When Margo Proksa picked up a small, torn plastic flag out of a gutter, she knew it would probably someday make it in to one of her collages. It wasn't until years later she discovered which one.
Proksa and her husband Dennis own Black Rock Forge, a Bannock County metalsmithing company that creates beautiful steel art and architectural iron pieces influenced by the dichotomy of unyielding materials and delicate designs: swallows and maple leaves grace the backs of chairs; stools have impossibly fragile-looking legs; steel torchiere lamps seem to sway. Proksa says though the work is collaborative, the high-tech equipment in their studio—such as a new plasma cutter—definitely falls under her husband's jurisdiction. "When it comes to technology, I'm a stone-age person," Proksa says. "I love the technology, but I still prefer working with a pencil and paper." Or ink, paint and recovered objects.
Proksa's piece, Old Glory, is one of 75 pieces (by 25 artists) chosen for this year's Boise Art Museum 2007 Idaho Triennial. It's a collage of found items and acrylic on canvas. On a dark blue background dotted with stars, the tattered little flag sits vertically above a splattered drawing of red ink, a dark and royal blue swallow connecting the two pieces. Proksa says she's a "found-object person," the flotsam she collects often hanging in the periphery of her world for a long time.
"When something crosses my path that is compelling in some way, even though I don't know what I'm going to do with it, I pick it up. I have an acre and plenty of storage space, and I'll just store it. I have a whole building of materials I'll get to someday," Proksa says. "The flag was small and went up on the wall in my studio, then the ink drawing with red ink happened for another reason, but when I stuck that up on the board with the flag, and they were near each other, I said, 'Ohhhh.' I realized the drawing was the color of the flag. I lived with it on the bulletin board in my studio for years. A lot of the things I put together take a long time. It takes me a long time to figure out how to put things together."
The swallow in the piece holds a great deal of importance for Proksa. "We're from Chicago originally. We never had swallows in our part of the world. We were so happy when we had swallows [nesting] into our front porch," she says. "For about 20 years, we had swallows building nests in our porch, and it was so cool to watch all those little swallows growing up. It's kind of a personal icon. They are birds that are utterly beautiful. It's exciting when they come back in the spring. Winters can be really long at this elevation, so I'm always really appreciative when they come back."
"[Swallows] symbolize hope for me. They bring rain, warmth, more favorable conditions for survival."
If the swallow in Proksa's piece is a reminder of better days to come, the flag is a symbol of just how troubled things are presently. She explains why the flag eventually moved up to the forefront of her consciousness. "I'm an activist and proud member of the Snake River Alliance," she says. "We've learned that participating in democracy is far better than just complaining about the way things are going. We write letters. I'm a precinct chairperson for the local Democrats. Bannock County is the most Democratic county in the state, I'm proud to say," she says laughing.
"It gives me reason to believe in this form of government when I see that, collectively, we can make a difference and we can influence decision making. On a national level it's a little harder," she says. "This flag piece was compelling. As soon as Bush started responding to 9/11, I could see where it was going. It didn't seem mysterious to me. It was the drumbeat. We've got a military industrial complex, and that's what it's for. It's going to get used. It's the wrong place for a lot of dollars to be spent," Proksa says.
"I had taped a big peace sign made out of our Christmas tree lights on one of our big picture windows when all of that was rumbling in D.C. I have never doubted where this president wanted us to go and I always doubted that there was any real need to go into Iraq. To me, it feels really important when a piece like this evolves to [let it]. Sometimes I'm so thankful that I can assimilate and juxtapose in a way that makes sense. To me, this piece makes a lot of sense because I felt like why would a little plastic flag fly off a vehicle and land on the side of the road. If I hadn't picked it up, it may have been there for 10 more years. I feel like I kind of put it to good use and made a good point with it. You have to take a lot more care with a form of government that's supposed to be doing good. We're not doing that much good, I'm afraid."
The "2007 Idaho Triennial" runs September 1 through November 25. Boise Art Museum, 670 Julia Davis Dr., Boise, 208-345-8330, BoiseArtMuseum.org.