Gems of the Gem State 

Local painters brush up on Idaho

Since mid-November, a touring statewide art show juried by a well-respected Idaho painter has been hanging quietly in a somewhat unexpected venue, the Garden City Library.

In a corner overlooking the Boise River is a collection of paintings hanging on the library's indoor gazebo, an innovative easel of sorts that serves its nontraditional function while keeping with the library's outdoor-themed decor. The 25 pieces hanging inside and outside the metallic structure are this year's selections in "Idaho Paints Idaho," and at Garden City Library, the annual show is enjoying a relatively understated stint in the capital city before the touring exhibit resumes its residency in art galleries and museums throughout Idaho. For nearly a month, the show has been in Garden City, and this is the show's first stop after Idaho Falls, where it was on exhibit for a month while winners were chosen. From Garden City, the show treks north for more than a month at the University of Idaho before ending its tour in the spring in Twin Falls at the Magic Valley Arts Council. Given the tour's fairly high-profile exhibition stops in other areas of the state, Garden City Library is an unlikely candidate for the show. However, it's also a sign of the neighborhood's changing reputation.

"It's a profound compliment for us to be able to be the one exhibiting this," says Nancy Katich of Image Maker Art and Framing. Together with her husband Bud, the couple sponsors Garden City Library's Books for Brushes, which is the Boise sponsor of "Idaho Paints Idaho" in conjunction with the Garden City Library Foundation. Typically, Books and Brushes hosts a monthly rotating selection of artists or art groups who donate 20 percent of any sales at the Garden City Library to the foundation.

"Let's face it, Garden City Library is in the middle of a lot of less-fortunate housing, and yet, it's a place where local people can go and be nourished in the arts," she says.

Katich, who has been involved in Books to Brushes for the last year, describes the program as one that's unique for any library, let alone a relatively new library in an area of town not yet well-known for its contributions to the art community.

"We have done our best to get some very well-known artists showing at Garden City Library and to draw as much attention to the program as we can," says Katich. "And somehow, the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho heard about us and contacted us to see if we were available for this exhibit."

Now in its fifth year, "Idaho Paints Idaho" annually extends an invitation to painters statewide to depict a uniquely Idaho scene and brings in a new juror each year to select winning works. This year's show, juried by Boise State professor and well-known Idaho artist Dan Scott, is a collection almost entirely composed of landscape paintings, something Scott says was unintentional.

"One of my first criteria was not to have subject matter that was too cute, easily accessible or cliched, like a moose on a prairie or children picking flowers," explains Scott. "Essentially I looked to eliminate entries that were, in terms of subject matter or handling material, not interesting enough to want to view in person."

Christine Hatch, executive director of the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho, says this year's central landscape theme is not unusual.

"We ask artists to paint something uniquely Idaho," says Hatch. "It's not by prospectus restricted to landscapes, but it does wind up being predominantly that."

For the first two years of "Idaho Paints Idaho," the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho partnered with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, requiring that scenes be of Idaho state parks. In its third year, the partnership ended.

"For us, the show really fulfilled our mission of promoting Idaho artists' work and so for us it was really quite mission-driven and I don't think it was for the Department of Parks and Rec." Thinking the criteria were too restrictive as just parks, the scope of the show was augmented to encompass all things Idaho and according to Hatch, the quality of the work has steadily improved over the years.

"This is the best year we've had in terms of entries and it's just a really solid show," she says. "And the quality is getting much better. We have incredible talent throughout the state, and there are a number of people who get in the show consistently year after year."

Hatch says that although it does take a long time for a show to establish itself and gain momentum year after year, "Idaho Paints Idaho" continues to grow. The initial tally of entries this year totaled around 115 works. Scott used digital images to winnow that down to 50 before heading to Idaho Falls for the final selection.

"When I went to Idaho Falls to see the actual work, what I found was that I'd turned it into a show that was absolutely equal in terms of subject matter," says Scott. "I was able then to look at the things I find more interesting than subject matter, which is formal issues, how people use materials and how they construct an image, the quality of mark, color development, composition. What was most interesting to me was how absolutely equal everything was objectively, and I could then isolate for the interpretive things."

The Art Museum of Eastern Idaho is the only venue where all 50 pieces that made it through Scott's digital selection process were displayed. Scott chose 25 of those to continue on the statewide tour, and from those 25, he chose a panel of winners. Gregg Russell's winning entry, Weiser River Winter, is a river meandering through a wintery Idaho; it's what Scott calls the "beautiful, clean, ice-cold of a winter landscape."

Scott says the thing he liked most about the piece was the way that it's first fully abstract.

"It reminds me of very good abstract expressionism. It's more expressive of subject matter, which is a thing I always like. And it seems most expressive in terms of the energy of the composition, as well as the color palette."

Traditionally a winter show, Hatch says the next "Idaho Paints Idaho" will be a summer show.

"We think it would be a much stronger show if it toured in the summer because we think it would add tourist appeal," says Hatch. "The show normally opens in October in Idaho Falls, and we're actually going to skip a year. So the next show will open in late spring of 2009."

Whether the show's 2009 schedule will include an interval at Garden City Library again remains to be seen. Katich says Books and Brushes at Garden City Library is enthusiastic about hosting the show in the future, especially as Garden City's reputation morphs into one more supportive of the arts. For now, however, this year's submissions and winners hang quietly from the rungs of the library's gazebo, overlooking Boise's own meandering wintery river scene.

"Idaho Paints Idaho" is on display until Dec. 29 at the Garden City Library, 6015 Glenwood St., 208-472-2940.

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