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Stories of Fire
ies Part II:

Anne Acker-Mathieu 

Ignition Casino

acrylic collage, 17in x 20in, 2023

Fire depends on the fuels that feed it. Together with topography and weather, fuels determine a wildfire’s behavior: where it burns, how quickly it spreads, how hot it gets. Fire managers use the term “fuel loading” to categorize the amounts and types of vegetative fuels in a given area. But whether dry grasses, shrubs, dense stands of conifers or logging slash, the accumulation of fuels on the landscape reflects both the ecological processes and the cultural and social imperatives that shape land management. Fire suppression and industrialized land use, structural racial and economic disparities, residential development, roads and recreation, the support or hindrance of ecological stewardship and Indigenous fire sovereignty: all these “fuels” load onto the landscape as uneven densities, distributions and renewals.


As the second part of the Stories of Fire online exhibition series, FUEL LOADING showcases creative works that reckon with the accumulations of fuels in the Pacific Northwest and surrounding regions. These works engage a broad conception of fuel loading to measure the weights, densities and arrangements of fuels across ecological, social and material landscapes. They celebrate the dynamic potential of fire, while also pressing on the build-ups, sparks and residues that contribute to flammability. They attend to the fuels themselves and ask how fire and justice converge. 

“The whole earth is fuel-loaded; there is nowhere apart and smoke drifts easily across borders...”

Amiko Matsuo + Brad Monsma

Amiko Matsuo + Brad Monsma

Bat Cone Burn, pyrometric project ritual firing. final form: clay, terra sigillata, underglazes, 2014

Suze Woolf


varnished watercolor on torn paper mounted on laser-cut polycarbonate & shaped matboard, 52in x 25in, 2023.

An ancient burned juniper from the new BLM wilderness area Oregon Badlands.

This work is presented in collaboration by:

And made possible by the generous

support of:


Martina Shenal

clockwise from left:

Slash Piles 06, Slash Piles, Slash Piles 07, 

La Pine, Oregon, archival pigment prints, 28.25in x 22.25in, 2022


aj miccio

Davis Burn Scar (w/detail)

ink on bristol, 11in x 14in, 2023

Lisa Cristinzo

How to write a painting

acrylic on wood panel, 36in x 48in, 2022

Eric Ondina

Nearer My God to Thee



Kate Lund

Brush Fit

rip-stop nylon, wool, flannel, fleece, 2023

Lisa Cristinzo

Marked Trail

acrylic on linen, 60in x 82in, 2023

Kelsey Grafton


ceramic & organic found object,

16in x 4in x 2.5in, 2019

Anne Acker-Mathieu 

Fields of Fuel

acrylic collage, 45in x 42in, 2022

Karin Bolender / Rural Alchemy Workshop (R.A.W.) 

RQP Card

seemingly an autograph card, one of few existing pictures of the Rodeo Queen of the Pyrocene.

“Fuel” is a designation inherently

concerned with material and materiality.

But, of course,

fuel also signifies energy.

Erin James

read more on how artists are "Feeling Fuel"

Photo 7.jpg

Amiko Matsuo + Brad Monsma

Pyrometric Whirl

Ink, ash, medium, Phos-Chek flame retardant on paper, 84in x 40in, 2017

photo credit: Larry Lytle


Amiko Matsuo + Brad Monsma

Pyrometric Landscape

ash, medium, Phos-Chek flame retardant on paper; 84in x 40in, 2017

photo credit: Kevin Boland

Lisa Cristinzo

Birch Bark is like Snake Skin

acrylic on wood panel, 36in x 48in, 2021

Suze Woolf

Core Values

fabric installation of knit/felted tree cores, woven ice cores, dyed and quilted sediment cores, dimensions variable, up to approx. 18 sq ft, 2023

Kelsey Grafton


 (two views of wall piece) ceramic, 14.5in x 11.5in x 6.5in, 2020

Kelsey Grafton


 ceramic, organic materials, found objects, and conviction,

8.3ft x 3ft x 5ft, 2021

Eric Ondina


emulsion on canvas, 2021

Eric Ondina



Eric Ondina

Hot Leather 3

emulsion on board, 2020

"The planet, like many of us, is experiencing the build up, the burn, and the burn out."

Lisa Cristinzo

read more about Fuel Loading's
impacts through Erin James'
 reflective essay

Lisa Cristinzo

Fraternal Fire

acrylic on wood panel, 77in x 60in, 2023

Suze Woolf

Carved Out with Fire Pit

tree: Varnished watercolor on torn paper mounted on shaped Gatorboard with wood hanging cradle.

fire pit: black paper, rocks, spray-painted gas pump handle, empty propane tank, coal, insulator, corn cobs, 2022

barbed wire, model airplane, model semi-truck and model oil tanker railroad car added 2023.


Suze Woolf

Logged, Drifted and Burned

varnished watercolor on torn paper mounted on shaped foam core with wood hanging cradle,

52in x 25in, 2023.

washed-up log found on Newskowin Beach, Oregon.

Anne Acker-Mathieu 

The Hand that Feeds You

acrylic collage, 22in x 22in, 2023

Amiko Matsuo


video of site-specific, temporary public art project, Seattle, WA, 2023

video credit: Tom Reese


further considerations

FL Burn Out

"The Build Up, the Burn,
and the Burn Out"

Eric Onida’s Nearer My God to Thee depicts a marching band on fire, or perhaps a marching band emerging from fire; the bright reds of the band’s uniform, coupled with the yellows of their instruments, blend into the fire behind them, such that it’s difficult to tell where music becomes flame and flame becomes music. Onida explains that his paintings, produced with a unique recipe of egg tempera that blends viscous balsam, fossilized hard resins, egg yolk and water, depict “a society in the midst of its discontent, desperately trying to make sense of a destiny that often feels elusive, slipping beyond control and comprehension.” He also notes that paintings such as this one and Check, which similarly depicts an urban gas station emerging from (or perhaps about to be consumed by) threatening red flames that lurk in the background, draw conceptually from the fires depicted by the news media to be consuming the Pacific Northwest to represent “our social malaise as we grapple with the forces of unyielding natural and political environments.” These paintings certainly pose a stark question to me: what is the relationship between marching bands and wildfire? What about the city corner gas station–what role does it play in today’s firescape? Indeed, how, exactly, are ecological and social environments intertwined?


Lisa Cristinzo’s Marked Trail poses a similar set of questions. As a Canadian myself, I easily recognize the symbols of Canuck patriotism in her work: the wheat and the geese that frame the painting, the pine cones and snowy, cloudy fields that root us in the North, and the cottage core kitsch of the colored mailboxes, flags, and place signs. These images combine to evoke a knee-jerk sense of national pride–for me, they drudge up an overly simplistic and idealistic idea of Canada that typically lives in a land of maple leaves and syrup. Yet the red brush strokes on the left side of the painting niggle me. These strokes could echo the most iconic of Canadian images: the red leaf, standing brightly against a white background. But they also disturbingly look aflame. Once again, I ask myself: what are the connections between these tokens of national pride–geese, snow, red foliage–and the fires that increasingly appear where we think they should not? And how do these artifacts of culture in and of themselves fuel these fires? 


Cristinzo’s artist’s statement gives us some answers to these questions. She notes that her current work, including Marked Trail and Birch Bark is like Snakeskin, came to her during a stay in a stone cabin. She began each morning collecting fuel for the wood stove, and “soon came to see the pieces of wood, newspaper, burnable objects, and ash as triangular compositions suitable for painting.” She quickly found herself delaying the fire each morning, pausing first to sketch her fuels before burning them. “Building a fire is a means of building a painting,” she states. Yet her process of accumulation-to-burn also speaks to a problem that she extends to the human species. “Our obsession with possession has caused a warming planet,” she writes, “leading to intense weather systems and catastrophic events. The planet, like many of us, is experiencing the build up, the burn, and the burn out.” 


This emphasis on the build up, the burn, and the burn out is fitting for an exhibition on Fuel Loading. As the introduction to the exhibition explains, fire managers use this titular term to account for amounts and types of vegetative fuels in a given area. In the Pacific Northwest, these fuels include dry grasses, shrubs, and dense stands of conifers. But Onida and Cristinzo’s work helps us take a much broader view of fuel, not just as materials that accumulate on a forest floor but also as social and cultural practices that facilitate a build up and subsequent burn. Work like Nearer My God to Thee and Marked Trail helps me realize how the everyday practices of my life, including attending the local football game, filling my car with gas, and taking a quick break at a cottage up north, are all part of the complicated network of values, attitudes, and behaviors that shape the world in which I live. Fuel loads, not just via ecological accumulation, but also via social  tradition and routine.

Eric Ondina, Nearer My God to Thee

Lisa Cristinzo, Marked Trail

Shenal's Slash Piles 06 & 07

Karin Bolender’s work with the Rural Alchemy Workshop also emphasizes the link between fire and our region’s cultural traditions. Her playful Rodeo Queen of the Pyrocene autograph card presses on, as she explains, “generic myths of the ‘Western Way of Life’ as they manifest in Pacific Northwest forestry, ranching, conservation, and other land-management practices, in both obvious and less visible ways.” The Rodeo Queen’s ghostly face and crown of flames task viewers with the question: How do iconic (and beloved) cultural practices of the North American West respond to an epoch increasingly determined by fire?" She also demands that we rethink the role of cultural ambassadors of this region right now. Bolender explains that the Rodeo Queen “thunders in and out of arena spotlights, waving a spectacular, distracting red flag amidst the more hidden dimensions of cultural, capital, and fossil flows and legacies that shape the land as we (don’t) know it and fuel its range of conflagrations.” What are the Rodeo Queen’s responsibilities to this region and its legacies, both positive and negative, overt and hidden? And what responsibilities do we, as viewers and potential fans,  have in protecting the cultural and ecological heritages that she symbolizes before they–and she–burn out?


Finally, Marina Shenal’s photographs give a forward-looking spin on the entanglement of ecological and social fuels. Her portraits of slash piles gathered in La Pine, Oregon, in late November 2022, are a much more literal take on fuel loading: they depict the vegetative fuels that have been cleared and piled as part of forest fuels reduction work. In Slash Piles, the scale and size of the accumulated material might appear as a warning. The brown slash piles frame and center the green, living trees as if to highlight the violence and destruction of the clearing that has taken place. What was once living, green, and standing tall is now dead, brown, and on the ground. 


Yet upon a closer look I also see two additional timelines in Shenal’s photos. One looks backwards to grapple with the accumulation of ecological fuels, due in no small part to the cultural suppression inherent in fire suppression policies. In this timeline, accumulation goes hand-in-hand with erasure: the build up of vegetation in the Pacific Northwest is intimately linked to the nullification of indigenous fire practices that center around the regular implementation of “cultural burns”--controlled fires used to renew the land and culturally important plants and animals. The other timeline looks forward. These slash piles have been staged in colder, wetter months for an upcoming prescribed burn to reduce fuel loads in the forest.  Viewing them with a longer, future-facing timeline, I  understand them not as symbols of a healthy forest that once was, but as the fuel of the more fire-resilient forest that will be. As Shenal explains, her photographs inspired her to learn more about “efforts to create healthy forest ecosystems” in the Pacific Northwest including “reducing fuel loads during the winter season” to “reverse the decades-long fire suppression strategies that . . . have left the forests vulnerable to intense wildfires.” The intimate, close view of Slash Piles 06 and Slash Piles 07 encourages me to appreciate the intricate beauty of these fuels and reconfigures my understanding of the dead materials  as emblems of destruction to those of creation. They signify land management practices that are moving beyond suppression-at-all-costs to embrace the implementation of fire for both ecological and cultural purposes. They thus stand as potent images of a different kind of fuel loading which can support different kinds of fire, renewing social and ecological landscapes. 

"Feeling Fuel"


Kelsey Grafton's Becoming 

Suze Woolf's Splintered

As the introductory statement of the Fuel Loading exhibit makes clear, fire practitioners and managers tend to classify fuels by type: dry grasses, shrubs, dense stands of conifers, logging slash piles, etc. These categories emphasize that “fuel” is a designation inherently concerned with material and materiality. But, of course, fuel also signifies energy, in that fires burn differently depending on the type of material that feeds them: grasses are quick and hot, while slash piles tend to burn slow and steady. It thus makes sense that much of the artwork in the Fuel Loading exhibit foregrounds the energetic presence—and emotional valences—of specific materials.


Take, for example, the pieces that make up Kelsey Grafton’s Trees of Morrow series. These sculptures are directly composed of the raw materials of fire’s fuel. As she explains in her artist statement, Grafton draws from her family homestead in Colville, Washington to “hand-harvest earthenware clay, pull textures from fallen structures, and gather artifacts left behind by my ancestors as a way of preserving our fading family history through art-making.” As structures like Becoming and Morphosis illustrate, this material engagement increasingly concerns itself with fire—as the homestead has become vulnerable to wildfire and the family busies themselves with tree thinning and slash pile burning, the fuel that provides the energy to Grafton’s artistic practice becomes the same fuel driving fire prevention measures on the site. For Grafton, this material fuel lends her creative practice an optimistic energy; Becoming clearly juxtaposes preventative burning with new life, as it depicts fresh berries growing from charred wood.


Suze Woolf’s work shares this fuel and energy. She was formerly an artist who painted “beautiful intact landscapes,” yet works like Splintered and Logged, Drifted, and Burned provide us with intimate portraits of individual burned trees. This focus and its detailed representation of the fuel’s transformation by fire is a means of mediating Woolf’s anxieties about human impacts on the climate. As she suggests, the carbonized, “eaten away” snags of her paintings task us with finding “unusual beauty” in what is all too easy to dismiss as used up. 

right: Kate Lund's Brush Fit  left: aj miccio's Davis Burn Scar

Feeling Fuel
Photo 7.jpg

Amiko Matsuo + Brad Monsma, Pyrometric Whirl

The Northwest Fire Science Consortium’s informational pamphlet “What is Fuel?” tells us that “fuel is the only component of the fire triangle that land owners and managers can influence.” In this declaration, they confidently position fuel as within our control. Yet several of the pieces in Fuel Loading call this confidence into question. Kate Lund’s imposing Brush Fit, which she composed of rip-stop nylon, wool, flannel, and fleece, evokes the emotional experience of being caught in too much fuel—of not being able to influence this particular corner of the fire triangle, no matter the equipment that you have on hand. Lund explains that a “brushfit” is a temper tantrum that you throw “when you succumb to the challenges of walking in an overgrown forest.” The particular brushfit that inspires Lund’s sculpture took place as she and a crew were hiking 50 lb bladder bags into a small fire in the steep terrain of Northern Idaho. Lund and the crew begin their hike with positive attitudes, buoyed in part by their gear and saws. Yet the density of the forest quickly defeated them. She explains: “I remember stopping, grabbing a hold of a tree so that I didn’t roll down the hill, and thinking, What am I doing here? Why do I do this to myself? Why are we even putting this fire out when this whole hillside needs to burn anyway?”


Brush Fit powerfully visualizes this transition from idealized expectations to frustrated realities, progressing from clean lines to a frazzled mass that looms over us. The piece is dominated by a literal increase in the density of materials and poses a vital question: how much control over fuels do we have, really? aj miccio’s drawing of the Davis Burn Scar and Anne Acker-Mathieu’s acrylic collages—especially Ignition Casino and Fields of Fuel—replicate the affective tension of Lund’s brushfit. Like Lund’s sculpture, miccio’s drawing and Acker-Mathieu’s paintings relish in the density of visual information to provoke emotional responses from viewers. In their packedness and abundance of detail and color, respectively, they too suggest that we may not be as in control of fuel and/or our emotions as we might assume. 

The airier pieces in Fuel Loading offer me some relief, albeit fleetingly. Amiko Matsuo and Brad Monsma’s Pyrometric Whirl initially provokes in me the opposite emotional and affective experience of Brush Fit. Whereas my anxiety increases as my eye travels upward in the latter, I feel a sense of calm as I scroll from bottom to top of Matsuo and Monsma’s image. A dense red clump lifts into ethereal black and white whisps, providing me with a sense of upward relief and evaporation. I am released from the brushfit of the painting’s bottom half, finding solace in a dance of vapors. But, fitting to form, this respite is as transitory as the swirling air that evokes it—the longer that I look, the more that bottom half and top half intermesh such that I’m confronted with the process of one becoming the other. The whisps are not relief from the red clump but its latest iteration; as I learn that the red pigment of the painting stems from the fire retardant Phos-chek, I am once again thinking about fuel, feelings, and control. Matsuo and Monsma explain that their work, especially the “wound-like” Phos-check marks on paper,  expresses “the ironies of fire suppression rhetoric while also suggesting the rage of a combustion and intolerant political landscape.”


“The whole earth is fuel-loaded,” they continue, and their work demands that we grapple with the full extent of our desire to influence any (or all?) parts of the fire triangle. I now see the painting as depicting the transformation of material from a site-specific measure of prevention into a traveling vector of toxicity waiting for our inhale, and become aware of how we, literally, become and embody the very fuels that we add to today’s firescapes. The artists’ connection of the physical and cultural fires that dominate contemporary life in the American West broadens the scope and urgency of this tension: how do our suppression efforts—suppression of fire, but also of political debates and schisms—become fuels in and of themselves? And to what sort of energy do these fuels give rise?

further considerations contributed by

Confluence Lab member Erin James,

December 2023.

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