Sunlight streams in through the tall, arch-top glass windows of an old brick building in downtown Genesee.The same windows appear within the pages of sketchbooks left behind by the late artist Sara Joyce, who once worked and lived in this rural town tucked into the rolling hills of the Palouse.
Some believe Joyce (1921-2011) will one day be recognized as one of Idaho’s most extraordinary artists, even though she put no emphasis on showing or selling her work while she was alive. A 2010 solo exhibition at the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History in Lewiston was the first-ever to display the breadth of her work, which includes drawings, fine art paintings, sculptures and clothing. Since then, her work has joined the permanent collections of the Boise Art Museum and the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Over the next two weekends, people will have the rare opportunity to see some of Joyce’s work in the Idaho building where she once lived and created. Even more personal, the show is being curated by her longtime friend and fellow Genesee artist, Ellen Vieth.
“I’m thrilled to tell her story more, especially as it relates to this place and women artists. We really need to support each other,” said Vieth, who curated the first show of Joyce’s work in Lewiston a few months before she died.
Vieth vividly remembers her first Joyce sighting. It was the early 1980s and she saw a woman walking away from the town post office carrying the latest edition of “Art in America” magazine. Vieth, who had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and Kansas City Art Institute, was intrigued and set out to meet a fellow fine art lover in a farming community of fewer than 800. In the coming years, the two connected over coffee, homemade biscuits and deep conversations about art.
“I think her work is really important. I don’t want to overshadow her or ride on her coattails but we were both women artists in a little town. It’s good we found each other,” said Vieth, an abstract painter who teaches art at the University of Idaho and curates art pop-up shows at the Little Pink House Gallery at her home in Genesee.
The coming exhibit, titled “Intersection,” will feature work by Joyce, Vieth and other artists in a building once owned and inhabited by Joyce and her family. Vieth recently rented space in the building to create a private art gallery called Studio 84.
“The exhibition is built around the idea of her observations of Genesee in general, and Genesee women in particular,” said Vieth, one of the women Joyce observed.
Joyce kept daily sketch diaries, and the people of Genesee populate pages from the years she lived there. She drew them as they lined up at the bank, folded laundry at the laundromat and fixed their automobiles. Figures often have abnormally large hands, one of her stamps, along with her all-caps signature, SARA. The exhibit will include some of these sketches, along with furniture she collected, fabric sculptures she built and several paintings, including “Maiden One,” a portrait of Vieth, arms full of flowers. In the 1980s, Vieth was a young mother of three who ran a Genesee dried flower business called Maiden America.
“On the surface a lot of her work looks simple; it was carefully thought out,” Vieth said.
Joyce started making contemporary art in her late 30s while raising a family in Pocatello, Idaho. She was largely self-taught, and her aesthetic was shaped by wide-ranging investigations into Eastern philosophy, Jungian psychology, literature and several years studying with renowned anthropologist and ethnologist Sven Liljeblad at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Quotes from Joseph Campbell and notes about philosophy pepper the 3,000 pages of her sketch diaries.
Joyce’s three children inherited her more than 400 works after her death. For the past three years, they’ve worked with Moscow consultant Robin Ohlgren to archive the pieces online. A couple of Joyce’s works will be for sale in “Intersection.” Her works are rarely put up for sale, Ohlgren said. The family is still deciding what to do with the collection.
“The intention of the family is to get the work out and seen,” Ohlgren said. “As it gets archived and seen they will explore what will happen next. Should it go into public spaces or should it be kept together? It just seems like there is so much to think about and look at. They want people to have the opportunity to explore it.”
Upcoming exhibits will bring wider exposure to Joyce’s work. She’ll be paired with contemporary Montana artists Nov. 15 to Jan. 10 at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum, Idaho. An exhibit of her handmade clothing will be on display Oct. 30 through Jan. 26 at the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner, Wash. Joyce made her own clothes of natural fibers, her own jewelry and was known for painting her shoes to match her outfit, Ohlgren said. It will be the first time the museum will exhibit someone’s personal wardrobe, she added.
The Prichard Art Gallery in Moscow has exhibited work from the Joyce collection several times and created the traveling exhibit, “SARA Joyce: Myth, Dream and Dramatic Episodes,” which visited Helena, Mont., and Idaho Falls. The gallery’s director, Roger Rowley, has called Joyce a “self-taught visionary,” a belief Vieth shares.
“I think she will end up being one of the most notable artists in the state of Idaho,” Vieth said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Intersection,” featuring art by Sara Joyce, Ellen Vieth and others.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31; and April 6-7
WHERE: Studio 84, 134 W. Walnut Ave., Genesee