Monday, January 29, 2007

1/22/07: From the Flames

Last week, the Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council (MECAC) held its monthly meeting at the Pine Valley library. And I feel compelled to write a little something about our Featured Artist this month.

Artie Capozzi and his girlfriend lost everything in the Cedar Fire of three years ago. They got out with their animals, their vehicle, and the clothes on their backs, and when they returned to their home in Alpine, nothing was left. But Artie had an idea of what to do with all that burned manzanita wood that littered his yard.

You see, he had a passion for this beautiful, mahogany-colored wood, but it is protected; it cannot be gathered unless it has been burned in a forest fire. So Artie saw the beauty and possibility of the scorched and twisted branches in his yard and in his neighbors' yards, and he started gathering the blackened manzanita branches and roots. Obsessively gathering it. As in, spending an entire year gathering it. Just because it was beautiful. And because he thought he "might be able to do something with it."

Artie started slicing the two-to-three inch root burls into eighth-inch thickness and sanding them through nine grades of sandpaper, then adding an environmentally-friendly oil in layer after layer, twelve coats in all. He allowed the burl slices to dry in the sun between coats of oil, and then he drilled a hole through one end of each slice and strung the slice on leather bands to create original necklaces. Later, he started adding silver and turquoise inlays in the burl slices which made the necklaces even more beautiful and unique. He has also started slicing sage roots to get a similar effect -- and does it ever smell heavenly!

We were awed by his phoenix feathers -- long feather-shaped slices of manzanita wood about a quarter of an inch thick and six or more inches long. Artie patiently fills in the holes of the wood with the scorching of the outer bark-covered edge of the wood, then sanding through the many layers of sandpaper and adding the oil to bring it to a bright sheen, darkened by the oil to a deep reddish brown that calls to be touched. In his more recent work, he has added delicate silver and turquoise inlays into the feather which increases the creativity and beauty. Everyone at the gathering felt compelled to run a finger down the velvety smoothness of the feathers, both the unfinished and the finished pieces he brought to show us.

Artie has been selling his stands and candle holders, made from manzanita, to a jewelry shop in La Jolla, and he is well on his way to being a self-supporting artist. We are proud to have him working on his art in our community, and his work astounds us in its beauty and simplicity. Artistic creativity rising from the ashes of the most devastating fire ever in California -- what a lovely and reviving thing to behold!

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