For artist, fire means break from the past
San Diego Union—Tribune November 10, 2007
On Oct. 21, Madelynne Engle held an art walk featuring about 100 of her sculptures and artistic creations tucked into the woods and gardens of her
2½-acre Fallbrook property. To the artist's delight, a respected art dealer later told her, “It's been years since I stood before a work of art and
wept – and Sunday I did.”
The sculpture was part of Engle's most recent “Seduction and Scorchmarks” series, a topic that proved more prophetic than Engle could have dreamed.
The next day, she and her husband, Jerry Helgeson, evacuated as fires loomed around them. She escaped with her sandals and work jeans and little else.
The couple returned nearly a week later to what Engle calls “ground zero” – “there was nothing left intact.” More than 30 years of creative energy,
supplies and art inventory had been destroyed, including 200 artworks in her nearby studio.
“There is a peaceful quiet that falls over a place that has been burned to the ground,” Engle says, “no familiar birds, no tick of a clock or hum
of the fridge, no ring of a phone. It occurs to me what a clean break with the past a fire is. Unlike the floods I have experienced where often
there are things to be salvaged, dried out, sprayed and cleaned for mildew, there is only a powder of ash everywhere you look. No decisions to be
made, just gone.” Only a small niche in her woods remained unscathed. Interestingly, it held her “Madonnas,” “Sonic Prayer Vessels,” “Cathedral
of the Oughts” and outdoor “living room,” where many a family celebration had occurred.
Generous offers have since come from friends and strangers – a tennis buddy's barn in Bonsall will become Engle's temporary studio; a friend of a
friend's 30-foot mobile home will be set up on the property. The couple will rebuild their house, but Engle won't try to re-create her lost art,
including an obelisk she had sold for $15,000 the day before the fire but hadn't yet delivered.
Always an artist first, Engle views the disaster as an invitation to stand on her land anew and ask what it wants to be. Friends are invited to
bring orphaned earrings, broken bracelets, old watches, eyeglasses, fabric, feathers, car parts and other castoffs to her studio barn-warming
next month to kick off her new series, “Burnt Offerings.”
Her artistic specialty has long been taking discarded, broken, unwanted items and turning them into art – so that's what she will now do with
her melted silverware and other family treasures recovered from her home's ashes.
Engle takes solace in the advice of a wise neighbor long ago in St. Charles, Mo. The woman, who still plowed her fields at age 78, told her, “If
there is ever anything you need that you do not have, then just come to me... and I will show you how to live without it.”