Couples: weaving a life of art and love
By HANS IBOLD
Express Staff Writer
The popular conception of the artist is that of a tortured, cranky
and isolated soul. Local artists and married couples Rusty Wilson and Denise Simone,
Dennis and Roberta Ochi, and Michael and Kim Harrison turn that conception upside down.
Valentines Day might be busy for them, but they will be far from isolated.
Their relationships were founded in the arts and continue to blossom in art.
Fools for love
Almost 20 years ago during a National Shakespeare Companys
rehearsal in New York City, Hermia leaned over and kissed an unsuspecting Lysander.
Shakespeare didnt write Midsummer Nights Dream that way, but the director was
in a matchmaking mood and thought his two actors, Rusty Wilson and Denise Simone, ought to
get to know each other.
I just kept smooching him, Denise said.
And I thought, Im going to like working with her, Rusty
Denise and Rusty married in 1984 and worked as freelance actors, bouncing around New
York, Los Angeles and then in Richmond, Va., where they joined an acting company and
In Richmond in 1991, Denise gave birth to their only child, Russel. A year later
Rusty and Denise started their own acting company, Company of Foolswhich they call
During a Fools production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea in Richmond, friend
and fellow actor Bruce Willis stopped in and suggested that the family migrate west to
You know, Ive got this theater, said Rusty, quoting
Willis, whose Hailey-based company, Valley Entertainment, owns the Liberty Theatre in
After visiting the Wood River Valley for the first time, Rusty took an immediate
liking to Hailey.
I didnt even know where Idaho was at that time, he said. But
once I was here, I thought this feels good. I felt there was an opportunity
for Company of Fools to provide a service to a community that was ripe for what we
Denise hesitated at first.
Were like yin and yang, she said. Rusty is much more graceful
in change. I like digging my heels in.
But she relented and in the fall of 1996, Denise, Rusty and Russel moved to Hailey.
There was no blueprint, Denise said of that transition. It was
truly a leap of faith in a place that was totally unknown to us.
But it was a fortuitous leap. Since its first production in 1997, Company of Fools
has been able to evolve its mission: to present works that show the human heart in
conflict with itself and to educate the community, especially children, about theater.
Stages of Wonder, the theatrical program they offer to local grade school children,
and other teaching endeavors are what make us smile, Rusty said.
What keeps them smiling in their relationship?
Every couple has its challenges, Rusty said. Weve had some
pretty major bumps on the road in terms of the cards that life has dealt. But I feel that
were connected in a deep way. I feel like were two very old souls together.
And weve been great friends from the get-go.
Hes a great playmate, Denise said. I cant wait to see
him when he walks through the door and I love acting with him. I knew thats who
Id be walking beside for as long as my feet can carry me.
Denise and Rusty are in rehearsal this week for The Philadelphia Story, which runs at
the Liberty Feb. 17 through March 5.
In this play, she kisses everybody, Rusty said. But I get the last
and most important kiss.
In the early 1970s, Dennis Ochi was a painter and teaching fine art at Boise State
University. Enter Roberta, a diligent student of art history and aspiring painter. The
rest is history.
They can chuckle today about that dubious beginning. Theyve been married for 23
years; are raising two daughters, Pauli, 15, and Gussi, 13; and they own a successful art
gallery that they started together 26 years ago.
Dennis and Roberta opened the gallery in Boise in 1974 to help graduating students
who had talent but stopped painting because they couldnt find a venue. Ironically,
Dennis and Roberta stopped painting to offer those students and others a venue.
People ask us all the time if we miss painting, Roberta said. But
the business takes up most of our creative energy. It takes more creativity to run a
business than it does to paint.
In 1988, they moved the gallery to Ketchum. Ochi Fine Art now occupies a colossal
building on Lewis Street in Ketchums industrial area.
It has been a team effort from the beginning, Dennis said.
In a way, its Dennis gallery, but Im the president, CEO and
boss, Roberta said.
And thats the truth, Dennis said.
Dennis eye is trained on innovators on the contemporary art scene, which puts
the gallery at odds with popular tastes sometimes.
If youre working with artists who are innovators and ahead of the public,
that means that youre sort of the black sheep, Roberta said. So
its good we have each other.
We really focus on the art part of it, whether its photography, painting,
sculpture or drawing, Dennis said. The work has to meet certain criteria,
although Im not sure I can define that criteria exactly. We try to deal with
original work, as opposed to work that would easily sell. Were continually asking
what are we doing?
Its a challenge that they take on well together.
Were always making judgment calls, Roberta said. We have each
other to balance our opinions.
We touch on deep issues and get challenged, Dennis said. You ask
some of those higher questions, because thats what the artists are doing.
But to the Ochis, the gallery is not their top priority.
Family first, business second, Roberta said.
Marriage by design
Not only do Michael and Kim Harrison finish each others sentences, they finish
each others projects.
Im the weird one, Kim said. I come up with ideas and the
weird concepts. Michael is the one who can make it happen.
Shes the visionary. Im the facilitator.
Hes the reality person.
Kim is a painter, ceramist, musician and dancer. Most of her time is devoted to the
Spiegel School, where she teaches dance and helps run its recreational programs.
Michael is a multi-talented design consultant, most recently for the company that
manufactures Haro mountain bikes. He is currently working on documentary film projects for
Crisman Films, which has offices in Ketchum and Los Angeles.
One of their major collaborations is their home in Warm Springs, which they share
with their children, Kayla, 11, and Shane, 12, their dog Jet and a cat named James Bond.
They designed and built the housetossing out an architect in the
processand continue to embellish its spaces with design elements, like Kims
colorful mosaics. An indoor pond and a chandelier, which Kim is sketching and Michael is
engineering, are in the works.
A designers house is never finished, Michael said. Were
experimenting with chicken wire right now.
One thing at a time, Kim said.
Michael and Kim met while they were students of commercial art in California at the
Arts Center College of Design, now in Pasadena. They had their first date on April
Fools Day in 1981, and married three years later.
In the 15 years since, they have almost never spent a night apart.
We have the intense belief that were connected on a spiritual level,
which is something we felt from the very beginning, Michael said.
We have similar values, Kim chimed in. Also, hes the bait
that keeps me in reality. If I hadnt met Michael, Id probably be on a street
corner in Hollywood talking to myself.
What it comes down to, Michael said, is that shes my best
friend. And Im her best friend.