North Bay artist gives new life to trees burned during fires

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- A North Bay artist is determined to give trees burned during the firestorm a second life. In doing so he's healing himself and helping fire survivors.

On the sprawling Paradise Ridge Winery property Peter Phibbs has selected a prime view as his studio. There he's created a stockpile of burned trees and salvaged stumps from the wildfires that devastated Santa Rosa.

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"There's potential in everything," noted Phibbs.

As a resident artist he narrowly escaped the property as it burned during the firestorm.

"Even just saying the story makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck," said Phibbs.

He lost all of his tools, but not his desire to create. Phibbs started carving charred wine barrels.

"If it went to the dump that would sort of be perpetuating the tragedy as opposed to saving it from the landfill and doing something different with it," he said.

Winery owner, Dr. Walter Byck, surrounds himself with art and people who create. The winery hosts large Burning Man sculptures. Visitors are welcome to tour the pieces even if they don't purchase wine. Byck says he's 86 years old, but he's determined to rebuild the winery better than before.

He says he's lucky to have Phibbs around. "He's found a way to make something out of it that no one else thought of," said Byck, admiring the carvings.

As Phibbs sees beauty beneath burns, Byck sees it within Phibbs.

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"You don't think that this rough and tumble guy is a great talent, but he is I think," said Byck.

From oak barrels to actual trees Phibbs and collaborators are healing with art. Wood sculpture artist Tracee Raptis is working with him at Paradise Ridge. The two complement each other. Phibbs sees the shape while Raptis uses her furniture restoration techniques to elevate their sculptures, highlighting the beauty of the wood.

Fire survivor Dana Bushman was one of the first to receive Phibbs' fire work. She and her husband fled their home with minutes to spare. They'd renovated their home for the past seven years, doing much of the work themselves. The fire took everything.

"We didn't just have stuff we curated our things," said Bushman.

All that remained were the charred trees on her property. She looked for someone who could turn the wood into furniture, art, something meaningful from her pre-fire life. Phibbs rose to the challenge.

"You have to move on and you have to get new things and it's nice when those new things can be beautiful and meaningful as well," said Bushman.

While on Bushman's property artistic inspiration struck. Phibbs took his saw to one of the charred trees still standing. Bushman loves it and says it was her favorite tree at the top of their driveway. Since then Phibbs has carved trees on the property of other fire survivors.

"Number one, I feel selfish because this is how I'm healing from that experience and I lost a fraction of what most these people lost... it just feels like the right thing to do," said Phibbs.

If you're interested in Phibbs work contact:

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