When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When a wildfire destroys your forest, Marco Cecala turns ashes into artwork.
The Prescott, Ariz., resident has been turning bowls from the charred remains of the trees ravaged by the Yarnell Hill fire in June. Cecala, making the transition from a career as a civil engineer to a full-time studio furniture maker, is the owner of Marco Woodworking.
Although he did not lose his home, the wildfire’s destruction broke his heart and the bowls are a way for him to pay a tribute to others affected by it. More than 8,000 acres of forest were lost, along with about 100 structures. Nineteen firefighters known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed trying to fight the battle. His wife, Rebecca Wilks, a professional photographer, began taking photos of the damaged areas in the aftermath, which inspired him to do something.
“After the fire, I brought some of the trees back to my shop. I just wanted to see what it would be like to turn that. My wife took a photo of a bowl I made and put it on Facebook and I thought we’d make more to raise money to plant more trees through the state’s cooperative extension program.”
Cecala has made about 20 bowls and has orders for 100 more. He is working directly for Van Gogh’s Ear, an art gallery in Prescott. All of the proceeds from the gallery sales are going to the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group to replant trees and stabilize the soil. The bowls sell for $100 to $150. He’s had an order from Sweden, but his focus is on the local community.
He has permission to harvest wood from private property and there’s plenty more to be had from cleanup efforts. Most of the damaged wood is white oak.
“The trees themselves are very unsightly and an unstable material to work with. They’re wet in the middle, dry on the outside, have cracks all over them and the heat has caramelized them. But the bowls are fantastic.
“My first run of bowls were smaller in size, but I’ve since acquired a larger chain saw and have been getting larger pieces of wood to work with. I want to start selling them online. I will keep this going as long as I can. As long as people are slightly patient, they’ll get a bowl.”
Cecala marks the bottom of each bowl with the GPS coordinates of where the tree grew. He’s expanding his offerings to include vases, plates and jewelry boxes.
“I want people to have an association beyond the tree coming from the fire. This way they can track the updates of the land where it came from.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.