Call & Response: Visions of the Forest after Wildfire

Shelley Zentner
Submitted to the Tribune

Sierra Arts Foundation presents a new collection of charcoal drawings and oil paintings by Shelley Zentner

The Return
Shelley Zenter

RENO, Nev. – The Caldor Fire of 2021 raged up the Western Slope of the Sierra Nevada, destroyed the community of Grizzly Flats, crested Echo Summit, then burned both sides of Christmas Valley where my family and I live. Miraculously, a narrow strip of green at the bottom of the valley was preserved between two ‘wings’ of charred forest. After we returned from evacuation, I began collecting charcoal from the fire to draw with. It felt like a healing thing to do at a time when we, as a community, were reeling from shock and devastation.

The drawings and paintings in this collection are a response to the surreal landscape we found ourselves in, and the complex emotions associated with our home surviving when so many others were lost. As a cancer survivor, my practice is always to seek light in dark times. So, when the first morning light spilled over the valley ridgeline through the trees, it was a deep impulse that called me to capture those rays dancing magically through the charred forest. Combining charcoal with soft colored pastels, I made intuitive, impressionist drawings that captured the fragile beginnings of renewal. The color was returning already.

In the Wings
Shelley Zenter

Extreme drought was also apparent in the river that runs through the valley after our absence. Blooms of bright green algae had collected in warm water that appeared frozen in time, it’s beautiful stillness an ominous testament to the lack of rain. Perfect reflections of the forest were painted on the surface, yellow aspen leaves gathered on the shore like confetti. Responding with my own paint, tall slender oils that echo the cathedral-like trees seemed a fitting tribute.

Shelley Zentner is a Welsh artist who has called the US home for 17 years. Her work has been exhibited internationally since 1996 at venues that include: The Museum of Modern Art, Wales, The Bristol Guild of Art, and The Royal Cambrian Academy. Shelley had the honor of meeting art enthusiast Prince Charles in 2002. She lives with her husband and daughter in Christmas Valley, near South Lake Tahoe, California.

Shelley Zenter

‘Call & Response’ will be on display at Sierra Arts Foundation, 17, Virginia St., Suite 120, Reno, NV from March 2 – 28 2022. Opening hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and Saturdays from 12 – 4 p.m. A reception for the artist will be held on March 5 from 5 -7 p.m.

Admission is free. Catalog and print sales will benefit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Guided tours with the artist will take place on Saturdays by request. Please contact Shelley at 530.318.7824 to make a free reservation. A virtual exhibition can be viewed online at



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