Feeding a need for Art 

The Stewart Gallery's Women's Luncheon

Friday night gallery openings can be difficult to attend for women art enthusiasts busy maintaining careers and families. The Stewart Gallery's attempt to reconcile this dilemma resulted in co-owner Stephanie Wilde coordinating an annual women's luncheon to give women art collectors an elusive preview opportunity of a gallery show before the official public opening. "A client told me 'I would really love it,'" Wilde says of the impetus for the luncheon. "I respected her opinion as she said, 'There are so many of my contemporaries that can't come to your openings." The encouragement of this particular client (an avid collector and subsequent lecturer at a past luncheon) ignited the successful venture which has brought an average 85 women each year.

The focus of this year's event is to feature art the community has never seen before. All artists are not necessarily represented by the Stewart gallery; the luncheon is an opportunity to showcase work Wilde may not otherwise have the chance to share with her clients. She is drawn to innovative, up-and-coming artists who have yet to charge astronomical prices. "I bring in people at a stage in their career that our clients can get in their collections before the artwork moves into an unaffordable price range," she says. "I'm really on the radar for those I see going in a great direction." Among the 16 selected artists, Henry Jackson's mixed media on ragcoat paper on oil and board is a favorite of Wilde. "Henry Jackson is an artist I just love. I've romanced that puppy to come with us," she says smiling. "He's from San Francisco. He's young and getting a lot of attention."

Another fascinating artist showcased at the event is Marilyn Lanfear. Her lead and antique doll dresses are exquisite and delightful, masterfully crafted and a rare find for the collector who snaps them up. Lanfear has created museum installations in the past in life-size proportions, but it's the displayed dresses at the current exhibit that really caught Wilde's eye. "I'm really drawn to her pieces in lead," she says about Lanfear.

The excited enthrallment Wilde has with art practically exudes from her pores. It's refreshing to witness the undeniable love affair she has with art-making Wilde an excellent resource as a gallery owner. "Being an artist myself, because I think and breathe art, we don't just think of it just placement in the house," she says. "Once you're smitten, it's not just aesthetic, it's for feeding you as a human being."

Entering the Stewart gallery is like entering an oasis, a retreat or refuge. The peaceful and calming nature does immediately offer the visitor a chance to "feed" off the art, as Wilde put it. "The gallery has a real, I don't want to say responsibility, but we show and handle the artwork differently in the sense that there's a lot of space," Wilde says. "We allow the work to have its own space." She muses that her status as an artist in addition to her role with the gallery is reason for her sensitivity to the way she represents art to clients. They depend on her judgment-a weighty responsibility in itself.

Yet Wilde is not out to make a profit first and foremost, though supporting an artistic aesthetic over the chance to sell, sell, sell may seem idealistic. Marlow Hoffman sums up a central reason why she is Stewart Gallery's exhibition coordinator. "I didn't choose to show Carucci, Stern and Letinsky because I think their work will be lucrative for the gallery," Hoffman says, as Wilde allowed her to curate a photography exhibit that may not turn out to be profitable. "I chose them because they push the aesthetic of this city. Luckily, I'm at one of the only galleries in Boise that adheres to this philosophy."

Even the gallery's address on the outskirts of downtown at 2212 W. Main St., is to attract a quality of sincerely interested collectors over the quantity of foot traffic. "You'll find the dynamic being in the outskirts works well for us," Wilde says. "It's not just a shopping experience." Visitors must have a real purpose to come, since stumbling across the gallery is unlikely given their location; so visitors arrive who are already familiar with the gallery's aesthetic and principles. This philosophy, however, is not to detract art enthusiasts that know little about art to the Stewart Gallery, or those perplexed as to how to begin collecting and understanding the "smitten" experience art appreciation evolves into.

This potential void is the point of the women's luncheon-to provide the public (granted half the public) a chance to get involved in the art community, and art collection. The luncheon will preview the gallery exhibit "A Day in May" on May 13, and the public opening is May 27 from 7 to 9 p.m. For those not on the luncheon invite list this year who are interested in next year's event, contact the Stewart Gallery at 433-0593, or Marlow Hoffman at marlow@stewartgallery.com.

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