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For this Slate Belt artist, his house was his canvas. It burned down Monday.

Gus Tishuk put his creative inspiration, his heart and soul, everything he had into his home.

The furniture, the decorations, the floors and walls. All of it was put together by Tishuk.

And all of it burned down on Monday.

Fire officials are still investigating what ignited the blaze Monday afternoon at 2129 Riverton Road in Upper Mount Bethel Township.

The 70-year-old artist had a hard time Tuesday wrapping his head around what happened.

“I’m just numb. Kind of like I don’t believe it,” he said.

His wife, Arlene, came home just after 3 p.m. to the smell of smoke. She wasn’t sure where it was coming from until she saw a small fire in the garage. She was too afraid to try to douse it herself and dialed 911. The fire spread quickly, the 76-year-old said.

“Every table in our living room, dining room and kitchen was handmade by Gus,” she said. “Now it’s gone.”

The couple moved into the home in 1995. The small rancher built in the 1960s met Arlene’s primary need.

“I said ‘I just want a river house. I want to be able to look at the river,’” she said.

Gus gradually added rooms with views. Every room in the window-filled home overlooks the river except the bathroom. So Gus built an outdoor shower the couple uses from April through October.

He embraces the Adirondack style – rustic, wood-based and reliant on materials you’d find near a mountain lake.

The home was filled with history. The floors were made from timbers saved from the Belvidere Telephone Co. and a church in Knowlton Township. Some timbers were harvested from a barn in Oldwick. He used rhododendron wood he found on a forest floor.

There was an 8-foot-tall totem pole and an old canoe Gus made into bookshelves. There were 40 canoe paddles and a canvas kayak suspended from the ceiling.

“This was a museum,” said the Tishuks’ friend, Mountain Lake resident Dave Snyder. He was one of a steady stream of visitors who stopped by Tuesday. The Tishuks greeted them in the “indoor-outdoor room,” a detached screened-in porch that was spared the flames. The home is boarded up and not habitable. The couple is staying in a hotel until they figure out their next move.

If anything good came out of the fire, it was the outpouring of support from the community. Arlene Tishuk owns a nearby trailer park and her tenants kept coming up to console her Monday evening.

“There had to be 50, 60 people,” she said. “We’re so blessed with the people around us.”

They brought clothes and food. They offered money, but Arlene Tishuk said her insurance will cover the loss.

What insurance won’t replace are Gus’s one-of-a-kind creations: the lamps, wall sconces and chandelier. The sculptures. The paintings.

“They say everything can be replaced, but …” Arlene Tishuk trailed off.

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Rudy Miller may be reached at