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From Fire And Steel, A Symbol Of McKenzie River Resilience

With torches, grinders, and a gift for bringing new dimensions to old metal, sculptor Jud Turner is crafting a monument to  survivors of the Holiday Farm Fire.  It burned 173,000 acres in the McKenzie River Corridor last September, leveling towns like Blue River. KLCC’s Brian Bull produced this audio self-narrative, where Turner describes his project. 

"My name is Jud Turner and I’m a professional sculptor here in Eugene. I’ve been welding and working with repurposed materials and assemblage for a good 25 years.

"This is a sculpture in progress to commemorate the resilience and strength of the Blue River and McKenzie River area communities that were devastated by the Holiday Farm Fires last fall. It’s a phoenix rising, it’s about 12-13 feet tall, phoenix spreading its wings and rising from the ashes, literally. It’s created out of components that were found and salvaged from burn sites, particularly in the Blue River area.

Credit Melanie Stanley; Brian Bull / Meyers General Store & Liquor; KLCC
Meyers General Store & Liquor; KLCC
Top left: Meyers General Store and Liquor before the Holiday Farm Fire; bottom left and right: the store after the disaster, with owner Melanie Stanley vowing to rebuild within the year.

"I’ve been up to the McKenzie River ever since I was a kid, and so there’s recognizable landmarks that were no longer recognizable after the fire, it was very disorienting to go up there and begin to gather the materials. And emotionally a really strong feeling of loss and of great respect for sifting through people’s property and the remnants of their houses and their shops and everything to look for material that I could use. So I did it with great care, permission of course, and then cooperation of the people who live there and are rebuilding their lives.

"The feathers of the phoenix are made from irrigation water barrels. There’s a fellow up there who had a business of doing professional irrigation installation and had a whole bunch of water barrels that are good to cut these feather shapes out of using an oxy-acetylene torch. 

"There’s some things that have been decorative parts of people’s yards and property, there is lawn furniture in sorta some of the swirlier shapes that were repurposed from patio furniture.

"In the center there is a clear cylinder of McKenzie River. I went and gathered some water from the river to be the heart of the phoenix, and it’s now sealed inside a welded steel canister that has clear visibility so that you can see into the water. So that was a particularly meaningful component.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
The pristine waters of the McKenzie River.

"I should be done in the beginning of May.  And then I’ll work with some of the community board members in Blue River to get it sited. It’ll be somewhere in kinda the middle of the town. 

"And then in September, on the one-year anniversary of the fire, there’s going to be a community remembrance ceremony that’ll be more of a memorial for loss of the community and just marking that date, and hopefully the phoenix will play a part in that.  The symbology of rising from fire and ashes, beauty rising from ashes, was really one of the main themes that the phoenix seemed to capture. The name of the Phoenix is Viribus, which is Latin for “strength.”

"It is the right size at 12-feet tall, to look up at, and feel like it’s larger than us. It’s also made at a scale where a person can stand in front of it and hold out their own arms, and sort of adopt the pose and look like they are sprouting angel wings.

"This is truly an honor to be asked to do this for a community who has gone through such a traumatic experience, it’s sort of intimidating and exciting at the same time.  I really want it to rise to the occasion of being really sensitive to what the sculpture’s purpose is and what the community’s been through, and I want them to pause and remember what happened in this area. And that the strength and spirit of the community rose above that. And that beauty does rise out of difficult times when people come together and work together. 

"Public art has the potential to create identity and connection among the community where the art is placed."

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Jud Turner in his shop, near the wingtip of Veribus the Phoenix.

Story 2: Partners behind the scenes

Beauty from ashes.  That’s the theme a group of community organizers and artists are hoping to present to those affected by the Holiday Farm fire, which roared through the McKenzie River Corridor last September. 

Credit Eugene Chamber of Commerce
Kelly Johnson, executive director of the Arts and Business Alliance of Eugene.


Kelly Johnson of the Arts and Business Alliance of Eugene says through several generous donors and input, a sculpture of a towering phoenix will be installed in Blue River later this year.  She said it’ll be crafted with scrap metal given by local residents of the affected area. 

“We wanted something that would be hopeful, and represent the iron will of the community," Johnson told KLCC. "And also something that you could maybe go and see a part of your home in, you could maybe identify a piece of that in the sculpture.” 

Johnson said the $12,000 project was supported by several partners, including Love for Lane County, and the McKenzie Community Development Corporation.

Copyright 2021, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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