A new collaborative art project by the University of Tennessee Libraries, the City of Gatlinburg, and the Anna Porter Public Library aims to promote healing from the catastrophic Chimney Tops 2 wildfires that swept through the Great Smoky Mountains in November 2016. The fire killed 14 people, displaced thousands, and devastated mountain communities.
The exhibition Wildfire Recovery through Art and Public Memory opens Monday, August 1, at Gatlinburg’s Anna Porter Public Library. It features a portion of the 40 drawings that document the impact of the wildfires and the mountain communities’ response. UT Libraries is also hosting an online exhibition of the works.
The project sprang from an earlier collaboration between the three groups, Rising from the Ashes: The Chimney Tops 2 Wildfires Oral History Project, which recorded interviews with individuals who experienced the wildfires or their aftermath. Rising from the Ashes collected close to 150 audio and video interviews with those who lost homes and businesses, first responders, recovery specialists, representatives of charitable and volunteer organizations, government officials, fire and forestry experts, scientists, artists, lawyers, journalists, clergy, health care and mental health professionals, educators, and others. Those firsthand accounts have been preserved in UT’s Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives as a lasting record.
The three organizations conceived the art project with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to further promote healing from the tragic events of 2016. The grant from NEA’s Our Town program, which seeks to strengthen communities through artistic and creative engagement, allowed the project team to commission artworks inspired by the accounts gathered through the earlier oral history project.
Drawing on those personal stories, illustrators and editorial cartoonists with deep ties to the mountains and the region—Paige Braddock (’85), Marshall Ramsey (’91), and Danny Wilson (’84)—created more than 40 drawings that capture both the heartbreaking destruction of the wildfires and the heroic and compassionate acts of community members. Former Knoxville News Sentinel editorial cartoonist Charlie Daniel contributed two illustrations he created and published at the time of the wildfires.
The artworks will also be available in a catalog of the exhibition to be published by the University of Tennessee Press this fall.
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