Hearts for Hearts' Sake 

The Flying M hosts another year of the Valentine for AIDS project

The national day of love is one that people tend to either celebrate or commiserate. But the one sure thing is that every February 14 we are expected to acknowledge love in some way, whether it be canoodling with a squeeze over a candlelit dinner or attending one of the many Valentine's Day Sucks parties. Some, however, have chosen to recognize the holiday with a more inclusive form of love. Namely, love for the Boise community.

The Flying M is celebrating its 15th year of hosting the Valentine for AIDS silent auction for SNAP (Safety Net for AIDS Program), which has been the auction's beneficiary since its second year. Each February, Flying M hosts the Valentine for AIDS silent auction, and this year it's bigger than ever. Fully 280 local artists donated works for the fundraiser, all of which went up for auction on February 7 and will run through February 17.

Flying M owner Lisa Meyers says that in her 15 years of business, she has never seen a turnout like this. The Valentine for AIDS fundraiser is now one of Boise's most lucrative and community-oriented art events, but Meyers remains humble when asked about her accomplishment.

"I am amazed by how many people have heard of the show," she says.

When Meyers opened the Flying M in 1992, she knew she wanted her coffee shop to be a place where anyone would feel comfortable. She crammed as many funky old sofas and chairs as could fit in the space in hopes of making people feel welcome.

"I was amazed by how much time people in Boise spend drinking coffee," she says.

Many of her customers and employees were involved with the art scene in some way, so Meyers decided to give them a venue by setting up the Flying M as a gallery space as well. It is one of the few places where artists can show their work without worrying about gallery commissions or contract agreements, which means there is always something new and interesting gracing the walls of the Flying M. Meyers wondered how artists could contribute to the Boise community, which is when she began planning for the first Valentine for AIDS auction.

Meyers can't really say what gave her the idea for the project. She says she read about an art gallery somewhere that decorated and sold Easter eggs every year, and she liked the idea of doing something for a holiday, but getting involved with the Idaho AIDS Foundation was truly just a moment of inspiration.

The coffee shop hosted the first Valentine for AIDS project the following February. Meyers admits that she was a little worried about what kinds of valentines she'd receive.

"I thought people might turn in little hearts made out of doilies," she says, "but I was blown away by the quality of artwork that came in." As she says this, John McMahon, a longtime contributing artist, approaches Meyers and hands her his creation for this year—a glossy white tile with two black figures that look like they belong on "his" and "hers" bathroom doors standing beside a black waste basket. They are throwing little red hearts into the basket. The title of the piece is Friends with Benefits.

It is worth visiting the Flying M right now just to see how Meyers and her staff managed to fit all of those works of art into the cozy space at the corner of Fifth and Idaho streets. Every wall is coated in valentines. Some of the labels are actually stuck to the frames of pieces just to make room for more work. The gift shop is filled ceiling to floor with valentines.

Some are obviously intended as traditional valentines, such as Deana Chandlerhaas's La Madre de Brilla Valentinos, which translates to The Mother of All Valentines. The glitter-and jewel-encrusted heart is, symbolically, a motherlode of love. As Chandlerhaas says, "Mine is a true valentine." Her enthusiasm about the holiday shows in her donation. "I absolutely love Valentine's Day," she says with a big smile.

Other artists made efforts to include the theme of love in their works, but the notion seemed secondary to the idea of making a striking work of art. Jill Fitterer, a printmaking professor at Boise State, donated a small and lovely black and gray aquatint that she etched while in Italy. The print contains one bright dot of crimson that sets off the elegant lines of the piece. Fitterer says it was a last-minute decision.

"I decided that since it was for this show, I should try to make the piece fit somehow with the rest." When asked about her feelings on the holiday, Fitterer thinks for a moment then smiles. "I feel good about Valentine's Day this year. I have someone to make a valentine for."

Many of this year's contributions either deal with love in an abstract way, such as April Vandegrift's lovely and strange image of a dark-haired girl sharing a loving embrace with a bright red octopus, while others don't incorporate the notion of love at all.

Renda Palmer, a contributing artist for 13 years, donated a small and shockingly realistic graphite drawing of billowing and curling clouds over a grassy field. Palmer says the holiday theme is not so important to her as creating a work of art she is proud of.

"I always feel I have to do my best for this show. It's kind of sophomoric, I know, but these artists are my peers and I want to show them what I'm doing."

Palmer's husband, Erik Payne, is also a longtime contributor, but his approach to the show couldn't be more different.

"Honestly, I usually go home the Saturday before the work is due and just draw what comes to my mind," he says. This is surprising, considering the detail work on the graphite portrait he submitted. Payne gets involved to show his support for the fundraiser. "Artists can't always contribute money, but the art can raise more than we can contribute," he says.

While not all the artists were enthusiastic about the love-themed holiday, all agreed on one thing: the Valentine for AIDS project is an annual highlight.

"This is what my husband and I do every year for Valentine's Day. We don't go out or get each other gifts. We come to the opening night of Valentine for AIDS," says Amy Westover.

She wasn't alone.

"Valentine's Day means it's time to make a valentine for the Flying M," says artist Jenny Rice.

Valentine's for AIDS exhibit and silent auction runs through Feb. 17. Flying M Coffeehouse, 500 W. Idaho St., 208-345-4320.

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