Stained-glass artist uses fire remnants in work

Charlotte Mitchell has been picking up pieces from the Cedar fire that ravaged the area in October: chunks of pottery, broken china and melted lumps of glass.

While helping friends sift through the debris, Mitchell has come across bits and pieces she sets aside for art projects.

"It seemed like there was a spirit trying to get out from the wreckage," Mitchell said. "Fire can be creative as well as destruction. I wanted to dwell on the positive side of it."

Mitchell, 53, is a professional stained-glass artist, working out of her Wynola studio. She designs and creates free-standing compositions.

Now she is using the shattered reminders of the fire in her art.

She prefers to work with bright colors, giving one or two fire fragments prominent placement in each design.

"It really brings home there's life after catastrophe," Mitchell said. "I just hated to throw things away."

Mitchell continues to collect the odds and ends she finds. Her fire pieces will be an ongoing project.

Each of her pieces sells for $300 to about $1,000. When she sells a piece made with fire fragments, Mitchell donates a portion of the sale to owners of the fragments.

After the first such piece was sold, Mitchell purchased a gift certificate from a local nursery and gave it to the woman who had lived on the property where the debris was found.

"She was putting in a garden where her house used to be," Mitchell said. "It was a way of really coming full circle. This is just a great way to help in the way I can . . . We all feel the pain that people go through."

But Mitchell is not selling everything she makes. She gives some of it to fire victims.

"The people that I know who had my work and lost it (in the fire), I'm giving replacement pieces to them," she said.

During the Cedar fire, Mitchell evacuated to Borrego Springs, taking about 100 of her finished pieces. Her husband, Brent Mitchell, stayed behind to fight the fire. It was four days before she received word that he was OK.

"He saved our house," she said. "The worst thing was not knowing about Brent . . . I thought I had lost him. I feel like I have my life back."

Their 20 acres sustained major damage. A 1910 trolley car that used to be her studio was lost in the fire. Numerous sheets of colored glass stored in the trolley were melted, and other supplies used for her art work were lost.

But Charlotte Mitchell looks on the positive side. She can use the melted glass in her new creations.

"It gave me back a lot of really interesting things," she said. "They all came together . . . It was very hard to figure out what to keep and what to throw away."

Mitchell's work is regularly exhibited at the Santa Ysabel Art Gallery and the Banner Queen Trading Post in Julian.

The Mitchells often travel to shows in Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Minnesota, as well as around Southern California. She recently showed at the Santa Ysabel Art Festival and the La Jolla Festival of the Arts.

600450 Stained-glass artist uses fire remnants in work
Date: 17 June 2004

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