Visual arts

Tahoe area art exhibit offers a fresh take on forests and fires

Forest fires and art exhibitions don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

But Forest = Fire, a new art exhibition in Truckee, is an effort to break the mold of how people think about wildfires.

The walking exhibit at Truckee Community Recreation Center on Donner Pass Road merges data from scientists and regional agencies with the work of California writers, artists and Washoe tribal leaders to examine the impact of wildfires in the Sierra Nevada for the past 13,000 years.

The result is an immersive and multisensory exhibition of paintings, textiles, beads, sculptures, writings and photographs.

“We wanted to be part of the climate conversation, but it’s such a big and vague thing,” Michael Llewellyn, one of the artists behind the show, told the Reno Gazette Journal. “So, did we think, what can we do here?” What could we do that has implications for the people who live here, but also represents what is happening in the world? “

He and his wife, Heather, set out to develop a show that would spark conversation and make people see forests and wildfires differently, he said.

The result is a spectacle that mimics a giant picture book. Each “chapter” of the book features works of art accompanied by essays written in English, Spanish and the mother tongue Washoe.

The 17 chapters focus on topics such as smoke, soil health, species loss and the region’s watersheds.

It’s “a visual story that’s visceral that people can walk into,” Heather said. “They can look at things, they can read things and understand why we have a catastrophic fire and visualize where it needs to go to create a healthier forest.”

The Llewellyns began the project about five years ago after spending time at the Sagehen Creek field station near Donner Summit and hiking the Pioneer Trail from Nevada City, Calif., To Lake Tahoe.

Artist Sara Smith is working on what will be an interactive artwork for the Forest = Fire exhibit at the Truckee Community Arts Center on December 10, 2021.

“We couldn’t figure out how they got the cars going over there, the trees were so dense,” Heather said. Then the couple realized they were walking through a forest that had been weathered by decades of logging and fire suppression, resulting in a denser and thicker forest.

The combination of logging and fire suppression in the area has dramatically altered the forest ecology, Michael said. And the relationship between fires, humans, and history is what the show explores.

“I hope people realize that the forest they love is not a happy forest, but they have the opportunity to help it become a healthy forest,” said Michael. “This is not how the forest was supposed to be.”

Forest = Fire opened earlier this month at Truckee Community Recreation Center, 10981 Truckee Way, and runs through June. Free entry.

“Our exhibit gives voice to real solutions from the scientific community, industry, federal, state and local fire and water agencies, and our tribal people,” said Eliza Tudor, executive director of Nevada County Arts Council, in a press release. “We invite the public to join us for this conversation while ‘living’ the history and future of our forests in a deeply visceral and beautiful way. “