Healing In the Rubble

Artist Claudia Taylor with one of her sculptures, from the series “Hearts of Trees Lost.”

Claudia Taylor has walked on the beaches of Malibu since she was six years old. Over the years, she traveled and moved to New York to study, but found her way back to Malibu to raise a family. Now at the age of 60, the self-taught artist has been creating sculptures and artwork with not just paint and clay, but pieces of burl that were left behind in the Woolsey Fire.

“I never dedicated myself to truly making art until I was a little bit more inspired after the Woolsey Fire,” Taylor said. “I can only say that the Woolsey Fire was a bit of an inflection point for me, personally. It really shook me to the core and it changed my values and what I was doing with my time.” 

Alongside being an artist, Taylor is also a chef, event coordinator and caterer. The Malibu artist has been creating a series of sculptures with pieces of manzanita tree burls she has found following the Woolsey Fire, called “Hearts of Trees Lost.”

Some of her pieces were displayed at the Tracy Park Gallery as well as Malibu City Hall. Taylor was also asked to create a site-specific series for the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs in February 2020, but when the COVID-19 outbreak took place, the hotel was shut down and the exhibit closed halfway through its run.

A year later, Taylor is excited to bring back her art and put them on display for Earth Day 2021 (April 22.) 

“I am bringing all the 10 sculptures back to Malibu in time for Earth Day,” Taylor said. “They will be placed in nature up Puerco Canyon Park, managed by the MRCA [Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority].”

Taylor described her experience following the fire. 

“We tried to make sense of it all. My husband and I were in a daze, walking our dogs on the beaches transformed to apocalyptic seascapes, the ocean [was] so thick with ash and debris that the waves moved like a molten lava stew,” Taylor described in an email to The Malibu Times. “The Santa Monica Mountains [were] unrecognizable—just a wash of blackness—and just sadness. So many homes lost, so many lives uprooted.”

After rain arrived, mudflows and the tides brought in charred remains including the roots of the manzanita trees that had burned to the ground.

“I began to collect the burls, not sure what I would do with them, but vaguely certain they would become some sort of art-project, and standing tall, they became beautiful, bold beacons to the resilience that we found as individuals and as a community,” Taylor described.

Her husband, Rob, handled the drilling of the burls, as they are very dense, difficult and tricky. She assembled the burls on welded steel bases and found a ratio that made the most sense.

“It’s been part of my spiritual growth and part of my healing. I look at my artwork as a healing process,” Taylor said, adding, “After the fires, it’s my way of marking my place in the history of the event and part of my own personal healing.”

Now coming at almost three years since the fire, the burls are harder to come by. 

“My usual haunts have been exhausted and we must walk to farther beaches to find them,” Taylor said. “Woolsey is rebounding strong with the hills again bursting with beauty and wildlife returning. Charred oaks are resilient and refuse to give up. It’s really about finding strength and resilience after the devastation that we all went through.”

Taylor added that she was looking forward to the sculptures returning to the mountains.

“I think that it’s really fitting that we bring these sculptures back and let them talk about nature’s resilience, nature’s ability to burn and return, because that’s really what we’ve all witnessed after the devastation that swept through Malibu,” Taylor said. “We’ve watched our community rebound and we’ve watched nature rebound, sort of a celebration.”

Claudia Taylor’s installation, “Hearts of Trees Lost,” will be on display at Cameron Nature Preserve at Puerco Canyon for Earth Day 2021. For more information, visit: claudiajotaylor.com.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Claudia Taylor’s website.