On January 9th, 2018 many lives were changed forever. The small community of Montecito was hit with the worst natural disaster in it's history. A mudslide that killed 21 and as of this post, two children are still missing or unaccounted for. When this event happened we were all shook to our core. How could this happen in such a well established and affluent neighborhood? We had just come out of a three week, other natural disaster, the Thomas fire. This fire burned over 800 homes in Ventura and Ojai and the only reason Montecito did not burn to the ground, was the fact that they had time to prepare as the fire inched it's way 40 miles west, with over 8400 firefighters ready protecting each home from the blaze and unrelenting winds.
I was not sure how to process the mudslide. Friends had their homes wiped off the foundation, friends of friends were wiped away and found miles from their homes. People have stories and memories that will haunt them the rest of their lives. Living in Santa Barbara is like living in a slice of paradise. We have a good life here, the beaches, the small town feel, and everyone pretty much knows everyone. So when a small community like ours gets hit with something this unsurmountable how do you deal with it. Many people have taken to the Bucket Brigades, literally meeting at a certain home with boots and buckets and helping their friends and community members dig out what they can from their destroyed homes.
I was not sure how I wanted to deal with my sleepless nights, and feeling of helplessness. I did what I know how to do and that is create mosaic art. I have been a professional mosaic artist for almost 20 years, and have had the privilege of creating large scale custom commissions for private residences, medical centers, hospitals, spas and restaurants. So I don't get much time to create my own art, or find a cathartic way to express whatever is happening in my life. But this time I did, and I created a piece of art using many found objects and debris that are on my property. We happen to live next to a very old and buried landfill. Does not sound glamorous but as an artist it is actually really awesome. This debris is buried only about a foot down and I am constantly collecting old vintage glass jars, bottles and old broken dishes. Not sure how or why, but it works for me and my art.
So back to my piece and why I needed to get it out. I was not sleeping most nights after the mudslide, thinking about the victims and what terror they must have gone through, some surviving some not. So I took my found objects and started to create. It felt good to think about these people and what lives they might have had if they had continued to live. I took 23 pieces of gold smalti and added them as a symbol of the bright light that can continue to still shine for those that did not survive.
As I was creating this piece and it was becoming more intense in my desire to tell the story and to memorialize these victims, I was also committed to create a mosaic for a conference I was about to attend. At this conference you can enter a mosaic art piece for silent auction, that someone then pays you for your art piece. I finished my piece in time to take it to the conference, but I began to have huge waves of emotions realizing I could not sell it. I could not let someone hang my emotions, catharsis and a memorial piece on their wall. It had to come back home with me. I intentionally priced the reserve so high I knew it would not sell, and it did not.
Now here is where the story get's really crazy and really sad. I came home with my piece and hung it on our dining room wall. I loved seeing it everyday but it also kept reminding me of so many emotions and the event. I knew I needed to let go of so much but I was not sure how.
That next week my husband and I attended a benefit dinner for a family that lost four members of their family. At this dinner I heard one of the most heart warming and saddest stories of my life. Our Santa Barbara County fire captain Dave Zaniboni told his story.
I will try and tell the shortest version, mostly because it is his story but also because it is long and really sad. Dave arrived on the scene of the mudslide around four am. He was by himself driving his fire capt. SUV. While beginning to survey the damage happening he pulled up on a couple standing at the train tracks looking down on something and they were very upset. When he arrived he saw a small boy laying there and was obviously non responsive. As a fireman and first responder he went into "take care of the situation" mode. He grabbed what he had, a yellow fire shirt wrapped up the little boy and took him to his SUV to wait for the coroner. It was a long time before the coroner arrived and Dave just sat with him, talked to him, just sat with him and cried and cried. He told me has never cried as much as he has since this event in his whole life. Dave continued to tell his story the night of the benefit, with more and more details of how he went to personally tell the little boy's Mom he had found him and that he would do whatever it takes to help her and her only other living relative she has here in Santa Barbara.
This story is much longer and much more tragic but what I will leave you with is, Dave's story shook me to the core and I knew all my emotional toll I had bottled up over the weeks since the mudslide came pouring out on him the night of the benefit dinner. He understood and when I explained to him I must give him my art he understood that too. He is a special man and a deep soul that has more heroism in his pinky than I will ever know. I will be forever grateful to Dave Zaniboni and he's kind heart and his understanding of a crazy artist that felt his humanness one night and wanted to share her art with him....thanks Dave.