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The Sun Valley Guide magazine is distributed free twice yearly to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area communities.

Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper will receive the Sun Valley Guide with their subscription.

Sjer Jacobs’ welcoming statue Girl Looking Up, is one of a selection from local galleries that adorns Ketchum’s new Fourth Street Heritage Corridor. Permanent and temporary art will be a fixture on Fourth Street as the renovation moves forward over the next three years. Jacobs’ work is on loan from Gallery DeNovo.

Serenity in surprising places

Artist and gallery director Deb Gelet explores the streets of Ketchum,
discovering a bounty of beautiful art in some surprising places.
Photos by
David N. Seelig

It is our human nature to surround ourselves with things we love: wildflowers, an interesting rock found on a hike, high ridgelines, vast open spaces—and art.

No matter how long you’ve lived here, or how many times you have visited, it’s worth taking a closer look at this town. Treasures are everywhere, and more are quietly added without much fanfare. Art adorns the markets, bookstores, cafes, salons, parks, schools, churches, hospital, open space in front and behind galleries, at the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens, along the highway and, now, along the newly designed Heritage Corridor on Fourth Street in Ketchum.

Just as we express ourselves individually in the way we dress, in what we drive and how we create our homes, we express ourselves as a community, and share our communal narrative, by placing art in our shared spaces.

Local residents Mark Johnstone (front) and Teagan McAvoy enjoy the serenity offered by artist Martine Drackett’s murals of mountain scenes, framed by arching aspen boughs in shapes suggesting church windows, tucked inside the St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center’s non-denominational chapel.

Some locations are more predictable, such as sculpture installed in front of a fine art gallery. But other settings are not as obvious as residents rush through their days. The historical murals in Atkinsons’ markets may be easily overlooked in the frenzy of stopping for a few quick dinner items after work.

Idaho has a surprising amount of art in public places, most of it reflecting the history and heritage of the state. Logically, most of this art is in the more populated areas of southwest and southeast Idaho. But many pieces are found tucked among tiny sagebrush- or pine-enveloped towns of a few hundred people.

Serene spaces abound in Ketchum,
many accentuated by art. A paver-maze beside St. Luke’s  provides a place for visitors to calm themselves.

Consider the little town of Leadore in the high-desert plains east of here near the Lost River Range. Murals abound, faded and chipped, but they adorn nearly every building there. On a wind-blown cold and desolate day, it seems there are more murals than residents.

Ketchum may be a little different in its approach to expressing itself. (No surprise there.) History and heritage artwork mixing with pieces simply about beautiful form is common. Sometimes, artists are just having a little fun, such as with those beloved painted Labrador retriever sculptures scattered all over town. The fiberglass dogs were purchased by individuals and organizations, decorated by local artists and auctioned as a community fundraiser. Though the auction was six years ago, the painted canines still deliver smiles throughout the valley.

A bronze replica of Jim Cimino’s hat  hangs on a bench in the reflective Memory Park.

Art in public spaces is not a new idea, of course. Murals have been painted on the sides of buildings here throughout history. More recent works, though, have been wisely placed in the safer environs of building interiors. A visit to Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum or Hailey is nicely enhanced by Tom Teitge’s depictions of local historical scenes, such as the harrowing journey of the ore wagons barreling over Trail Creek Summit. For Teitge’s more esoteric view of our spiritual presence, see his mural over the counter in Akasha Organics, located at the back of Chapter One Books on Main Street in Ketchum.

Inside the St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center chapel, local artist Martine Drackett has brushed graceful murals of serene mountain scenes, framed by arching aspen boughs in shapes suggesting church windows. The scenes are peaceful and nondenominational.

As historic murals in the valley are lost (except in photographs) to demolition, new murals are applied. Local painter Ralph Harris recently reapplied his brush to the exterior wall of the Blaine County Historical Museum in Hailey after the original mural depicting historical scenes was destroyed during a remodel. And, while it may be a stretch to call it art, the sign restoration on the back exterior wall of the Mercantile Building (now Starbucks) on Ketchum’s Main Street, admonishing us to "Eat More Lamb" was vigorously supported by Millie Wiggins, local fashion maven, until her death this past spring.

A rainbow-colored biplane soars endlessly over Hemingway Elementary school’s green hills, in memory of student Barrette Admire.

Gallery Walk, a popular almost-monthly event in Ketchum, keeps outdoor sculpture revolving with so many fine pieces luring strollers inside local galleries. Other pieces are sprinkled throughout parks, courtyards and gardens. Perhaps the most subtle is the bronze replica of Jim Cimino’s hat hanging on a bench in Memory Park, dedicated in part to his late wife Barbara, at Main and Sixth streets, quietly noting the Cimino Foundation’s gift of open space in downtown Ketchum.

Remembrance and thoughtfulness often bring art to our daily lives. The children at Hemingway Elementary School enjoy a rainbow-colored biplane soaring atop a column of appliquéd bronze animal silhouettes created in memory of classmate Barrette Admire, who died in a car accident in 2005. The sculpture was created by local artist Larry Meyers and Barrette’s mother, Lisa Admire. The pocket park across from Ketchum City Hall displays Michael Zapponi’s leaping fish sculpture, originally commissioned by Jack Thornton for his former Evergreen Restaurant.

On a more whimsical note, a giant wine bottle made of steel, commissioned by The Sun Valley Wine Company, is enjoyed by passers-by on Leadville Avenue. Artists Larry Meyers and Michael Zapponi (previously known as "2 Wild Guys") had so much fun with that project they added a surprise in the windows above the Wine Company’s entrance. From a vantage point across the street, sharp eyes notice a small band of thieves absconding with their favorite bounty.

Larger collections of art open to the public hang inside St. Luke’s hospital and decorate Ketchum’s newly designed Heritage Corridor on Fourth Street. Also, the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood on Warm Springs Road in Ketchum offers a revolving collection of art by local artists in all media. These installations are possible through the goodwill of artists, collectors, galleries and volunteer workers. The collection at St. Luke’s is extensive, now numbering nearly 300 pieces of art in permanent and rotating exhibitions.

The essence of life in this valley is anchored by its natural beauty. It follows that the members of this community have developed a strong inclination to share with one another a different kind of beauty, one of self and communal expression. It is the mark of a strong and vibrant community. We couldn’t be luckier.