Posted by: bschutzgruber | November 27, 2020

Fire on the Horizon

2020 has been a year filled with flames.

It began with Australia in the middle of an unusually intense bushfire season in many parts of the country with 46 million acres (186,480 square Kilometers/72,000 square miles) burned and 34 people dead. The TV reports and news footage inspired this felted piece When the Land Burned.

January 2020 When the Land Burned (7″x7″ felted wool)

The year continued with the largest wildfire season in the western United States with 8.2 million acres (33,000 square kilometers/12,740 square miles) burned and at least 37 people dead as of November. One story resonated for me. On September 6, 2020 about 200 people found themselves suddenly trapped in the Sierra National Forest by the rapidly growing Creek Fire. Many waded into the Mammoth Pool Reservoir to escape the falling embers and ash.

This story echoed one I had heard repeated many times at family gatherings about events here in Michigan 130 years ago.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My maternal great-great grandparents Michael and Ann Gannon left Ireland during the famine and found work in the shipyards of western Scotland. In 1865 they came to the USA, homesteading a farm in what is now Huron County in Michigan’s Thumb area.

The Great Fire of 1871
October 8, 1871
After a summer of extreme heat and draught Chicago Illinois (the most famous) and Peshtigo Wisconsin (the most deadly) were burning. In the state of Michigan the wall of fire stretched from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. The flames crossed the Thumb moving from Saginaw Bay toward Lake Huron within a matter of hours. Michael, Ann, and their 4 children (ages 11 to 3) ran the 5 miles east, wading neck deep into the bitterly cold waters of Lake Huron to escape the flames. The only items they managed to take with them were the citizenship papers and the 3 brass candlesticks that had been Ann’s dowry. The fire continued to burn for 10 days with smaller fires flaring up throughout the month. When they were finally able to return to their farm, there was nothing left. Across the state over 200 people lost their lives and 15,000 became homeless, many of whom suffered from fire blindness, third-degree burns, and starvation. With winter coming and the crops burned churches in Detroit and Toledo sent relief barrels of food, clothing and household goods.

Michael and Ann stayed and rebuilt their farm.

The Great Fire of 1881
September 5, 1881
Another hot summer with little rain since April. The smell of burning and smoke from small fires had become a daily event. Having lived through the Great Fire of ’71 Michael and Ann took some precautionary measures. They coated household items with clay to protect them from the flames. They buried some and suspended others in the well. When an eerie darkness fell at midday the livestock animals were released and Michael, Ann and 7 children ran east wading into Lake Huron again. Hurricane force winds moved the 100 foot high wall of fire from Saginaw Bay to Lake Huron. Within 4 hours 2,000 square miles were aflame and fires continued to burn for 3 days. Across the Thumb 282 people lost their lives and 3,230 families were now homeless, and once again the crops were gone with winter coming. Relief came from Detroit and other cities in Michigan as well as New York and Boston. This disaster also brought the first relief efforts from the newly organized American Red Cross.

Michael and Ann stayed and rebuilt their farm again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Michigan’s past and the world’s present
are the inspiration for ‘Fire on the Horizon’.

November 2020 – Fire on the Horizon (felted alpaca & silk 32″ diameter)


Responses

  1. Powerful pieces and powerful stories. You come from courageous stock.

    • Thank you, Lila. I have the clock passed down through the family, that was part of the household items sent after the Fire of ’71. It was covered in clay and buried prior to leaving the farm during the fire of ’81. The varnish is blistered from the heat of that fire and it still works!

  2. Wow! Those are some stories Barbara. Love the colours you have achieved in your work.

    • Thank you Alastair. I used the alpaca that I carded back in October.

  3. […] In July the Ann Arbor Fiberarts Guild will once again have an exhibit of members work at The Village Theater at Cherry Hill in Canton, MI so I pulled out the pieces created in 2020 but did not have the chance to be shown in-person – Hiking the Coastal Path [February 2020 blog] and Fire on the Horizon [November 2020 blog]. […]


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