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Photo: Rhett Moak with her first-place sculpture Things That Were Not Wrapped

RMC art instructor wins first place in juried regional showthings not wrapped

BILLINGS, September 18, 2015 – On September 11, 2015, Rocky Mountain College art instructor Rhett Moak won first place in the competition, “From the Ground Up XXVII,” a regional juried ceramics exhibition in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Moak submitted two pieces that were accepted into this regional event. Her award-winning piece is called Things That Were Not Wrapped, and Moak’s second submission is Majolica Tray.

Things That Were Not Wrapped deals with the 2013 Gold Pan Fire, which burned 66 square miles in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness where we work as fire lookouts in the summer,” said Moak. “The technique used for the second piece is majolica, a technique I have practiced for some time and one which RMC students I was teaching had the opportunity to practice at the Deruta Majolica Studio/Factory in Italy.”

Rhett and her husband Mark, who is also an art instructor at Rocky Mountain College, have spent thousands of hours observing and recording the effects of fire in their 33 seasons as wilderness fire lookouts. These lookouts have included remote towers in eastern Arizona and, for the past 19 years, along the Frank Church-River of No Return in western Montana and Idaho.

“We are no strangers to large wildland fire observation and have personally experienced a record number of evacuations from our summer perch due to the proximity of fires,” said Moak. “Fire is powerful stuff. The tower we normally staff and much of the country we claim as home during the summer was burned over the 2013 fire season by the Gold Pan Fire.” Moak explained how her lookout tower was evacuated before it burned. She and her husband were relocated to another tower to observe fire activity and relay information to ground crews.

“We know this country intimately well, as we have lived in, hiked in, and observed the ridges and canyons for years,” Moak added. “While we understand and respect the role of fire in the wilderness landscape, in this particular instance, our emotions were understandably conflicted.”

The creature parts of Things That Were Not Wrapped include a fish, a bird, a bear paw, a Downy woodpecker, and a human heart – all of which represent things she observed visually, heard on the forest radio, or felt personally during this fire.

“The woodpecker, which is the central piece, represents hope,” said Moak. “For a woodpecker, the burned forest means a whole lot more real estate to inhabit rather than a forest landscape devastated by fire. This piece is a personal reflection—not a judgment or a solution—on the human role as manager in this instance of wild lands.”

“It was such a great feeling to have two pieces accepted to this exhibition,” said Moak. “I was blown away to get the news, very excited and really thrilled. I feel very humbled to have this honor and look forward to getting back in the studio.”

Moak’s artwork will be on exhibit in the Las Cruces Museum of Art until October 24.