LAFAYETTE -- Even though Kris Vagner had an early interest in art, she never imagined herself going to the Burning Man festival until one time years ago, as a reporter for a Reno newspaper. She was assigned to cover funding at the festival.

"I went there, thinking, 'Been there, done that, get it over with,' " she said. "But within minutes, I was easily hooked to this culture.

"There were groups of people who really enjoyed collaborating with their groups to make things happen," Vagner added. "These were creative people who created bigger, more intense structures with more commitment than anything I could imagine."

Just a few years later, Vagner -- who's active in the arts scenes in Lafayette, where she lives, and in Reno -- found herself immersed in the Burning Man culture, helping out in any way she can to ensure creative expression stays alive and well in Black Rock Desert.

"The annual Burning Man festival -- more than 50,000 people committed to the idea of getting together to work hard on their creativity -- spawned a culture of immense collaboration," said Vagner, an arts and public relations writer who splits her time between Reno and Lafayette.

It's the same spirit of creative collaboration that Vagner will talk about in "Making a Giant Ichthyosaur," a slide show she will present as a member of the Lamorinda Arts Alliance, at 7:30 p.m. on April 10 at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Lafayette.

"This particular talk by Kris Vagner is the inaugural event of planned bimonthly LAA meetings, resuming our tradition of educational art evenings," said Donna Arganbright, president of the arts alliance. "We encourage any interested persons, art lovers, artists or those just wanting to learn something new to come."

Vagner's presentation will feature the creative process behind building the Ichthyosaur Puppet Project at last year's Burning Man festival, and the story behind its subsequent journey on March 4 to its permanent home at the Nevada Discovery Museum.

Vagner said that since bonding with the crew that built previous other structures such as the Pier and Pier 2, a reproduction of a 15th century Spanish galleon, she's contributed to different types of tasks from helping to feed the crew, to writing grants, to making "Icky's" glowing, 10-inch resin eyeballs of the life-size, plywood likeness of a prehistoric 50-foot-long fishlike reptile that swam the oceans across what is now Nevada 225 million years ago, said Vagner.

Working with several other volunteers as well as with lead artist (and Vagner's fiancé) Jerry Snyder last summer at the Generator community art space in Sparks, Nev., they sculpted plywood ribs, made a 9-foot head and crafted pointy teeth in what was indeed a collaborative journey Vagner is eager to discuss with the public.

Most of the structures at Burning Man are interactive -- people were able to walk on the pier and pretend they were going fishing on it. The Giant Ichthyosaur was a working marionette on what "Burners" call "the Playa," she said.

"Anyone could walk up and pull on a rope to make the fins, head and spine move or make the creature appear to swim in midair," said Vagner, who taught art to elementary school students in Lafayette from 2009 to 2013.

She will talk about the steps it took to build and transport "Icky," as well as the public's reception of the sculpture at Burning Man last year.

"I'll describe how the wood was cut, how we glued it together and how we funded it and how we found the time to work on it," she said.

Vagner said she learned more about construction "than I ever want to know" while she and the crew worked on the Ichthyosaur.

"It was really cool seeing people relate to it on different terms," she said. "Some people climbed on it, some of the ribs broke right off and we had to fix it."

The Giant Ichthyosaur was a big hit at Burning Man, especially at night, with its colorful light display.

"The music was so loud, there were pulsing lights and the energy of the people all melded together in this enormous community," Vagner said. "People often go and say Burning Man changed their life."

"Icky," at his new home at the museum, will remain motionless as a permanent sculpture.

"At Burning Man, there's no water; you bring everything you need for a whole week," Vagner said. "So when we were installing Icky at the museum, it was a different experience having running water and electricity."

Vagner said she hopes visitors to her presentation will gain an appreciation for creative collaboration.

"Some people may think that art and creativity are reserved for special people," she said. "My message is, anybody can create art. Anybody can be involved in a project this big. All over the Bay Area people can work on a project like this whether they're going to Burning Man or not. This culture isn't exclusive. This is open to anybody, this spirit of being part of a creative community."

'Making a Giant Ichthyosaur,' with Kris Vagner
  • WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 10
  • WHERE: Our Savior's Lutheran Church, 1035 Carol Lane, Lafayette
  • INFORMATION: Free and open to the public