Month: September 2005

Vactaion needed … again 

Although I just got back from a nine-day vacation at Burning Man–running around amongst neo-hippies, artists, performers, ravers, nudists and the like–I feel like I need another vacation. We have been writing thousands of words in preparation for this Best of Boise issue–our annual love-fest with the city where we try our darndest to point out the good things about the place we call home.

You helped, too. For two months, you’ve been asked to vote online for your favorites and, let me tell you, it is no easy task to manage the nominees, the poll takers, remind people via e-mail to finish voting, track and spy on those that try to cheat, and tally all the answers. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to take it seriously. I’ve been fending off requests from readers, business owners and our own staff as to who has won. Sometimes I give misleading information to throw them off. Other times, I just smile knowingly, hoping they beg.

Secrecy has it’s power and for about three weeks now, I’ve been the most powerful person at the paper. Our secrets are divided into my editorial cells and only the mastermind, moi, knew all the answers. Muuauhhhahahhaaaa. But now it’s over. After reading this issue, you’ll know them, too. And my power over the secrets will have evaporated like the last few clouds left over from Hurricane Rita. Now all we have to look forward to is the complaints from people who disagreed with us.

Boise Weekly’s New Home 

Bar Bar, Inc. tapped Cathy Sewell, a local architect (and a writer of the Home Sweet Home column for Boise Weekly) to come up with a remodel design that worked for us. The challenge was a big one with a limited budget–a budget that eventually grew to twice its original size. Here are a series of before and after photos which takes you through the space.

The front of the building wasn’t changed much at all, other than a new matte metallic skin (shown at right) over the old Western-styled add on (above). Grey-blue paint on the cinderblock construction and a fantastic new sign by Classic Signs (just down the block) finished off the new facade. At right is the moment that publisher Sally Barnes cut the ribbon for our new building grand opening that the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce hosted. The party raged into the evening. If you would like to see what the fantastic indirect glow from the red neon looks like on the sign, just drive by the corner of 6th and Broad Streets after dark.

The ceiling throughout the space was torn out, and in some areas the rafters, too. The back part of the building had a peaked room which was elevated and, with the addition of skylights, added natural light to the space. Exposed plywood on the ceilings offers a natural look and cable trays for networking allows for easy access and flexibility. Indirect/direct flourescent lighting give a soft glow to everything. The use of Polygal plastic panels allows light to pass through into hallways, offices and the conference room.

Let’s Go Camping 

This is a drinking game similar to 20 questions. It is very easy to play and perfect for, well … a camping trip. You’ll need a lot of beverages, especially if you are playing with stupid people.

First of all, the judge thinks of a place. Then it is up to everyone else to discover what the place is by making statements about what someone might find at that place.

For example, let’s say the judge chooses a car lot. The first person who asks the question does so in the form of a statement: “I’m going camping and I’m taking a garden hose.” We’re not sure why they have to say camping, but if they didn’t, the name of the game would be called something else other than “Let’s go camping.”

It is up to the judge to determine whether that object can or cannot be found at the place. If that object can usually be found at the place, in this case a car lot, then they have made a correct statement and do not have to take a swig of their beverage. If their statement is incorrect then they have to take a swig. In our example, a garden hose typically would not be found at a car lot so the person would have to take a drink.

This game involves lots of interpretation as objects can be found in many places. One adaptation of the rules is that objects which could possibly be found at a place only require players to take a swig, while those players guessing objects never found at a place have to drink their entire beverage.

Welcome to the Dance 

There’s an old saying in journalism that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Using one medium to describe another has always been a challenge to writers, poets, visual artists and, yes, even architects. But the art of architecture affects many of us on a purely subconcious level. Every city is full of buildings–they keep the rain off our heads–but they can also make us feel constricted, open, enlightened, ready to work or ready to sleep. If somebody didn’t care about design, and about the roofs over our heads as something that should be beautiful in their own right, we’d live in a cardboard-box world.

There are three parts to our architecture issue. First, we take a look at one of the newest buildings in town, the J. Crist Gallery. Designed by one of Boise’s architectural geniuses, the J. Crist Gallery sets itself apart. Rarely is a space designed from the ground up to display art. Most galleries take a hermit crab approach, inhabiting buildings designed for other purposes until they outgrow the space, then trade up for a larger venue. We put architect Cathy Sewell, Boise Weekly‘s “Home Sweet Home” writer, on the job of looking at the gallery.

Second, we asked what the architects think: What are the best and worst designed buildings in Boise? Architects are not known for being publicly critical, so it was hard to get them to dish the dirt on fellow firms, but it was equally tough to get them to stop talking about their own buildings. But we managed to sift through their comments and came up with a constructive, cohesive arrangement of good and bad. We think you’ll agree.

Finally, we tell the story of BW‘s new home. We recently gutted the place and had architect Cathy Sewell (we just mentioned her) redesign it to accommodate a small independent newspaper in need of a larger space.

If there’s one thing we want you to come away with from this trio of stories, it’s to think about where you live, the spaces you inhabit and how we can all make it better. Oh, and do something about that huge hole in the middle of downtown.

Head Spinning Round the Sun 

I’m not sure who to listen to now. First reports of Hurricane Katrina told us of an unprecedented disaster. The feds’ slow response told us they didn’t think it was such a big deal. But Big Brother evactuated the city anyway. Then reports of rapes, suicides and child murders at the Superdome, gangs of looters patrolling the streets … quick descent into chaos. Send in the troops–whatever National Guard we have left. Patrol the streets. Make not one, but two visits by the president to show his “compassionate conservatism.” Forego the photo-op filling sandbags to fix the levy. Reagan did that one already. Keep out the press. Lock down the city. Avoid and discourage photos of the dead, of the muck, of the grime, of the catastrophe. People don’t want to see that on the news. They want bunnies, ponies and puppies. Happy news. Let’s make it all happy, because then we can be happy, too.

Then, scare us again when some desk monkey orders up 25,000 body bags. Tell us it will take months before people can move back into the city. Then, turn around and open up the upscale neighborhoods so the rich people can go back in and secure their homes. Oh, and don’t forget the French Quarter. They’ve got to open that back up so we have time to clean the turds off the street in time for Mardi Gras. They need those tourist dollars. Sure, everything will still smell like shit, but what do sorority girls care when they’re two sheets to the wind on Hurricanes (appropriate name for a cocktail by the way) and flashing their tits for beads while frat boys videotape them hoping to be the next big Girls Gone Wild producer.

I remember my trips to New Orleans. Just a block off Bourbon Street, it could get ugly if you didn’t have your wits about you. Now, it could get ugly and get your feet covered in 200 years worth of sewage. Yep, let’s get the parade routes back in shape so we can show how stupid we are moving back into a doomed city. Let’s rebuid it to look like its former self–below sea level–pumps running continuously to keep it dry and continue to invest in an infrastructure that will most certainly sink again during the next storm surge.

The best thing for New Orleans right now, and this may sound callous, might be for another big hurricane to come in and destroy it completely. This is not about wiping out a modern Sodom and Gomorrah–we still have Las Vegas for that–but about wiping out this country’s biggest money pit, one that will continue to suck up charity money, disaster relief and our taxes for generations to come. That and the fake war on terror.

La Contessa 

Rumor, myth and legend are magnified on the playa. Discerning fact from fiction can be a difficult endeavor and often one is disappointed with the lack of romance in the real truth. The legend of La Contessa is one such story.

In 2002, La Contessa made its debut on the playa, complete with a 40-person marching band playing on deck. This half-scale Spanish galleon, designed by Simon Cheffins and built in under six months around a full-sized yellow school bus was the coolest thing on the playa in years. In motion, it seemed to float along, sailing the playa sea, just inches of clearance between the bottom boards and the ground.

During 2003’s Burning Man, however, things took an ominous turn for the sailors of La Contessa. The myths surrounding La Contessa continued to echo into this year’s event. Tales told of a band of pirates commandeering the vessel. The nefarious pirates–of course, no claims of similarities to the original crew of La Contessa–virtually raped, pillaged and terrorized the citizens of Black Rock City for seven days and nights. Tales of women held below decks, men kidnapped and told to walk the plank and art installations barraged with cannon fire and in some cases rammed by the vessel continued to circulate.

In any case, after the events of 2003, the Black Rock City Department of Mutant Vehicles issued a letter to the owners of La Contessa which stated:

“There were numerous offenses of speeding and driving at night with minimal or no lighting which led to run-ins with the Black Rock Rangers. Eventually the vehicle had to be disabled. Numerous sets of keys and drivers made it impossible to hold a single individual responsible. ‘Someone else took it out’ was a common excuse. It repeatedly violated the principal tenet of Burning Man to ‘not interfere in another’s direct experience.’ There were many complaints that people on the playa could not see it and were almost run down. Some folks expressed fear of going out on the open playa … As a result, the Contessa will no longer be allowed in Black Rock City.”

In 2004, many burners were disappointed that La Contessa had not returned to the playa. The truth, as far as anyone could discern, is that the La Contessa’s operators took their pirate mentality a little too seriously. Its absence in 2004 only fuled the myths and legends.

This year, many “Burners” were thrilled to hear La Contessa was returning to the playa, but the doomed ship almost didn’t make it. An August 31 report by the Spock Science Monitor, one of the many unreliable and satire-filled newspapers published and circulated by Burners on the playa during the week, described an incident with La Contessa.

“In a tragic blow to the psyches of hundreds of people who like to get drunk on boats, the La Contessa–the huge, galleon-like structure that has prowed the playa on and off the last few years–has crashed in to a sand dune and sunk, with no survivors.” Apparently, as confirmed by this Burner with an actual operator of the vessel, the ship did crash into a sand dune on an excursion outside the official boundaries of Burning Man and broke an axle, ripping the port side apart. There were several injuries, but partiers on the boat had an impromptu continuation of their party as they watched the vessel sink.

A mysterious hand-written notice posted at Media Mecca early in the week added a new twist to the story.

“At 04:00 hours on the dark and perilous night of Wednesday, August 31, the playa vessel Contessa ran aground and was unable to venture furhter. Black Rock City emergency rescue salvage was contacted, and–braving the playa perilous conditions then existing–rendered playa salvage services at the request of the Contessa’s master, thereby establishing the playa salvage lien right so the Black Rock Rangers and the AquaDot Team over the Contessa. Playa salvage lien rights are recognized in all state an federal courts of the State of Nevada and under the international law of the playa. The BR Rangers and the AquaDots have asserted their right to the custody and control of the Contessa, exclusive to the world for a resonable period of time in order to satisfy their playa salvage lien rights–either by proper and timely gifting from the owner of the Contessa, or by the playa arrest and libel of the Contessa and her sale by the Sheriff of Pershing County.”

The ensuing salvage and recovery was successful in bringing La Contessa back to the playa inside the city. During the rest of the week repairs were underway.

I encountered La Contessa sitting at her moorings by Thunderdome late one dark, windy, sandstorm-laden night. She sat alone with her side ripped apart. Her gangplank was open to any who would dare venture into her tenebrous bowels. Once inside, I made my way to the deck up a steep set of stairs. There, about 30 feet above the playa floor, were several scurvy dogs milling about on deck. Carrying my God-goblet, full of grog, with a complete head of dreads tinkling with Indonesian beads, black cowboy boots jangling with silver spurs, a bright red silk robe from Hong Kong with an embrodered dragon on the back and black pantaloons, I commandered the vessel–not by force, but by subtle manipulation of other’s psyches, like any good pirate would.

For hours, I stood on deck, receiving gifts of grog and trinkets of treasure. I never actually said I was cap’n, but I never said I wasn’t. My confidence and poise was enough for most. At Burning Man, you can claim you are anything. People believe what they want to believe and most believed me to be the cap’n that night. The typical conversation went like this:

“Are you the captain of this fine vessel?”

“Yarrr, I make no claims of ownership of this fine ship.”

“OK, right. So really, are we allowed up here or not?”

“Ye be on deck, ain’t ye? I see no scurvy dogs around telling ye to walk the plank.”

“That’s funny. Can I climb up into the crows nest?”

“Aye, it may be above the bilge rats, but no lubbers could climb those ropes. Ye take yer own life into yer own hands. There be no rules on the high seas.”

“So tell me about the ship.”

“Avast, I told ye, lubber, Me be just a traveller on this lovely lady.”

They’d look at me and then saunter off. One lass wanted to see my yardarm but I told her, “Well shiver me timbers, lass, ye be a few years too late, as I lost it to a shark in the South Seas.”

With the way I was dressed she gave up a little too easy, presumably thinking I was a gay pirate.

A few days later, during the slightly more sober daylight hours, I ran into one of the sailors working on the ship. He was waiting for a visit by Sea Dog, one of the Black Rock Rangers authorized to give the OK for La Contessa to sail on the playa. We discussed the rumors surrounding the ship. One rumor I hadn’t heard was that this was actually a sister ship built to look like La Contessa, since the original was burned to the waterline at sea.

While it took many days to get her repaired in port, on Tuesday morning–two days after most Burners had left the playa, and preparing my own vessel for the journey back to Boise–I stood atop my Streamliner and saw La Contessa, like a ghost, sailing amid the dust and wind as the sun rose over the mountains. She was sailing the playa once again. Under whose command, I did not know. But a ship such as the Contessa is her own master and commander.

Tarred and Feathered 

Michael Kobold restores the State Capitol Eagle to glory

Boiseans who look up may have noticed that for several months scaffolding has topped the Idaho State Capitol. For weeks, a tent bought at REI has hid the proud eagle at the summit. For years, the eagle had been kept fresh with a variety of paint colors to mimic precious metal and shine in the sun. When the restoration project on the capitol building began, Michael Kobold, an art restoration specialist of Raggleday Studios, was brought in to clean and repaint the eagle. But when he suggested a more permanent option, gilding, the architects in charge of the restoration–who he says now claim the gilding idea as theirs–went for it. Kobold also says he discovered that the eagle was copper, not bronze, as the project architects had thought. At over 200 pounds, soldered together in eight different sections, standing 5-feet, 7-inches tall with a 6-foot wingspan, it would take weeks to apply the thin sheets of gold to the surface.

Every day for the past several months, Kobold has climbed the 299 steps to the top of the dome, then a ladder on the outside of the scaffolding to the very top. He said he has never had a problem with heights. Putting himself through school at a refinery, he was the only one willing to climb the towers to work on them and earned the moniker “The Monkey.”

Kobold holds a BFA from Missoula and attended the Chicago Art Institute, where he learned art restoration. But he learned the technique of gilding from a job he did in Spokane.

After stripping all seven layers of paint from the statue, a process Kobold says “took forever,” he began to apply the gold leaf. Appliing three-and-three-quarter inch sheets of gold leaf using a four-inch-wide brush and then applying an adhesive that took approximately 10 hours to set up. Approximately 1,500 sheets of gold leaf were applied, an extremely labor-intensive process, but one Kobold says will not have to be redone for 80 to 100 years.

“I’ll be long dead when that stuff fades out,” Kobold said. People on the street should notice, he said, an eagle of gold brighter than before. We asked if he, like other craftsmen, put some identifying mark of his handicraft on or near the eagle. He answered with a smile.

168 HOURS 

Art, music, birth, death, dust, heat and cold combine to make the Sunday to Sunday Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert a vacation for some, a rite of passage for others and a spiritual journey for many.

This was my second of many years to come attending Burning Man. Last year I was told, “Burning man doesn’t give you what you want, it gives you what you need.” There is truth in that statement, much like there is truth in the motto of the Burning Man Post Office, “There is no ‘Team’ in ‘Fuck You.'”

Over the last year, I have obsessed about returning to the Black Rock Desert two hours north of Reno, Nevada. On an ancient, alkaline lakebed is a pentagon-shaped space, not-so-arbitrarily placed on the flat playa, defining the perimeter of the city. The city is designed like a clock, with each street named for the time on a clock (2:30, 7:30, etc.) and the circular bands of roads named for the theme of the year. This year’s theme was “The Psyche: the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious.”

Returning was nostalgic for me–granted, it was the fresh nostalgia of just 365 days ago, but nostalgic nonetheless. I wanted to take more photos, see more art, go to more theme camps, make my own art project. I had a plan and I was bound and determined to realize it. The lesson I didn’t learn from last year was that as you pass through the gates, you subconsciously throw your plans out the window. The man decides what you’ll do. And if you fight him, he’ll punish you first, then destroy you later.

Surprises are encountered around every curve of the city streets. Getting there early in the week, one can see the city grow, from 5,000 people to over 35,000 by Saturday. The stereotype of Burning Man is that it is a hedonistic den of drugs, sex and sin. A proverbial Sodom and Gomorrah in the desert. Only God has already forsaken this land, turning the environment into a wasteland, a place no one else save a few would find beautiful.

While one can find sex, drugs and sin in Black Rock City, one can also find these things in any American city. The difference there is that judgments are cast aside. The societal guilt imposed upon people who express themselves openly in the real world is abandoned. Tolerance abounds. But the culture that results from a peaceful anarchy is also self-regulating. One does not see open sex happening on the playa. I’ve seen more hanky panky happening in the alleys of downtown Boise. One does not see (or smell) drugs openly being taken. I witnessed more drugs being smoked at the Willie Nelson concert in Ketchum last week than I did all week at Burning Man.

What one does see is creativity unleashed. People dress up, or down to their skin, openly, honestly and unabashedly. People are free to express themselves without judgment and are respectful of avoiding harm to others. It is a model of society from an ideal coming out of the ’60s, although most participants were born during or after that era.

Each person’s experience is unique. Over the last year, talking with others who attended, I was amazed to hear about things I did not see. Looking at other’s pictures from 2004, I thought I was looking at a different event. I hadn’t seen that piece of art, that performance or those costumes. But the people I spoke with hadn’t seen what I saw either. The size and scope of the city is so enormous that it ensures a unique experience for all.

So while I can try to tell you what it’s like, show you my pictures and let you smell my blankets and clothes still impregnated with playa dust, there is nothing I can convey which gives the 360-degree, 168-hour experience of Burning Man. You have to experience it yourself. But don’t bother if you can’t take it. It is not for the meek, shy, conservative or closed-minded. All I can do is tell you the tales of my experience. And here is the one I will share with you this year.

Out of Touch? 

I wasn’t entirely cut off from the real world while at Burning Man for 12 days. Registered as one of the “media”–primarily to get access to the WiFi network and communicate with the outside world–I had access to information other attendees didn’t. Or as I later figured out, they didn’t want to have.

When you enter through the gates on a dusty, flat playa, which my buddy and I did at 3 a.m., you are met by “the greeters,” a motley band of volunteers who welcome everyone. These greeters pay special attention to newbies–“virgins”–with a strip search and a spanking, but they enthusiastically greet everyone with hugs and a hearty “Welcome home.” Once inside the perimeter, most Burners don’t want any reminder of the outside world. They go to the playa to escape the bullshit of reality, albeit just for a week. For many, only on the playa will they forget about the society they left, joining a new one which makes them happy.

I, too, was happy, beginning the week leading up to leaving. I had foregone reading the news, listening to NPR and paying attention to the troubles that burdened our state, country and world while I readied my truck and trailer. Without awareness of such heavy, depressing goings on, most of which I could do nothing about anyway, my happiness returned. And it was good.

But a side effect of being in the media is that one becomes addicted to the news. It is our job to be in the know. So, after a few days, I couldn’t help myself. I took my computer over to Media Mecca to check my e-mail. Then, and just about every other day, I did it again. Through my e-mail, I learned of disastrous events going on in New Orleans, Rehnquist’s death and other tragedies. Then, exploring further via other Internet news sites, I got details. In regards to New Orleans, I was appalled at the disaster and the early reports of the refugees. I tried to share this with my Burner friends through conversation, but many didn’t want to hear it. They wanted to postpone the real world until they returned to it. They couldn’t do anything about it anyway.

I met one couple from New Orleans who had just heard the news. They were somewhat in a state of shock, but what could they do? Not a goddamned thing. The best they could do was enjoy themselves for the rest of the week on the playa then figure out where to go afterwards. Which is precisely what they did.

Burning Man is a suspension of reality, a time warp, a true vacation. Had I not been so eager for news of home and the world, I would not have been duped by my staff, who decided to mess with the boss’s absent head. They played my weakness for information like a fish. And I bit, hook, line and sinker. But Burning Man teaches valuable lessons, the lesson being: I vow to be happier.

King’s Thrones 

Challis artist Don King’s willow and twig chairs transcend simple furniture


“My work is a part of a whole way of life,” he says as we sip our get-to-know-ya beers. It is clear as the afternoon progresses that his way of life is self-directed, intentional and crafted from a lifelong vision and desire.

The 10,000-foot Bald Mountain, located just across the river, dominates the valley. Cool breezes flee its slopes and fill the valley during the summer. King says that in the winter, while the mountains get a lot of snow, in the valley they only see a few inches. It is part of the attraction that brought him here.

Getting to where he is now wasn’t easy, but it was definitely intentional. Raised as a plains kid in Lafayette, Colorado, just east of Boulder, he first came to Idaho in 1975 to see friends and do a little hiking. He fell in love with Idaho’s mountains. Looking at a map for the perfect spot on Earth, he chose Challis for its proximity to the White Clouds, the Selway-Bitterroots, the Sawtooths and the Frank Church Wilderness, places he loved to explore and immerse himself in. Figuring out how to settle down in his chosen home was another matter.

King did everything he could to spend his summers in Idaho, landing a job with the Forest Service and returning to Colorado to work a variety of jobs in the winters, including a stint at a mushroom farm. In Idaho, he was placed on a range crew because of his background with farm animals, a disappointment at first. He originally wanted to be on the trails crew thinking this would take him more into the wilderness, but the range crew turned out to be a better choice. They ventured further into the backcountry and were out much longer than the trails crews. Soon, he was able to spend the entire year in Idaho. His first winter here, he got a job at Bogus Basin and lived in Boise for a while.

Figuring out how to extend this experience, he worked a deal with his summer bosses and went back to school to get an environmental biology degree in return for them offering him a more permanent job. Returning as a range analyst, he tried his best to avoid the full-time jobs that forced many of the old-timers behind desks. He preferred the outdoors, the reason he came to Idaho in the first place. The summer work crews had all the fun.

King met his wife Polly while she was a chef at the Tunnel Rock Cafe. The local molybdenum mine provided just enough customers to support the small diner. Tunnel Rock was also famous as a popular salmon fishing hole when the salmon used to run in large numbers. King found a plot of land along the river nearby, where he and Polly live now, but for many years he lived in a teepee on the grounds.

King eventually left the Forest Service, working for a time as a guide and a variety of other jobs to help pay the bills. In 1984, he started making willow chairs after taking a class in Hailey. He was interested in Native American lore and was attracted to the way they used willows as a material to make useful objects. Using those same materials to make a chair was, to King, a bridge between the cultures.

Soon, he became proficient in the fine craft of making a chair, even just a no-frills seat he could sell on the corner. “I started making up my own designs and worked with other designers when they wanted custom stuff,” he says.

King continued to pursue learning the art and craft of chair design and willow working, first at the Haystack Craft School in Maine in 1994 and later as an assistant to reknowned willow chair craftsman Clifton Monteith. He moved into contract design work, but clients and galleries were also interested in purchasing his experimental chairs. At the time, he was making chairs on his own, without any help, but the demand kept getting bigger.

When an order for 14 chairs came in from Wyoming, a manageable but very labor-intensive order he could fulfill because they were uniform, he had to make a decision.

“I could have become a factory, but I liked making chairs. I didn’t want to manage people,” he says after taking a sip of beer. “So I went over to Ketchum. Anne Reed wanted creative stuff. I was producing regular stuff for a showroom in Jackson, Wyoming.” So he kept at it, making unique, functional chairs while creating more and more creative chairs in his spare time.

A large round metal sculpture sits in the center of the Kings’ garden. Bees buzz around the clematis climbing the trellises over the carport. From the lupines to lilies and hollyhocks, the grounds are a fairytale artist’s retreat, with no neighbors closer than a few stones throws.

Living on the river, King can’t help but bring up fishing in conversation. A former fly fishing fanatic, he speaks of it with the same passion he applies to his current work. Attention to detail–whether finding just the right twig for a chair, or analyzing the hatch from the bugs eaten in a trout’s stomach and tying the perfect fly to match–is his life. He takes on challenges with gusto. Looking back on his life one might think King rambled and roamed, but he definitely had a goal. Every choice he has made throughout his life was made to reach his goal.

“I went through a reputation-building period,” King says of the past 10 years, over which he has displayed and marketed his work in galleries from Aspen to Santa Fe to Jackson Hole. He stopped showing at Anne Reed Gallery over 10 years ago and started showing in Aspen at the Joanne R Lyon Gallery, then at the Susan Duvall Gallery.

“I think Ringo Starr bought a piece, but the gallery was so ‘cool’ that they didn’t tell artists who bought their work,” he recalls.

When he stopped showing at the Martin Harris Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming, he decided on a new track for his work, focusing more on high-end craft. Now he feels he just wants to stick to a region and enjoy the life he has created. The Sun Valley show and the Triennial are like coming home, he says. He wants to focus on Idaho, his home state, where he hasn’t really shown for the past decade.

“I am into a diverse lifestyle, and my work is part of that,” King says.

There’s been an increased interest in studio chairs and furniture makers in the past few years. King finds enjoyment working with willow and natural materials that are often overlooked. He even gathers the willows himself along creeks and riverbanks. The best willows are the ones that have grown back after ranchers, who consider the trees a nuisance, cut them back. Ranchers usually welcome King onto their properties to cut the willows down. As far as the twigs he uses for his creations, he collects wood from the places he visits: manzanita in the hills of Oregon, scrub oak when he visits Santa Fe, Koa wood from Hawaii, and red birch and mountain maple from all over Idaho.

King says the environment in Idaho is just about perfect for willows, and especially willows used in making the chairs.

“The willow area in Idaho is really dry so moving from dry to humid is better for furniture,” he says.

We finish our beers and proceed to move into the studio to see exactly what he has been talking about.

“I like making wild chairs out of wild, strange and unique pieces of wood, ” he says, opening the door at the top of the steps to his studio. We walk in and King shows me a chair he’s working on. He points to two sets of arms he’s experimenting with.

“Arms are everything,” he says as he holds them up. One set gives the chair a spider-like appearance. The other set gives the chair a more solid and sturdy appearance. He’s busy preparing 10 pieces, eight of which were built in the last three years, for the Sun Valley Arts & Crafts show at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. They used the photo of what King calls a “dysfunctional” chair for the promotional materials for the show, a chair that was built over 10 years ago for a Boise Art Museum show. It’s an exception to the recent works, but they felt it worked better for the posters.

King explains that he makes two kinds of furniture: functional and dysfunctional. “Functional furniture,” he says, “is meant to be sat in.” He makes these pieces with the intention that they becoming heirlooms, “something to be passed down to future generations.”

He explains that sometimes his work has a clear direction, a vision derived from a special piece of wood, sketches, whatever. But other times, “If I don’t know where I’m going, I’ll sketch it out and try different willow patterns. More often than not, what I find inspires me, some given, some found.” His inspiration is sprinkled around his studio, leaning against walls and work tables. One large cross-section of a 384-year-old tree sits outside his studio, given to him by friends. He still is thinking about what he’s going to do with that piece.

“When I go on a hike,” King says, “I just hike.” He prefers to make his wood gathering trips a focused affair.

“Willows and twigs should be harvested depending on what you want them for … spring growth makes them pliable and flexible because of the sap rising … But if you want to leave the bark on, then late summer and into the winter when the sap has left the branches is best,” he says. “Some wood I like to peel, making it blonde. I collect that when the sap is moving up the wood, then I season it.”

He spends hours peeling. “Polly and I sit out and peel wood instead of shucking peas,” he says with a smile.

Walking down the stairs into the cellar beneath King’s studio is like walking into an art installation. Sticks and twigs of all shapes, contortions, lengths and girths are stacked against the walls, hanging from strings or in organized piles. The floor is gray river rock. This is his warehouse, where the raw materials rest, seasoning for use. He knows each one intimately, its curves and twists, envisioning the piece becoming the centerpiece for a chair or a ladder. Sometimes they sit, waiting a companion piece to make them what he needs.

“I like to collect roots,” King says. “Roots grow different. They creep through the soil until they find a rock, then they curve around it.”

Amazed at his inventory, I continue to look around as he tells me that he has another storage area at the neighbor’s house that is just about as big. In there, he has wood primarily with the bark still on, “seasoning” and waiting for the perfect opportunity to become one of his pieces.

Many of King’s chairs, especially the dysfunctional ones, utilize sections of roots for their arms, backs and even what would be the seat supports. They look as if they came from a haunted wood, and give his pieces a disturbed feeling.

We leave the studio and walk along a flagstone path to the adobe guest house on the other side of the garden. King’s influence on his environment beyond the chairs is apparent. Inside the adobe cottage is a bed he made of aspen and a whimsical stuffed jackalope on the wall. Also in the well-lit space sits half a dozen chairs waiting for his next show. King describes the kinds of wood in each: elm from Joe’s tree that blew down a while ago, service berry from here, choke cherry from there and mountain maple from that other trip sound more like a recipe for a dish than a chair, but the variety of colors and textures make for a unique color arrangement and textural variety. Each type of wood feels different to the touch.

I see a Giacometti-inspired chair, one made from just twigs with a seat of elk hide and red willow twigs. It looks delicate and thin, but would command attention in any space.

Another chair, which King calls “Delerium Tremens,” is a dysfunctional chair made of twigs and roots. This fir, red birch, mountain mahogany and willow piece looks gnarled and burnt, as if it were left out during a forest fire and melted into a contorted, disturbed variation of its former functional life. The uncanny appearance could be due to the dark bark left remaining on the wood. When making his dysfunctional chairs, King says it’s more about the chair’s composition than its functionality, and he tends to take more liberties.

King’s work has garnered its own shows in Boise, but not for some time. Ten years ago, when Stewart Gallery was on 8th street, he had a show. He even had some pieces at the Boise Art Museum. Most recently, two of his works were selected for the Boise Art Museum’s Triennial exhibition. The rocking chair in the Triennial took 150 hours to make. His works are not necessarily cheap, but neither are they overpriced. When determining his prices, King tries to pay himself about $20 per hour, far below what other master craftsmen charge. Priced from $750 for a creative but relatively quickly produced chair, up to thousands of dollars (the rocker in the Triennial would go for $3,200, due to its complexity), his pieces are still approachable to the collector and somewhat of a bargain for the museum community.

We leave the cottage and move into the main residence. The house, with star, square and triangle-shaped windows, centers on a huge lodgepole pine runing from the basement to the second floor with a spiral staircase wrapped around it.

In the house are King’s personal chairs, his favorite pieces. In a position of importance, framed as I walked in the front door and past the kitchen, is the Phoenix chair (pictured on the cover). It is one of his favorite chairs and was developed from a sketch. Red paint dominates this chair, but beginning with black on the bottom to light red on top, it’s glossy nature reflects highlights of white. The chair shimmers as the light changes when we walk around it. It looks like it may threaten to take off in flight. King shows us the “breast,” the curved willows that define the ribs and bulge out near the seat to make a lumbar support.

Other chairs in the house King describes as being orphaned. “This chair warped and I couldn’t sell it,” he says pointing to a rectangular themed chair that looks like a brick wall with a pig suede seat. “So I stuck it in the river, torqued it back so it wasn’t warped, but the bark started peeling. So now it’s mine, a reject.”

He explains that willow chairs need to “grow” into a spot. They find their place on a floor, balancing out and become solid. Another secret about willow chairs and what makes them work is strength in numbers. Whereas one twig would certainly break under the full weight of an adult, numbers of them arrayed across a plane distribute the weight evenly and can support hundreds of pounds. The nature of willow, flexible, supple and able to withstand age and drying, makes it one of the best raw materials for making unique shapes, bends, curves and contours.