Burning Man phoenix a tribute to friendship
At 16 feet tall, “The Phoenix” towers over its creators. The statue, forged from steel by a group of friends, heads to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert on Saturday, where he’ll stand for seven days, watching over Burning Man Aug. 27 through Sept. 3
“I describe it as a giant Cat in the Hat parade for a week long,” laughed Kathleen Hoffman, part of Kindergarten Kamp, a group of burners who have been working on the phoenix since November. “It’s more than that. It’s about being connected to a lot of people and working together and just sharing a lot of joy.”
This year, 60,000 people will feel the burn, participating in the festival of music, interactive art and community. Last year, Auburn’s Norm Tucker went to Burning Man for the first time, and he said the experience changed his life, including witnessing the destruction of “Trojan Horse 2011,” a 50-foot-tall steel horse with hidden rooms inside that was pulled across the playa by 500 people dressed as slaves. They were greeted by a group of “Romans” who flung burning arrows at the horse, which then crumpled to the ground and burned, the culmination of its life as playa art.
The next day, Tucker said, he and his camp mates were scavenging through the metal scraps for bolts and washers to use in artwork. Riding toward them through the dust, Tucker remembered, was a man on a bicycle, wearing nothing but a loincloth.
It turns out he was Ray Keim, a resident of Vancouver, Wash., who served as an architect on the Trojan Horse team. At Burning Man, he was in charge of the “leave no trace” portion of his camp – an important part of the burn, which leaves the playa as it was found.
Keim related the story of his friend, Harley Payne, who died on the playa last year of heart failure. Payne, 66, and Keim were the same age.
“He started to cry,” Tucker said. “And he’s all dusty, like everybody else, and you could see the tears clearing up his face.”
Tucker and Keim got to talking and came up with the idea of building a phoenix from the “ashes” of the horse, in memory of Payne. Later that year Tucker drove the steel to Auburn, where Tucker has a full metal shop at his home. But what started as an idea for a 4-foot phoenix quickly grew as more and more burners got involved in the project.
Now, the phoenix stands 16 feet high and has hundreds of steel “feathers’ meticulously pounded to give them a ruffled effect. It will be covered in red LED lights, the same ones used on the Trojan horse. It burns 3 gallons of propane an hour, and will be perpetually aflame during the night. The push of a button ignites a “burp” of flame from its mouth, part of a design by “Skirblah,” who uses his playa name in relation to this project.
The phoenix, built in six pieces, is the result of thousands of hours of work by Kindergarten Kamp. Along with the main builders, Tucker said, others came to help paint the base and build other parts, and AmeriGas in Colfax donated 200 gallons of propane to the project.
“When we fired this thing up Sunday night, it was just incredible,” said Tucker. “We had a good party, bought a case of champagne.”
“I think it’s fabulous,” Keim said of the completed project, which he has only seen pictures of, as he won’t be returning to Burning Man. “I knew it was going to be good, because Norm is this perfectionist. And any project he does, it’s going to be super.”
Jason Howes, who did the majority of the feather work for the phoenix, said it’s one thing to see the piece erected at Tucker’s house, but it will be a completely different experience once it’s assembled in the atmosphere of Burning Man.
“When you see it on the playa – that’s the payoff.”
Feeling the burn?
If you’re heading to Burning Man this year, check out Kindergarten Kamp, where “The Phoenix” will be assembled at the 7:30 Plaza. Kampers will be giving out terrible therapeutic advice, along with facilitating funny hat art projects and a giant teeter-totter.
The team who built “The Phoenix”:
• Norm Tucker,?Auburn
• Jack Tucker,?Auburn
• Hayden Tucker, Auburn
• Kathleen Hoffman,
• Jason Howes, Meadow Vista
• Chris Krohn, Loomis
• Laurel Simpson, Nevada City
• Sam Gotla, Nevada City
• Beth Moore, Grass Valley
• Dave Kuczora, Grass Valley
• Skirblah, Davis