Taking in the desolated burnt ruins of the building in which he used to create beautiful works of art, Riis Burwell didn’t imagine anything salvageable remained in the mound of debris. Last fall, he was among the many Californians impacted by a series of wildfires which ripped through the North Bay, killing nearly four dozen people and destroying thousands of buildings and homes, including Burwell’s art studio. Miraculously, his sculpture titled “Spirit Form Emerging” was the only piece of art that survived. The sculpture itself is a reflection on the transitory nature of life, going from one state of existence to another. La Posada, the premier retirement community in Palm Beach Gardens, is now the permanent home for the piece. The community recently unveiled the bronze sculpture displayed in front of the La Posada campus. This piece is a part of Palm Beach Garden’s Art in Public Places program. Mayor Maria Marino and Palm Beach Gardens City Council members were in attendance.
“This is the first sculpture I created for a senior living community,” said Burwell. “I am thrilled that the public can enjoy this piece in a beautiful community whose residents represent livelihood and an exploration of life’s experiences. The sculpture was originally created to commemorate the lives lost when planes struck the Twin Towers on September 11. When the towers collapsed, 3,000-plus lives were instantly evaporated, and I imagined the cloud of debris that came up as a likeness of their spirits transforming and rising. This piece is the third version, and it carries new meaning, signifying lives lost during the recent natural disaster and the rebirth of cities and homes. It also emphasizes the transitory stages of life we all experience as human beings.”
The fires that engulfed his studio burned through 30 miles in just a six-hour period. Burwell said it looked like a blowtorch took out Santa Rosa. He describes the survival of the sculpture as a godsend. It took Burwell a month to pull Spirit Form Emerging from the debris. Once the piece was accessible, he spent two to three months finishing it. The sculpture foundation in the San Francisco Bay area allowed him to use their spacious workspace while he rebuilt his studio. Burwell is thrilled to attend the unveiling of the sculpture, as this piece is incredibly meaningful to him.
“When we saw the image of Riis’ original sculpture, we knew that it would be a perfect representation of La Posada and the City of Palm Beach Gardens’ dynamic spirit. It is also a manifestation of our community’s multiple dimensions of wellness,” said Patrice Goldberg, director of interior design for Kisco Senior Living. “Kisco Senior Living communities are unique representations of mature life, and our goal was to provide a modern, sophisticated public art piece to reflect just that. This sculpture imparts a grace, dignity and balance that we want everyone to relate to in one form or another – though we understand everyone will interpret the work in their own way.”
“La Posada is pleased to contribute to the Art in Public Places program, which was developed by the city of Palm Beach Gardens to ensure that as businesses grow and prosper, so does the appeal and collection of public, accessible art,” said Brad Cadiere, executive director of La Posada. “In addition to providing art on-site, we have also designed an artistic bus shelter located at the main entrance of the community. We are grateful to the City’s Arts Advisory Board and the City Council for their help in approving our art proposal, as we feel it will greatly benefit the residents of La Posada and those living in the surrounding community.”