Longtime Santa Clarita residents Chris and Dawnel De Rubeis were horrified by the news, videos and photos from the town where they owned an art gallery on Front Street for over 10 years and where most of their employees and friends live — Lahaina, Hawaii.
On Aug. 8, one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history devastated the historic town of Lahaina, killing at least 111 people. Over 1,200 people are reported to be missing.
Chris’ art career took off around 2008 and the gallery in Lahaina was the first with his name on it. His primary career throughout most of his life has been that of an artist — aside from selling T-shirts at Six Flags Magic Mountain when he was 16.
He’s been successful and the gallery in Lahaina was a product of that success. But to have to mourn the loss of it, while others in Lahaina are mourning the dead, was tough to reckon. Grappling with the idea that he and Dawnel were still alive — they were back here in the Santa Clarita Valley — played into those emotions as well. Their gallery was lost, but their lives were not.
“I’m alive but the biggest thing, that’s even more crazy than the gallery, is to see the people and my employees that have no homes,” said Chris. “I don’t even know what to say.”
“It is a lot to reconcile — this idea of, of what we’ve lost, right?” said Dawnel. “Because that’s our business. It’s a form of income. It’s a dream of (Chris’) … we know a lot of people on the island. We’ve seen a lot of videos and just to try to comprehend the devastation and the massive loss that they’ve suffered, it’s just so hard. It’s so hard and you just want to try to wave a magic wand and fix it.”
While no one has the ability to fix it, Chris and Dawnel said they wanted to at least help through the only way they know how.
Before the fire, Chris said, he created a piece called “Lahaina Sunset.” Like his other work, it features vibrant colors depicting the Hawaiian landscape on metal — using the material as a way to give the art motion, shimmer and waves.
In response to the disaster, Chris has pledged all proceeds from sales of “Lahaina Sunset” to help the victims of the fire. The couple said it did not matter how many pieces were ordered, Chris will produce one for purchase — as many as necessary.
Chris said other artists from Hawaii are starting to do the same thing and that the community has come together and sidelined their profits in an effort to help.
“There’s other artists and other people that lost certain things and we’re also doing events and charities to kind of raise money,” said Chris. “So it’s a big team effort.”
As for how the money is going to be distributed, Chris and Dawnel have decided to do that themselves. Dawnel said a high school friend, who lives in Maui, worked with a team of people to develop a list of people who were displaced and what their needs were. She said they will use this list to distribute the funds — as well as donating to GoFundMe pages of victims of the fire.
Dawnel also noted that the gallery director, the gallery’s employees and their families are among those the funds will go to. She also pledged that anyone who buys “Lahaina Sunset” will know how their money is being spent.
“So I think it’s exactly what Chris said, it’s how can we all come together as a community to just try to alleviate whatever we can for them,” said Dawnel. “So this is his way of doing that, and I think it’s pretty incredible.”
To purchase “Lahaina Sunset,” or to donate to Chris and Dawnel’s cause, visit store.artgroupink.com/Lahaina