Drawing of house
A black and white ink drawing by Meg Adler of a house that once stood in Santa Rosa.

Oakland illustrator helps locals remember homes lost in wildfires

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Last year, Oakland illustrator Meg Adler drew 73 black and white ink drawings of homes as they stood before being destroyed in California’s devastating wildfires. She did the drawings free of charge as a way to help the owners memorialize their homes and process their grief.

This year, as more fires rage across Northern California, Adler is offering her artistic services to the public again. She has already done six drawings of homes consumed in the Caldor and Dixie fires, and she has committed to doing a total of 30.

“It’s a form of ministry,” Adler told J. in an interview. “My hope in doing it is that people who have lost a home don’t feel alone.”

A self-taught artist, Adler, 30, has been drawing structures for years. Her website, features renderings of the Alameda Portal and San Francisco’s Painted Ladies, and a coloring book she released last year includes the Bay Bridge and Ferry Building.

Meg Adler
Meg Adler

She said she especially enjoys depicting houses because “there’s a spirit to homes, they’re where we live our lives, and I love how they hold all of our memories.”

Anyone who has lost a home or knows someone who has can request a 5-by-7-inch drawing of the structure by emailing [email protected].

For the “Lost Homes” drawings, she works from photos provided by the person who requests the drawing, either the homeowner or a relative or friend who wants to give the owner the drawing as a memento. She also consults images from Google Maps and real estate websites. Each portrait takes about two hours to complete.

While she mostly corresponds with people by email, she said the connections she has made with them feel intimate. “When people email me, they tell me the story of their house, like, ‘My grandfather built this house,’ or ‘This is the house where I raised my kids.’”

Last month, Ryan Cline of Seattle contacted Adler to request a drawing of his family’s cabin that once stood in Twin Bridges, near the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort. It was destroyed in the Caldor fire.

A Twin Bridges cabin, belonging to the family of Ryan Cline, which burned in the Caldor fire.
Ryan Cline said Adler “perfectly” captured his family’s Twin Bridges cabin, which burned in the Caldor fire.

“I’m so sorry for this loss,” Adler wrote in an email to him with a scan of her drawing. “Your home was beautiful.”

“I think it’s pretty remarkable what she was able to do just from a couple photos,” Cline told J. “She captured it perfectly.” He said he plans to frame the drawing and send it to his mother in Idaho.

Adler has not lost any property in the wildfires, but she has experienced another kind of personal loss in her life. Her father, Wayne Batavia, is living with Lewy body dementia. She shares reflections about him and his condition on her Instagram account, along with poems and infographics on Jewish themes.

The recipient of a 2021 Diller Educator Award, Adler is the assistant director of Jewish life and learning at Camp Tawonga. She has worked at the camp since 2012, when she joined the summer staff. She met her wife, Colleen, there in 2015.

With her “Lost Homes” project, Adler said she hopes to inspire others to help members of their communities. “Anyone can offer something of themselves to people in need,” she said.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.