by Jennifer K. Bauer
The exhibit “Common Threads: Folk and Fiber Arts,” opening Friday in Lewiston, showcases a variety of Idaho folk artists who hand make items for everyday living – from rugs and saddles to books and wax flowers.
Folk art is “the real underground art scene that we are are all involved in in some way or another,” said Steven Hatcher, Folk and Traditional Arts Program director for the Idaho Commission on the Arts.
These objects are a manifestation of how we live our lives creatively, said Hatcher, who travels the state seeking contemporary folk artists like those featured in the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History exhibit.
“In Idaho, a very large, very empty state, a lot of our traditions here are very rural. That’s why there’s an emphasis on ranching traditions, cowboy arts and cowboy gear. But you certainly do have the small immigrant groups that bring their traditions from wherever they came,” he said.
Folk artists are often unschooled. They usually learned their craft one-on-one from someone else or a community of people. The things they make are often used in daily life, he said.
“Though you may not make a saddle or something as concrete as that you may be an amazing flytier or maybe even a river guide and you have a whole series of river songs, stories and jokes and that’s all part of the community you’re involved in. Those are the people I’m constantly trying to find. There’s a lot of porch sitting, a lot of traveling and a lot of hanging out talking to people. They’re not big social media people that are constantly posting, telling us how awesome they are all the time. Some of them are, some of them have a Facebook page, but most usually they don’t.”
Artists will share and demonstrate their work at Friday’s opening reception and teach workshops during the exhibit that runs through March 12.
A closer look at a few categories in the exhibit:
Book making – Jim Croft grows books from the ground up, from the flax thread that binds the handmade paper to tanning the leather hide for the cover. Croft lives self-sufficiently in Santa, Idaho, with his wife, Melody Eckroth, whose fiber art is also on display. Croft will teach workshops on making bone tools Feb. 20 and bookbinding Feb. 21.
Duck decoys – Frank Werner of St. Maries started carving his own wooden duck decoys after moving to Idaho in 1974. Decoys must not only resemble a living bird they must be durable and seaworthy. For his work Werner was awarded the Idaho Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. “A decoy can be, at once, both gracile and robust, combining thoughtful abstraction with old world workmanship. Formal attributes conceal a deadly art of deception,” he wrote in an artist’s statement. He’ll speak about wood technology from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday and talk about folk art from 1-2 p.m. Feb. 27. Both talks are free.
Norwegian rosemaling – Colors, backgrounds and shapes play an important role in this form of Norwegian folk painting on wood. Master artist Joanne Storbakken Hultstrand of Boise is the granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants and grew up in a house where the language and customs were a way of life. Her work has been featured at the Boise Art Museum and Northwest Folklife of Seattle. She will teach a class on the art Saturday.
Rug Hooking – While rug hooking is centuries old the folk art took hold in the U.S. in the mid-1800s when pragmatic people split open burlap feed sacks, drew designs on them and then pulled loops of fabric through the holes. As Americans became more affluent, rug making came to be viewed as a craft of poverty. Modern rugs on display are by a variety of local and regional artists. A workshop will be offered following the exhibit on April 2.
Lace making – Lace was a luxury item in the 17th and 18th centuries. The delicate fabric of woven thread took countless hours to create and was sold to the rich in a tightly controlled industry. The value of lace plummeted after machines were invented to do the work. The region’s Appaloosa Lace Guild has 25 lacers skilled in various traditional techniques.
The exhibit also includes hand spinning, wax flowers, western hats, saddlery, rawhide braiding, wooden toys, felted vessels and more. People can register for workshops and find additional information at lcsc.edu/ce.
What: “Common Threads: Folk and Fiber Arts”
When: Opening reception 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5
Where: Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St., Lewiston
Of Note: The exhibit concludes March 12 with a folk contra dance with the Palouse Folklore Society. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Also on exhibit: “This is My Home Now: Narrative Textiles from Idaho Newcomers,” a collection of quilts with stories by refugees who made Boise home after living through catastrophic times in their native countries.