Colby Lamb

After the Fire 2: Starting Again

Looking Back: 2020's wildfires left the artisans of Oregon's Santiam Canyon reeling. A luthier and a painter look at what comes next.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The year 2020 has been unlike any in recent memory, piling uncertainty upon uncertainty and disaster upon disasterIt’s included a devastating wildfire season across the West, including a massive September fire that destroyed forests and towns in Oregon’s Santiam Canyon, where a thriving arts and crafts scene had grown up. In yesterday’s first of two stories for ArtsWatch, After the Fire 1: Scarred Landscape, writer and photographer Dee Moore turned a lens on the ash and ruin of the fire’s charred aftermath. In today’s Part 2, we hear from two of the canyon’s artisans – a logger-turned-painter and a luthier/community radio station manager – about what might come next.


Paul Toews’s ties to Santiam Canyon are indelible. His career as a logger started there. It is where he has lived, built his home, made a life, and attempted to make reparations to nature and the forest for a career in logging. And it has long been the inspiration of his many paintings.

“I’ve got a real tie with the land, and it goes back to my profession as a logger,” said Toews, who is 74. “The reason that I am explaining that is that it’s directly connected with my land, and probably the reason that I moved up there. I wanted a little bit where I could do some payback. I could give back what I took.

“I paint realism, and it’s considered contemporary impressionalism. I don’t draw individual leaves as much as the movement of things.” Toews’s primary medium is watercolor. He has painted since high school, but embraced it professionally after he gave up logging following a near-death scare. He began painting professionally, he said, “about the turn of 2000; I started making an effort to establish a studio and establish a clientele and started doing shows and teaching.”

When the Santiam Fire burned through Gates on Sept. 9, Toews lost almost everything: his home, which he had designed and built; and more than 30 paintings. Only the items in his Stayton studio, Art Gone Wild, remained untouched.


“At least 35, maybe 40 (paintings),” he said with a groan when we talked in late November. “Every once in a while one comes to mind and I think, that was up there.”

His voice had a ragged edge as he described his loss. The trauma remains. Toews has yet to see the effect the fire and loss will have on his art. So far all he has worked on are commissioned pieces. He’s yet to pick up a brush for himself.

Paul Toews, logger turned artist: burned out, starting again.

“Well, I think you’d have to come back maybe in a year for me to be able to answer that,” he said, “because this week was the first time I picked up a brush, and it was a commission job so it was already established what I did. So it’s not a test of what might have shifted inside of me somehow. I haven’t painted – so, yeah, that’s going to be a test of where my mind is I think when I start off that, but I really haven’t had the chance to just say, ‘Okay, what do I want to do?’”