The HOME of the Phoenix

a tryptych assemblage composed of what was left after the artists house burned down
Lost Home Memory Box, Joan Tanzer


What makes a piece of art compelling for me is primarily Wonder. As in it fills me with Wonder (amazement at beauty, uniqueness, ineffability) and makes me Wonder (curiosity about technique, backstory, message.) With a quest for wonderfulness in mind, I set out to find the artworks at the current Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery HOME Exhibit which carried me away into their worlds whether I fully understood them or not. Pieces that called up more questions than answered them. Pieces that pushed the idea of HOME into new shapes.

This is the second essay about three works I found there – among SO many – that whistled up Wonder to new levels.  (Links to the other posts about this exhibit are below.)

“Lost Home Memory Box” by Joan Tanzer, rendered me so full, I kept circling round the gallery, returning to see it anew each time I passed. The title (before I knew the story) helped me guess that the assemblage triptych – a Rococoesque encrustation of diverse trinkets and sculptural bits recalling a picture riddle out of the I Spy kid’s books series – seemed composed of The Ten Thousand Things, remnants of someone’s very real and very gone home.

I thought about the mystery of it more than the work alone. What is it to lose a home to a disaster? A war? A flood? An earthquake? A fire?  To not be able to go home again because you didn’t leave it, it left you? I wondered How? And looked for more clues. Why? And looked for themes. Who? And read between the lines. Where and When? And I stepped back to view the whole, marveling at what comes from apparent total loss.

The piece, however I pondered it, still remained a cabinet of curiosities. I needed to meet the artist.

I was thrilled when Joan Tanzer coincidentally wedged past me at the reception a few days later. I saw her nametag. She was here! I could ask her my questions and tell her how much I was called to her art.

Sure enough, Joan’s house burnt down in the Oakland Firestorm of 1991 and I believe every single thing in this work of art came from the ashes. Since I had last seen the work, the Gallery had installed Joan’s saved newspaper pages about the fire which also included a shot of her and her family standing in the rubble, the remaining chimney silhouetted behind them.

She pointed out travel mementos, fused pennies, toys and mini-sculptures her daughter made with the melted and mangled forks. Each one a singular part of the whole and a key to a particular association and a tale. The piece is literally what became of that home. The fire happened nearly 25 years ago and it seems safe to say the loss is elegantly held in artful wonderfulness.

Joan hands me her biz card. It reads Phoenix Designs.

Joan Tanzer standing next to her assemblage artwork titled "Lost Home Memory Box"
Joan Tanzer with her piece “Lost Home Memory Box.”


–Liz Crain, who has made more than a few cathartic pieces of art herself and is stronger and saner for it.

Links for Posts About the HOME Exhibit and My Piece in It

“Homefire 1957” Sculpture 

“HOME” Exhibit 

Exhibit Details: “HOME” Member’s Exhibit 2016, July 6 – August 7, 2016,  Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery, 37 Sudden St., Watsonville, CA

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