Ashes from North Bay fires turned into art

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Friday, February 2, 2018
Ashes from North Bay fires turned into art
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Members of the Santa Rosa community are dropping off bags of ash collected from the remnants of the North Bay fires to be created into pottery pieces.

ROHNERT PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- Some of you may already know about Gregory Roberts, who runs the Art Department at Sonoma State University. As a firestorm ravaged through Sonoma County last year, he was moved emotionally by all of the ash falling from above.

"I was struck by how some of this ash came from homes," he said. "It was people's lives all around us."

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Later, he saw the ruins.

All the grief, pain,trauma, and remnants sparked an idea. Could he take the ashes and turn them into, if not a positive, at least a comfort?

Hence, the genesis of Gregory's Sonoma Ash Project. He does ceramics.

"I always wanted to be a village potter," Gregory told ABC7 News.

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Now, he is.

Gregory takes bags of ashes from burned homes and turns each into glazed containers based on the Santa Rosa's famous Round Barn. "Even though it seems everything is lost, everything is not lost. It is there, elements of their lives are still there," he said.

Word of his project continues to spread among fire victims.

"Sometimes, the bags just appear on my doorstep," said Gregory, who sifts and prepares each one individually. Many of the bags come with notes. "They tell me how the ash might be saved from specific rooms or special places," he said. "In some cases, the ashes have been from where a pet disappeared, or from where a family stored the remains of a loved one."

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Imagine that -- what might, eventually, have gone into mausoleum urns, is now becoming pottery.

"I just want people to have something beautiful to hold from what they have lost," he said.

He can take a few more, "but not, thousands." Every potter has limits.

Click here to learn more about the Sonoma Ash Project.

Click here for full coverage on the North Bay fires.