Arson fire presents challenge for Rapid City artist

Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 6:51 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Will Raymond Andrzejewski’s sentencing provide closure for one of the victims in the case? Artist Deborah Mitchell lost her garage art studio in that string of fires. She says it’s been a struggle since then, but is now looking to move forward.

Mitchell says, “I woke up to what I thought was a bomb going off and I jumped out of bed and looked out the window and saw flames 40 feet in the air and my studio on fire.” The explosion she heard was the gas tank of her motorcycle. And that’s when the nightmare started for Rapid City artist Deborah Mitchell, with an arson fire. Her garage studio, her body of work, printing presses, heirlooms, nearly 40 years of art books and her beloved motorcycle, all gone. Mitchell says, “Devastating. It’s devastating. I accumulated that. and each one was like I curated my life and that was out there. You can’t just get it back. And at this age, I don’t have a lot of time left to be back at square one.” And now Mitchell is moving forward, trying to create something out of the rubble. She’s back teaching again at South Dakota Mines. She trying to sort out the sort out the financing and the tough logistics of rebuilding. And she’s hoping with Friday’s conclusion of the legal process, a bit of a new start. Mitchell says, “So I’m looking at that as the start of the next chapter in my life, to leave this behind. and we’ll never be totally done. But I want it to be the beginning of a new phase for me so I don’t have to have that over my head. I don’t have to think every morning when I wake up, what next?” Her back fence where the garage once stood now features new artwork from Focus Smith and she says she can look at all of this as a blank canvas. What will it be like when she finally gets her rebuild project done? Mitchell says, “And once it happens, I’ll be happy, of course. But I’m still going to have to, I have to run to catch up to where I was when that man lopped me off at my knees.”

And Mitchell says she was able to get a new printing press with the help of a Gottleib Emergency Grant, but now needs a place to put it.