set fire to my own life

This summer I built wine cellar racks of oak reclaimed from old wine tanks. In addition to collecting wine and building a fantastic wine cellar my clients run a non-profit called ART from the ashes ( They bring artists together to work with materials salvaged from fire sites. I was invited to make a piece to be donated for the summer 2010 show. The materials came from Deukmejian Wilderness Park, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains north of LA, which burned in the huge Station Fire in August 2009.

I was pressed for time so I thought I would carve a spoon. Then I saw a half charred manzanita branch. It’s smooth, unharmed surface contrasted the texture and color of the burned side. Fire turns physical objects into energy. It creates light and heat. I made a lamp as it also produces light and heat. A reminder of the night I watched the Station Fire from my roof and wondered whether the flames would cross the last ridge and burn down the hill, a reminder of the brilliance that momentarily illuminated our lives, or perhaps just something to shed enough light to read a good book by.

The base is made from a cast iron weight that came from the fire site. The shade is a cherry veneer remnant that has been in my studio for many years waiting to become a lamp shade.

“The only way to find the path is to set fire to my own life.” I read this line by the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore many years ago and it has stayed with me as a powerful expression of the contradictory nature of life. In order to live fully we must let go of all the ideas we have about ourselves.

Fire is the perfect metaphor for the intimate link between destruction and creation. As human beings we tend to focus on the devastation that fire brings but it is also part of a cycle that ultimately leads to re-birth. Walking in Deukmejian Wilderness Park it was beautiful to see this process unfolding with new growth and spring wildflowers everywhere.

For INSPIRE, the ART from the ashes winter show, I made another lamp. It is made of a burned olive tree that was killed when the Jesusita fire burned the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in May 2009. Burned tree limbs seem to make perfect stands to hang lamps from, as if the shades were fruit hanging from a living tree. The dead tree has become a lamp which can burn brightly again. This process reflects the transformation which we are all engaged in every moment.

The title, “I Will Not Learn About Fire By Thinking About Fire, But By Burning”
is taken from The Work of Craft by Carla Needleman. The book describes the way that creating an object by hand requires the maker to be fully present.

A new arrival. Salvaged elm slabs in the studio to be made into counter tops for a Pasadena office.

William Stranger


One response to “set fire to my own life

  1. Beautiful work as always!


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