Heather Ferrell peered through rectangular-rimmed glasses at the works hanging in two sections of the Art Source Gallery. These areas are reserved for their fourth-annual National Juried Art Exhibition, and Ferrell regarded the collection with pride. "Sometimes," she said, "you get these great, fabulous jewels."
Ferrell, associate curator of art at Boise Art Museum, served as the sole juror for this exhibition. She chose the 46 paintings, photographs and mixed media works from a pool of nearly 200 entries. For the first time in the contest's history, cash prizes were awarded to the Best of Show ($250) and three runners-up ($100 each). According to Art Source board member Zella Bardsley, prior winners received a month-long group show that featured a large selection of each artist's work.
All entrants for the current competition submitted their work on slides, and Ferrell spent hours narrowing down the field. Once chosen works arrived at Art Source, the gallery staff hung them and Ferrell conferred awards. She said she was looking for "fun surprises" and for "quality, not only of media but of thought process."
Ferrell granted best of show to Emigrant by Victoria Goro-Rapoport of Kearney, Nebraska. The etching presents a ship-like vessel sailing under a sky that drips with phrases such as "Titanic Disaster" and "Relief Fund." The work is filled with what Ferrell gleefully termed "strange little symbols" and makes reference to old botanical and anatomy illustrations. "I like the mixture of text and image," Ferrell explained. "I also like that it adds to the mystery, you're not quite sure what the meaning is, but can draw your own conclusions."
The fine gradations of tone and color also impressed Ferrell. "I love to see work on paper and really nice printmaking still going on," she said. "I'm always impressed with anyone who can work on this scale. It's 49 x 30 inches ... This one really stood out technically."
One of the three runners-up. Untitled (Pins) by Gwen Walstrand of Springfield, Missouri, merged technical skill with unresolved meaning. The photograph, one in a series of three carbon pigment prints, employs a process patented in the 1860s. "The public probably isn't going to see a lot of carbon prints," Ferrell said. "It's a great opportunity to see it in a gallery setting like Art Source."
Walstrand's carbon prints "were probably the most conceptual of the works that I saw in the exhibition, definitely leaning a little bit more toward my aesthetic," Ferrell said. She pointed at Untitled (Pins) and continued, "You can draw your own conclusions between this very close-up forest interior and then this image with the three fingers here with the pins laid out and kind of fallen. There's some parallels being drawn there, and they're quite nice and they're open-ended."
Sunset and Laveta Terrace by Georgia Love of Newhall, California, employs more straightforward subject matter. It depicts a nearly deserted intersection in Southern California and has the sense of random snapshot. "Realism, photorealism, street scene," Ferrell said. "It's another off-shoot, especially on the West Coast. It's a well-done painting."
Idaho's own Karelia Dubkowski rounds out the runners-up. The Nampa artist's oil on masonite painting, African Montage, shows a giraffe perched on a fantastical doorway and surrounded by butterflies, foliage and cartoonish animals. A mask-like face anchors the bottom left corner. "You know," Ferrell said, "sometimes you get caught up in 'What does it say?' and 'What kind of angst and meaning [does it express] about society?' I like something that has a little bit of playfulness and humor. That should be represented in art as well."
Ferrell recognizes that her background and artistic preferences influenced the contest's outcome. "There are so many permutations to a juried art exhibition," she said. "If you're an artist and you're applying and you don't get in, keep applying. Because every place has a different aesthetic, every juror has a different aesthetic."
Still, Ferrell made a concerted effort to ensure the exhibition provided a well-rounded survey of artists and media. "You're going to see a few sort of contemporary, unusual things and you're going to see a little painting, a little photography or a work on paper," she said. "You're going to see some completely abstract and non-objective work to very figurative work. I think there's a little bit for everyone."
The variety and quality of work currently on display at Art Source underscores Ferrell's belief that local galleries play a critical role in the art scene. Not only do they promote the work of local artists-Art's Source's 40 Idaho-based members regularly exhibit at the space-competitions like this national juried show also introduce the public to artists they wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to see.
Bardsley agrees, and sees a benefit in allowing artists from across the nation to participate. She said, "I believe making this competition ... available to everyone, in all media, shows our interest in bringing quality work to the Boise area."
Art Source Gallery, 1015 W. Main St., 331-3374, www.artsourcegallery.com.