STABLE, a horse stable-turned-exhibition space adjacent to artist Jeremy Ehling’s Bennett Ridge home in east Santa Rosa, had what he calls “an occasional exhibition program.” Shows were up for one day only -- usually installed the morning of -- and came down the same night.
Founded in September 2015, Ehling had plans for STABLE well into the spring of 2018. “Unfortunately,” he says of the space, “it won’t be there.”
At 2:30am the morning of Oct. 9, Ehling and his partner Jillian Jirik woke to popping sounds they would later discover were neighbors' exploding propane tanks. Ehling remembers looking out from their deck and seeing the approaching Nunn fire. “I could just see a huge wall of flames, the whole sky was red,” he says. The couple had only enough time to pull on clothes, grab their cat and jump in the car. As they drove out of their small neighborhood of about 100 homes, sparks and embers fell across their windshield.
“The crazy thing was there was no one there,” Ehling says, “no firefighters, no police.” Neighbors warned each other up by honking their car horns on their way out. One resident told the Press Democrat he woke up only because his neighbor wouldn’t stop pounding on his door.
Ehling and Jirik’s rented house and over 75 of their neighbors’ homes were completely lost to the fire. Ehling’s home studio, and all of his paintings, are gone. The empty STABLE, fresh off Chevalier, Bay Area artist Ben Peterson’s one-day sculpture show, is gone.
For artist Jaimie Healy, whose show of paintings and neon took place at STABLE in May 2017, the exhibition space's raw surfaces presented an opportunity to experiment with her installation. STABLE pushed her to think about keeping things simple. "The architecture was already so much," Healy says. “I brought lot of stuff up and then I spent 24 hours leveling out the floor.”
Healy ended up installing her neon piece, a little twist of glowing red, in a hole she dug in the STABLE’s newly level dirt floor. “It’s rare you get to dig a hole in a gallery floor,” she says. “It was nice to go down and not just display art on a surface. The freedom was being able to think about a space that wasn’t so precious.”
Ehling’s first show in the space almost didn't happen. His then-landlord was reluctant to let visitors onto the property to view art, but she eventually capitulated when Ehling timed the one-day show to Bennett Ridge's open studios.
That show, Ohlsson/Dit-Cilinn’s Wet Sample was installed by Ehling via Skype, the artists directing the arrangement from their home base in Amsterdam. "The impulse was to have a conversation between what’s going on in various cities or even internationally with the North Bay community," Ehling says. "Because there’s not really much crossover in that. It's one of the things I had in mind since I had the idea to move out here."
Luckily, Ehling’s new landlords were “totally supportive” of the unused stable turning, occasionally, into an exhibition space. Openings brought people from as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, but also from up the road. The social scene of the neighborhood was a two-mile loop up and down the ridge's hills, a gorgeous hike surrounded by trees. “Everybody in the neighborhood knew each other,” Healy remembers.
Now Ehling and Jirik are meeting new neighbors in a new city. “It’s not as beautiful as our last neighborhood,” Ehling says, “but it’s still kind of country feeling.” They started looking for a new place the day after the fire, finding one ("We were really lucky," Ehling says) in Petaluma. Even more miraculous: It has a three-wall carport.
“We had it in the back of our minds as we were looking at apartments to rent,” Ehling says of replacing STABLE. “It was almost like it was meant to be.”
Fittingly, the next show, slated for 2018, will feature work by McIntyre Parker, whose own “off-space” Pied-à-terre, run out of his Richmond neighborhood garage, helped inspire Ehling to start STABLE.
For more on STABLE, see here.