COCHISE COUNTY — Cochise College received an enthusiastic response from the hundreds that attended the 15th annual Pit Fire event Oct. 1. The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

“They should come ‘cause it’s a community thing — especially for students, it’s a family-friendly thing,” said Dara Preciado, a mural artist painting live on a semi-truck at the event. “You get to see a lot of different works out here like ceramics, you get to meet different artists. It’s like an artistic environment, you’re like just surrounded in artists and it’s so fun. You get to meet people and you get to see their work, which is so special.”

Preciado, a University of Arizona fine arts student, said the theme for her mural is “family, friendly and magic.”

“That’s why I have like four figures — so it kinda represents a family,” said Preciado, who’s been working on the mural’s design and base for a week. “And then, the colors are just like friendly and I’m going to add some sparks to it, representing magic.”

Dr. Steve Merkley, biology instructor and co-advisor for the Undergraduate Research Club, highlighted the unity between the sciences and arts in supporting the event.

“I think it’s important, I think they can work together,” said Merkley. “(Sergio Cebbreros) actually helped to build the scales on the dragon up here for the event — so, there’s a lot of crossover. We have students that are interested in art and science that are in both clubs.”

Cebreros, vice president of the Undergraduate Research Club, said he pulled inspiration from reptiles in his design for the scales of the dragon sculpture, which was spearheaded by sculptor Barbara Jo Borch.

“I’ve always been interested in paleontology and herpetology, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians,” said Cebreros. “I drew most inspiration from rattlesnakes ‘cause the scales do overlap and that sort of protects them in the wilderness when they forage around. That’s just their extra coat of protection, ‘cause they don’t have skin or claws like (us).”

The club hosted a booth titled “Name That Animal,” which gave attendees the opportunity to view images of the animals from the club’s trail cameras and identify the different species in Cochise County.

“We get pictures of all kinds of animals like mountain lions, and bobcats and coyotes and deer — everything around here, even the little guys like birds sometimes too,” said Katie Puckett, president of the Undergraduate Research Club. “It’s not raising money, but I think it’s kind of giving the kids around here more of an idea of what kinds of critters we have around here, which is fun.”

The event included more than a dozen booths including student clubs that provided services from popcorn to face-painting, and artisans selling their pieces.

Entertainment was provided by hypnotist Derek Ostovani and musicians from the Juniper Djinn and Chris Kane Trio bands.

The event also featured 1,000 handmade bowls by ceramic studio technician and artist Dale Miller. Attendees could purchase one of Miller’s bowls for $10 and chose from a variety of soups for the bowls. All proceeds go to the college’s art department and student clubs participating in the event.

Miller said that he chose to hand-throw the bowls rather than spinning them on a pottery wheel because of its efficiency and one-of-a-kind design.

“I tried to figure out how I could simplify the process of making bowls,” said Miller. “What I came up with was the thing that people have been doing for centuries, which is a pinch-pot — it’s like the oldest form of bowl making.

“It felt more natural, more organic and more my style with the approach. Just start off with a ball of clay and go for it.”

According to the college’s press release about the event, the pit firing technique is one of the oldest methods of firing ceramics, going back to the Mesopotamian era according to ceramics instructor Tate Rich.

As the fire blazed in luster, members from the Douglas, Pirtleville and Sunnyside fire departments managed the perimeter along with security personnel from the college to ensure that attendees admired the glow and warmth from a safe distance.

Many highlighted the event’s vibrant display of culture and artwork as a reason for folks to attend the free event.

“I’m excited to include kinda all media in this ... murals, ceramic — I mean it’s really this event of coming together and I think that this year it really feels like that,” said Cochise College art instructor Ashley Dahlke.

“I think it’s a great cultural event,” said Merkley. “There’s a lot to see here and this is a cool experience for the community to get together, see some fires, eat some food, enjoy each other’s company and learn a little bit while they’re here as well.”