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After the Tubbs Fire Ravaged his Studio, Artist Daniel Merriam Kept Working

On display this December: the art of resilience.


Merriam at work after the fire

(1 of 3) 

"Calling on the Muse"

(2 of 3) 

"Safe and Sound"

(3 of 4) 

Two charcoal landscapes done after the fire. 

(4 of 4)


Daniel Merriam, whose surrealist paintings look pulled from an enchanted storybook, sat on the porch of his 7,000 square foot Calistoga hill home studio working on a pencil drawing. He etched over layers of mylar, eyeing the Redwood and Douglas Fir hills jutting into a nearby creek.

Hours later, the Tubbs fire ignited. Merriam and his family made it out safely to Sausalito, but his studio was destroyed.

From December 3rd to the 31st, Merriam will be exhibiting artwork he made before and after the fire in his Sausalito gallery, called Bubble Street. The exhibition is “my progression out of the ashes, if you will,” said Merriam, “my phoenix rising.”

The ashes aren’t just a metaphor for Merriam. Two works in the show are charcoal drawings Merriam sketched with burnt Redwood bark he gathered at the site of his now-decimated Calistoga home. (You can watch Merriam draw these landscapes here.) Another painting, for which the exhibition is named, “Calling on the Muse,” shows a Victorian-garbed girl, eyebrow arched, sitting in the blackened crook of a scorched tree. Made after the fire, smoke wisps off the tails of her soft yellow dress to match the gray smoke hanging in the hills painted behind her. The painting was completed in the weeks after the Tubbs fire, as Merriam said when he was “under duress.” He said, “It was done under a state where I was having to try to calm nerves and focus on what I do.”

Many of Merriam’s paintings focus on his two cats, Palmer and Shadow. “They’re kind of surreal versions of themselves,” he said. For example, one of Merriam’s paintings before the fire shows a cat with extravagant, curled whiskers in an imaginary tree house. In the haste of escaping the fire, Palmer and Shadow were left behind. Luckily, both cats survived, with Shadow hiding under a log and charring her whiskers. When Merriam picked up Shadow from a nearby animal shelter, he noticed something familiar. “I saw her whiskers were curled! It made me feel like there wasn't such a great distance between before and after.”

Calling on the Muse’s opening reception will be held on December 3rd from 3 to 5 pm. As is tradition for many of Merriam’s showings, visitors are encouraged to dress in “cosplay and over-the-top exuberance.” 


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