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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of  October 17 - 23, 2001

  Arts & Entertainment

Finding solace on the Snake River

Artists participate in an artistic journey

By Gail Burkett
For the Mountain Express

"Ma Snake" by Kenny Olson

On a Snake River float trip and paint-out led by Kenny Olson, an artist, river guide and Ketchum native, seven artists created a collection of work, "The Art of Hells Canyon," that adds to the list of national landmarks painted by contemporary artists. Olson hosted the painting expedition through North America’s deepest gorge for Idaho landscape artists, Robert Moore, Jineen Griffith, Deanna Schrell-Gobles, Fonny Davidson, Tricia May, and sculptor Calan Johnson.

When the artists ventured deep into the wilderness their intention was to create and bring back art. The art they painted for the world suggests a solace, now a comfort perhaps only offered by nature. As every story begins and ends, this one unfolded gently, with great joy, and concluded with the shock and disbelief of all the horrific news of terrorism. From the East Coast, pain shot around the world and reached the group that had just finished the Hells Canyon wilderness paint-out. The group members from the float trip reeled and recoiled as did everyone.

Artists who participated in the Hells Canyon paint-out are, from left, Robert Moore, Jineen Griffith, Fonny Davidson, Tricia May, Kenny Olson and Deanna Schrell-Gobles. Photo courtesy Gail Burkett

"The effect of returning to the headline news was like a yin and yang emotion, my feelings from the paint-out were so opposite." Schrell-Gobles said.

The peace and tranquillity of the Snake River canyon lifted our spirits. Like everyone else, we wondered, why? How and where do any of us find comfort in our world, now?

We called the river, Ma Snake while we were on it. Artists and friends alike were strengthened and inspired by deep rock walls and the mighty river. Now we realize that each of the ingredients of our story may be the human source for resiliency. Perhaps we rediscovered something human beings have always known: that our primal solace, our source of comfort, can be derived from time spent in nature.

What began as mid-winter whim to draw for a summer-time river permit, ended in a wildly successful adventure that produced more than 60 plein air paintings. In this world of headline news and busy lives, our float trip was gentle and gracious, thrilling and fun, packed with creativity. Of the quality of the artwork, there was no doubt; this was a group of master plein air artists.

At each stop, the artists disembarked, scouted for the spot that flooded their artistic senses with the need to paint. To capture the grandeur of the canyon, each artist chose a location for the rapidly changing light. After they set up their easels, paint and brush connected them with the natural world.

Drawing on prior experiences in Hells Canyon, Olson picked our camps based on their scenic qualities. For instance, the camp at Warm Springs gave the artists an opportunity to warm-up to the challenge of steep canyon rock walls and big water.

In the Lower Granite Creek camp, we witnessed a buff, brown bear swim the Snake River twice in pursuit of a salmon dinner.

Days of painting in the Hells Canyon sun led to a grand finale art exhibit at the last camp, Bernard Creek beach. The display of 62 plein air paintings dazzled our sense of beauty.

For each artist, the trip was a journey of expression that blended talent and emotion. In the end, we saw the beautiful pieces they created. We experienced the healing of great art and discovered there is no greater art than nature.

Many decades after Thomas Moran ventured across the West to paint it, paint-outs continue with the ease of recreation.

Olson invited representatives from Idaho Rivers United to join this adventure, because he believes one of the ways to preserve the wild and scenic rivers as icons of the West is through the fine art of plein air painting. Board member Cathy Noxell and member-at-large Curtis Eck from Idaho Rivers United provided a voice of support for preservation of Western treasures. John Van Paepaghem, Richard Kelsey, Jody Lyngar, and this writer provided support and added the flavor of fishing to this paint-out.

The "Art of Hells Canyon" will be displayed along with a presentation of a slide show Friday, Nov. 30, at the Buhl Art Center. The show will run through January 2002. The public is invited.

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.