1,000 Year Flood Inspires Art / by Tyler Voorhees

We were awoken at 2am on Wednesday, the third day of rain, to sirens and a local fireman shouting, "Move to higher ground! Don't just stand there!" We quickly bundled up our newborn, gathered some necessities and fled up the hill to a friend's house in the downpour. We would never stay in our house in Lyons again.

Our duplex surrounded by water.

It was September 2013 and my wife, Ashley, and I had been enjoying the first months of parenthood. Our five month old son, Ivan, was becoming more mobile by the day and our little family was soaking up the last remnants of the summer heat in the quaint Colorado town of Lyons, just up the road from Boulder.

School had begun and I had already started shaping the minds of the troop of 2nd graders I was charged with teaching. Ashley was working at a demanding graphic design post for a local restaurant group, while Ivan got his first taste of daycare. We were finding our groove as summer turned to fall and were settling into the routine of a family with two working parents.

Then the rains began.

A cold front moved in, easing the heat but quickly teaming up with an astonishing amount of moisture in the upper atmosphere. A downpour ensued, the rivers swelled, the rain continued and the tone quickly changed from a celebration of rain in a dry year to an emergency.

We watched this bridge float away.

We watched this bridge float away.

But this isn't just a story of the Colorado flood of 2013; this is a story of how one artist's life was impacted and inspired by tragedy. It's a story of good coming from the bad. It's a story of a flood inspiring my art.

In front of the North St. Vrain River with frozen breast milk in tow in the soft side cooler. The river was 20 times the size it normally was.

Several months later, as the pieces of life after the flood began to drift together, I began to reflect on our experience of flight and survival in the aftermath of the 1,000 year rain. A composition began to form in my head as I sought a way to tell our story and work through the trauma that our little family had lived through. And so, one afternoon, I sat down and painted a simple watercolor titled, The Flood.

The Flood  |  11x17  |  Watercolor  |  2013

Man & baby

Woman wading

The "L", a symbol in Lyons

The "L", a symbol in Lyons

Art almost always begins with an emotion; whether excitement or anger or love, the artist channels these emotions and finds a way to express them with their craft. As my brush shaped and shaded the long-limbed family wading through the rising waters, I felt a burden being lifted. I breathed out the sadness and the stress of the flood onto the paper. The irony that I was using water, the element that caused us so much hardship, to create something new, was not lost on me.

As I grow as an artist, I get better at exhaling my experiences into my work, getting closer to the pure expression that is the hallmark of powerful art. The Flood is one my favorite paintings because it was born from a powerful experience. Contained within it are all the hours of worry, heartache and stress that we experienced three years ago. But there's also hope, love and the generosity that so many strangers showed towards my family and me during a hard time in our life.

We are shaped by our journey and I appreciate you taking the time to share in mine.

Stay tuned for more inspired art and come see me this weekend at the 85th(!) Annual Plaza Art Fair in Kansas City.