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Tahoe Weekly

When the Caldor Fire ripped through the south side of the Tahoe Sierra last summer, it burnt more than 221,000 acres of forest between Grizzly Flats and Echo Summit and on both sides of Christmas Valley. It was a scary time for residents when the smoke-filled skies and erratic weather caused another layer of uncertainty for people and animals that make this place their home.

Christmas Valley resident and artist Shelley Zentner has spent her life creating art, mainly charcoal drawings. She is also an activist, forming the Tahoe Activist Artists in 2017.

“I feel like art needs to respond to current events happening in the world and I think it’s my natural instinct to respond to what’s going on around me. Artists observe things and put it down [on canvas, paper, etc.] and then move on,” Zentner says.

Fortunately, Zentner and her family had a home to go back to after it was safe to reenter the area. She began collecting charcoal from the charred forest on her regular walk, using it in her art to help process what she was feeling: fear, uncertainty, some survivor’s guilt and a lot of gratitude.

“There was a little spot fire near the river by my house and there was a little patch of green grass with charred tips. I couldn’t believe it was still alive. It made me feel like … Mother Nature knows how to respond to these kinds of things.”
–Shelley Zentner

“I spent the last couple of years painting outside and it was horrible not knowing what we would come back to. When we did come back — fortunately, our home was okay — I felt the need to go outside and look at what happened. There was a little spot fire near the river by my house and there was a little patch of green grass with charred tips. I couldn’t believe it was still alive,” she says. “It made me feel like everything was going to be okay, that Mother Nature knows how to respond to these kinds of things.

“I put my hands in the earth and pulled out these charcoal bits and took it home and found that it worked like the other charcoal I used. And it just felt really healing to do that and I thought that maybe other people would feel the same. It can possibly be hard to see for the people who lost their homes, but I hope that some of the drawings — like the one with the sunshine coming through the trees — can bring some solace to them.”

“Call & Response: Visions of Forest after Wildfire”
Until March 28 | Sierra Arts Foundation | Reno, Nev.

Zentner goes into the forest near her house quite often and found herself taking pictures and doing drawings onsite. Plus, she’s been drawing with charcoal since she was a child and tended to use it a lot even throughout college.

“There’s something about the feel, texture and blackness of it that I really like,” she says. She also uses pastel and oil paint in her work.

During the fire, her family evacuated to Gardnerville, Nev., and watched livestream media coverage of what was going on in their neighborhood.

“It looked like they had one fire engine for every house. There were spot fires in random places, areas that were really hard to get to and they were able to put them out. Our gardens were still alive, the ground was damp and firefighters had pulled grills away from people’s homes and set them in safe areas. The firefighters went above and beyond in their service; it was incredible,” Zentner says.

Their swift, altruistic action inspired her to make donations to El Dorado Community Foundation and Wildland Firefighter Foundation.

Zentner put together a culmination of her work after the Caldor Fire in a collection called, “Call & Response: Visions of Forest after Wildfire,” which will be on display at Sierra Arts Foundation in Reno until March 28. Admission is free and catalog/print sales will go toward the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Zentner will offer guided tours on Saturdays in March by request. |

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