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For the week of Feb 5 - 12, 2002


Nurturing the magic
in life

"The people were so gentle and kind and happy. Part of what our work tries to do is hold on to some of the beauty and spiritual energy of the people and make that constant amid all of the turmoil there." —Jenny Pohlman

Express Arts Editor

Here’s an image: two American women with small backpacks, as it happens artists, riding an old public bus through Zimbabwe in the summer of 1997. There are goats tied up on the roof of the bus, chickens at their feet. Dozens of Zimbabwe women headed to market with their woven baskets are packed into the beat-up bus as it rattles along a dirt road.

The women, Jenny Pohlman and Sabrina Knowles, had approached the trip "as though it were a study of Zimbabwe culture," Pohlman said recently. They wanted to learn about family structure, the dwellings, their traditions.

It turned out to be much more.

"There will never be another trip for Sabrina and me like that. Zimbabwe was the journey of a life time. We were like 10- and 11-year-old kids filled with just wonderment and awe and total innocence. We had no reason to fear anything and I think that’s why nothing bad ever happened. I really think you can create things."

Create things they did—beautiful, alluring forms with glass and metal and other media seamlessly integrated. For Knowles and Pohlman are glass artists, collaborators, and, perhaps more to the point, celebrants of life and the magical elements inherent in it.

Thirteen pieces of their work will be exhibited in a new show titled "Passageways" at the Friesen Gallery in Ketchum. Friday evening, from 5 to 7, the gallery will hold an exhibition preview with the artists in attendance.

How that work emerged—work Pohlman described as nothing "that you would see in Zimbabwe … or Ghana or any African sculptural book,"—is an informative tale of how friendship and collaboration and experience can yield fine art.

When Pohlman and Knowles were doing solo work and first shared an art studio in the Seattle area years ago, they had "opposite aesthetics," Pohlman said. "Before you knew it, we were beginning to integrate our aesthetics." They had always been good friends, and as Pohlman added, "when you have good friends, without discussing it, you share the same kinds of passions and beliefs."

Some of those beliefs were forged in childhood. Even prior to their African trips—they took a second trip to Ghana in 2000—both women embraced ancient cultures. "As kids, we were running around picking up arrowheads, we were both into native lifestyle … that’s just in us." They also collaborated on a number pieces with a lot of adornment, "matriarchal type forms, female figurative forms and such" prior to the African trips.

Pohlman pointed out that their collaboration works because they have the utmost respect for each other as individuals. Even when they disagree on aesthetics, they "give each other time and freedom to experiment and express. And then we join each other. Then we let one person run through the meadow, then we catch up and we run together and then split off."

"What happened to us emotionally is that when we went to Africa, we had an opportunity to embrace a culture we would have liked to have been a part of. That longing, that purity, of being grounded with the Earth, being joyful even if you don’t have a million and one things hiding in a closet.

"The people were so gentle and kind and happy. Part of what our work tries to do is hold on to some of the beauty and spiritual energy of the people and make that constant amid all of the turmoil there."

Their second trip to Africa was a less positive experience. In Ghana, the two women felt very much outside the culture. There was a great deal more social strife and desperation than they had found in Zimbabwe. It caught them off guard.

The trip to Ghana, if anything, "strengthened our convictions in seeking out the beautiful places and moments and celebrating them, because so much of the world does live in desperation and lack of spiritualness . If we can be fortunate enough to find it and hold on to it, even if it is only momentary, that’s to us, a gift. In Ghana, we coined the phrase with the help of a taxi driver’s assessment … that spirituality is a luxury. When you are struggling for the basics and you are exhausted and you’re sick ’cause you have AIDS or malaria… you don’t really seek out the spiritual side of life. You’re just struggling to stay warm at night. Since we do have that luxury, we shouldn’t squander it. We should share it."

Knowles and Pohlman’s current work does reflect one aspect of Ghana, that of its colors. Both artists tend to be very conservative when it comes to bringing new colors into their work. "We focus so much energy on form and balance and harmony and curvature that color tends to be the last thing we integrate."

As to new projects, Pohlman said their next trip would be to Asia, perhaps Thailand. Their goal is to go out and see things before they are altered and changed too much, "to keep fueling the fires that we have—that there is a magic in life, and that it can be nurtured."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.