When Luther Burbank Center for the Arts opened its outdoor sculpture garden in 2015, the plan was to run two-year exhibits, starting with a display of 16 large old-growth redwood sculptures created by popular Timber Cove artist Bruce Johnson.
That exhibit was cut short last October, when the Tubbs fire roared through the arts center’s campus, sparing only its main theater building and destroying the other buildings in the complex. Damage to the redwood sculptures was also severe, with half a dozen of them destroyed.
The arts community, as well as the community at large, was stunned by the center’s losses. But what wasn’t widely known at the time was the center’s plan for the second two-year exhibit in the series, was already in the works before wildfires broke out last fall.
Now, at last, the sculpture garden will reopen to the public Sept. 14 with a new exhibit titled “Harmonies,” featuring a dozen large-scale sculptures by artists Catherine Daley of Windsor, Jann Nunn of Oakland and Kati Casada of Berkeley.
It’s fitting that one of Nunn’s entries in the show is a memorial to October’s wildfire victims, said Kate Eilertsen, co-curator of the “Harmonies” exhibit.
“She created an interesting piece for this exhibition, which is 44 concrete stars that represent the 44 people that were killed in the fires last year,” she said.
Eilertsen believes the show is in a prime spot to help with healing of all kinds, located between Luther Burbank Center and the nearby Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital.
“Patients, doctors and nurses walk by the sculpture garden every day,” she said.
To Anita Wiglesworth, Luther Burbank Center’s director of programming, the reopening of the sculpture garden confirms the center’s determination to give the community access to this small island of beauty and tranquility.
“This was a huge commitment to the arts from the organization when we opened the sculpture garden for the first time, in 2015. It was probably one of the things that I was most proud of that we accomplished,” said Wiglesworth, who also served as co-curator of the new exhibition.
But the fires ultimately turned triumph to tragedy.
“So it was a crushing phone call that I had to make on Oct. 9 last year to Bruce Johnson, when we realized the extent of the damage to the garden. For us to have turned around, and almost — not quite, but almost — maintained our original schedule for the second exhibition is a huge accomplishment,” Wiglesworth said.
The rebirth of the sculpture garden also packed extra emotional punch for the artists who worked on the new exhibit.
“I hope this exhibit will bring some light into people’s lives, after so many have lost so much,” said Daley, 56, a Sacramento native who moved to Santa Rosa in 1998 and lived there until she moved to Windsor six years ago. She teaches a watercolor class at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa.
“This is my area. I feel closely connected. People I know have lost their homes,” she said.
She feels another connection, too, having taken art classes from Nunn, a longtime former Sonoma State University who also has work in the exhibit.