on the nature of fire

Fires of Change is a collaborative project with the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, the Flagstaff Arts Council, and the Landscape Conservation Initiative (LCI) funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and Joint Fires Sciences Program. It aims to translate the complex social and ecological (new term: ecopyrosocioeconomological) issues surrounding wildfire into art. Our hope is that art will educate and invigorate people about the beauty and ecological necessity of wild fire. In advance of our September 5, 2015 exhibit opening and September 19, 2015 reception at Coconino Center for the Arts, we will be having monthly blog updates from the 11 talented artists who are creating work for the project. For more information, take a look at the Flagstaff Arts Council exhibit page.

on the nature of fire

by Bonnie Peterson. This progress update is cross-posted here on her blog.

I live in the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, specifically “the Keweenaw peninsula” which juts northward into Lake Superior.  We had 182 inches of snowfall last winter, water is plentiful and there aren’t many forest fires.

1992 Rainbow Fire (on the Muir Trail near Mammoth Lakes, CA), pictured in 2009

1992 Rainbow Fire (on the Muir Trail near Mammoth Lakes, CA), pictured in 2009

But during my annual backpacking trips in the Sierras, I often walk through burned areas with standing dead tree trunks, or “snags.”

above Woods Creek in Kings Canyon Nat’l Pk, near the PCT and Road’s End.

above Woods Creek in Kings Canyon Nat’l Pk, near the PCT and Road’s End.

In 2013,  I descended a steep slope to Woods Creek in Kings Canyon National Park near Roads End and the Pacific Crest Trail.  White branches protruded and the ash was so thick underfoot, that I wondered how many years had passed since it burned.  A google search answered the question:  it was one year earlier.

Working with concepts in fire ecology has been tremendously rewarding, starting with meeting other artists at the workshop which convened in Flagstaff at the Coconino Center for the Arts.  It has a large beautiful gallery space, great lighting and high ceilings.

Our artwork will be here from Sept 4-Oct 31 (public opening September 19) and travel to the University of AZ Museum of Art from Nov 21 – April 3, 2016!

My projects seek to unravel relationships among fire variables.  This work focuses on language; definitions and the ecological consequences of variable manipulations.  I started drawing connections between the variables and constructed a sort of flow chart or relationship map based on information from the workshop and other research.  I was greatly aided by many emails back and forth with the Grand Canyon’s Fire Ecologist Windy Bunn and other land managers and scientists.

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I used the diagram as the basis for a 6×8′ embroidery on silk.  There were a lot of decisions regarding materials: color of background, color and thickness of thread, wool vs rayon vs other threads, number of layers, paper stabilizer or fabric stabilizer, or both!

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There are 4 layers (one of the 4 was attached at the end of the process) and with something so large, the layers must be stitched together well, or else the layers will shift.  After the layers were stitched together, I started embroidering the design.  Its called “free-motion” embroidery.  Its done with a sewing machine, but the writing is accomplished by moving the fabric by hand under the needle.

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I’ve also been working on two 7.5 minute USGS topographic maps of the Grand Canyon.  They are the foundation for a variety of interesting graphs, photos, stitching and text from the 1800’s journals of the explorers John Wesley Powell and Clarence Dutton.  More photos will appear on my website closer to the opening date.

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The Fires of Change project was organized by the Flagstaff Arts Council, the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, & the Landscape Conservation Initiative, and made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Joint Fire Science Program.

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Some cool links:
University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree Ring Research
2014 North Rim lightning strike fires
Interesting fire weather maps
Lightning ignition efficiency map
Fuel map
Arduous Pack Test
www.bonniepeterson.com

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