When Steve Weed returned home with his family after 10 days of Waldo Canyon Fire evacuation, he could have given in to negative feelings. Grief over the devastation in their Mountain Shadows neighborhood. Survivor's guilt that a random shift in the wind spared their home. Anger at the ruthlessness of nature.
But Weed decided to create things of beauty from the blackened bones the fire spat out. He's using found charcoal to draw preliminary sketches, many on salvaged chunks of burned wood, for paintings chronicling the fire and the reaction.
Weed, a 52-year-old "image maker" who shows at Mountain Living Studio, took photos of the havoc before they evacuated, and continued as soon as he and his wife, Laurie Wilson, settled back in. As he roamed the neighborhood, camera in hand, he was struck by the calmness of people sifting through the ashes of their lives.
"They were pensive, but they weren't crying or anything," says Weed, who came here just two years ago from Texas. "They were saying, 'Well, we'll just rebuild.' I was wanting to cry, and I didn't lose my house. I'm sure they were sad. They just handled it so well. I was shocked."
By late August, he'd finished 14 pieces, including some on recycled doors — to him, appropriate symbols for his theme of rebirth. Subjects include the U.S. flag watching over the neighborhood, the "monster" cloud that boiled over the foothills, and the firefighters who fought for people they didn't know. One piece is a three-dimensional representation of the couple who died, with two teacups salvaged from a burned house.
"I'm trying to keep the paintings looser than my other work: a little grungier, a little dirtier," he says. "Like I told my friends, these are ugly. They're supposed to be. It's an ugly thing."
Weed plans to auction off the works, which he hopes will total 20 to 25 paintings and 3-D pieces, to raise money for neighbors who lost homes. (He'll keep only enough to pay for materials.) An auction date could come in October or November. When interviewed, he was still looking for a venue — someplace large enough for a crowd, with good lighting — and nailing down other details.
He's recruited allies, including a commercial printer who has offered to print free reproductions of the paintings. Weed wants to personally deliver the prints to firehouses, so he can shake firefighters' hands.
"They literally just say, 'This is my job, this is what I do. We feel bad about losing what we lost.' They're heroes."