Back Story, 2020
Etched and kiln fired art glass
Santa Monica Fire Station 1, Santa Monica, CA

In 2015, I was commissioned by Santa Monica Cultural Affairs to create an artwork for the Santa Monica Fire Department Fire Station 1, still in the planning stages. Between 2015-2018, I spent countless hours with the Santa Monica Fire Department, observing firefighters on calls and at the station, visiting the Fire Academy to watch and photograph training exercises, learning as much as I could about the administrative side of the fire department. I researched the history of Santa Monica firefighting going back to the Department’s founding in 1889, and I spent hours interviewing many patient and generous SMFD personnel to try to understand the satisfactions and challenges of a job so different from mine.

Project architect Rob Quigley designed sections of interior glazing to integrate my art glass windows into his beautiful building.

Back Story is an installation of 18 art glass panels: 15 windows in the lobby of Santa Monica’s new Fire Station 1, and three additional panels mounted on the walls of the station’s community room. Franz Mayer of Munich translated my drawings and paintings of SMFD history and firsthand observations from ride-alongs, training, inspection, dinners into glass. (I flew to Germany in 2017 to work with artisans in the glass shop, who used a combination of digital and hand techniques to recreate the feel of my watercolors in ceramic melting colors.)

Although the Covid19 pandemic has restricted access to the Fire Station since it opened in July, we look forward to the future when Santa Monica residents can enjoy the artwork firsthand. We have also published an artist’s book that brings together the scores of drawings I created during my informal artist residency with SMFD, printed in full color along with excerpts from conversations and interviews with department personnel.

Photographs used as source materials for artworks are courtesy of Santa Monica Fire Department, Santa Monica History Museum, Santa Monica Public Library and Fabian Lewkowicz.

Special thanks to
Santa Monica Cultural Affairs
Santa Monica Fire Department
SMFD Deputy Chief of Administration Tom Clemo,
Santa Monica Public Library
Santa Monica History Museum
Laura Becker, Rob Quigley Maryanne Welton, Bob Dickens, Kenny Lee, Ace Contreras, Debbie Suh, Michael Cochran, Barbara Aschheim Jody Zellen, Fabian Lewkowicz, Firefighters Dominic Smith and Jason Abraham, Fire Inspector Sandy Zaouk and all the firefighters who graciously shared their stories and allowed me to accompany them in their work and document a snapshot of life in the SMFD.