelier, a clasp from Lucas' old footlocker.

Lilly made her art with new pink butterfly material, plastic flowers, and her charred baby spoon.

Heather had photos of their best find: a concrete garden angel that was propped up against the house.

At another table, John Bradshaw worked on his art. It featured a thick ribbon of aluminum. "It was my shed. Aluminum melts at 1,200 degrees. It all melted and flowed downhill."

His home of 18 years burned. But a rental home he also owns did not burn, and he is now living there.

When the fire raged, three deputies knocked on his door at separate times telling him to leave. He fled with his shaving kit and an armful of clothes. He thought that the family photos and documents kept in a concrete vault would be okay. But the steel door melted and everything burned. So he had no photos of his late wife Ellen - who died two years ago. He contacted the funeral home where officials still had her file. "I got the pictures they had used in the announcement," he said.

He did not use those photos in his art work. Instead, he used a charred skeleton key from Germany, a school bell from his childhood in Kansas, a pocket watch his parents had given him as a boy.

There was also a finely filigreed necklace and blackened bracelet positioned among the other mementoes. "They were my wife's. She wore those."

He plans to hang the art piece on the wall.

"But I may have to cover it up sometimes if I can't deal with it."

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