Category: News & Features

Security and Shelter 

Surel Mitchell explores protection, wonders of shellac

I have enjoyed Surel Mitchell’s work since I last interviewed her for the Spring 2004 Idaho Arts Quarterly, in which she was the cover artist. So I was honored to be given the opportunity to review her latest show at J Crist Gallery. Can I be an unbiased reviewer? Probably not. In the small Boise art world, it’s hard not to have developed a few friendships with fellow artists. But I rarely mince words.

Golden, honey-dripped three- and two-dimensional works by Mitchell adorn the J Crist Gallery main room with more of Mitchell’s works down halls and around corners. Having seen her studio and lifetime of work, it’s hard to pin her down to a specific style. But if viewers only see her show, entitled “N’est ce pas?,” they will clearly see that Mitchell has focused on a theme over the previous few years, especially with her exploration and love of shellac. The show is a great opportunity to see Mitchell’s recent work.

“Sheltering That Which Is Fragile and Precious” is one series of pieces in the show. The pieces are shellacked packages hanging on the gallery walls that offer amber tones of paper-wrapped things bound with waxed twine. They were made “while thinking about things precious and fragile,” the Mitchell told me in 2004, which mirrors the name for this series. The shellac turns the paper slightly transparent and it’s as though a viewer can glimpse ghostly objects inside. Some packages offer no glimpse of their contents and only their titles (“Air,” “Earth” and “Water”) offer a hint at what is inside. The packages of letters allude to freedom-of-speech themes, perhaps insinuating that to protect it, we must secure it.

Protection and shelter are major themes in Mitchell’s work. Her drawings of umbrellas (note: Mitchell dislikes sunlight) portray unreliable protection, as holes and tears seem to work their way onto the fragile fabrics on their tops. Some umbrella drawings verge on the abstract, and look like large, canopied trees, drawn in a minimalist style. Some of the drawings on large sheets of handmade paper are linked together with the shellac and the drawings stretched all the way across. Similarly, other drawings of circles and imperfect circles with wonderful amber hues reflect not only the circles of sun and light sources, but of umbrellas bent by the wind as if viewed from above.

In another group of pieces, a row of beautifully built display boxes, each with a working antique keyed lock, protect a series of poems and corresponding books. Each book, made with shellacked pages and bound ornately as an illuminated manuscript, is mounted inside a case below a gold-inked poem placed on a black background. If viewers were to remove the books and carefully leaf through the pages, they could read the handwritten poem inside.

The one work that stands out the most, and differs from the rest in the collection, is a large brown painting which commands a central point in the show. The canvas is a field of brown so dark, it’s almost black. Floating in this void is an object. The title gives no hint to what the object is. While it looks like a seed pod or blossom, organic in nature, it could just as easily be a medical device or alien probe.

While the work is beautiful, stark and disturbing at the same time, it stands in contrast to the other works much like an exclamation point on a sigh.


Fonny Davidson:  Portrait of a western landscape artist

Artists played a key role in the opening of the West to American expansion. The paintings they brought back to the east were filled with grand skies, open plains and majestic mountains. Before the age of photography, these were the only images that represented this new territory, the frontier. Today, art doesn’t play the same role as it once did, inspiring populations to go see a fresh land for themselves. Landscape painters have become a rare and endangered species. Those artists still around today continue to document the landscapes of western regions, but more often than not, they are chronicling the disappearance of those lands.

Boise artist Fonny Davidson is one such artist. His work, while rooted in an earlier time, documents changes to the surrounding land have occurred over during his life. Davidson’s is a body of work that took a lifetime to create, and only when compared to other works–taken out of their chronological time frame–can one appreciate the true value of returning to the same spot, year after year, to paint the same land that has been there for millennia.

Davidson’s ties to this region are deep. He was born in Wenatchee, Washington, where his mother’s family dates back to the mid-1800s, about the time that part of the country was first settled by westerners. His father, born in 1877, was a blacksmith on the western side of Lolo Pass in Idaho and repaired and prepped wagons making the difficult journey across the border. During the 1940s, Davidson grew up on a farm in Marsing, Idaho, but moved around the northwest for many years. After returning to Idaho in 1965, he attended Northwest Nazarene College, where he received degree in English, teaching and art. After teaching English in the public system for 10 years, he also worked as a commercial fisherman, where two months of hard labor allowed him to make enough money to paint at home the rest of the year. Davidson says that he has been focusing on art as his full-time career for the past 22 or 23 years.

Fonny Davidson sits in the studio he built in his backyard. - BINGO BARNES

  • Fonny Davidson sits in the studio he built in his backyard.

When he undertook his art career in the 1960s, Davidson says there wasn’t any art scene to speak of in the region, “But I was too young and naïve to know that.” He had been accepted in to several masters programs, but decided not to attend, preferring to strike out on his own. He is not one to go to a lot of workshops either, but he gives nods to many artists who have influenced his works. He credits his main influence, Del Gish, whom he considers a mentor. “He gave me my foundation and taught me to paint,” Davidson says.

Davidson wasn’t always a painter. While he began his career with painting, he also dabbled in ceramics and then sculpture before returning to painting in the early 1980s. Over the years, his sculptures have graced the grounds of Northwest Nazarene, and some of his works were in the running for the front of Boise City Hall. Today his garden in a West Boise neighborhood contains some of his metal works and inside his studio there are several wood models for larger works.

“I try to do something art-related every day,” he says. But that may not always involve painting. “There’s a certain amount of mental fermentation that needs to happen. There’s something to be said for taking a vacation, too.”

For many years, his preferred method of painting was en plein air, a French expression meaning “in the open air.” He still continues to do quite a bit of plein air paintings, often packing his paints, easel, brushes and materials–in plein air boxes he made himself–to a specific location, sometimes the same places he has painted many times. Davidson’s skill comes from a 40 years of experience, and at times he can finish one or two works in a day.

“To be a good traditional painter is not as well known as it used to be,” he says. “Most [artists] don’t go through that exercise, that training to do it. Most schools don’t teach it. Most people can’t recognize the subtleties. Today’s art has equated pushing the boundaries of art with being ‘good’ or ‘bad.'”

One of his favorite areas to paint is Barber Flats, just east of Boise, a spot that he has been documenting in his landscapes for years. While he hasn’t been out there in over a year, every time he returns, more development has occurred and more land has been eaten away by growth and urban sprawl. When looking at these works, one can see subtle changes in the land, the impact of humanity on a fragile world. Bonneville Point is another such favorite place. It is the location between Boise and Mountain Home where the Oregon Trail passed. His recent works of Bonneville Point have an airy quality, still capturing the essence but becoming more impressionistic in nature.

Davidson’s work also contains quite a bit of still life subjects. He used to focus on landscapes or still life paintings for a period of time, then return to the other. He would also limit himself to the same size canvases, a small palette of colors and one or two sizes of brushes. He paints an onion simply, with the same limited color palette he tends to use on his landscapes. These self-imposed limitations helped him master his tools and technique. He believes “it is essential for a person who has not developed technique to limit themselves. If you limit yourself to the same size format, then you don’t have to figure out how to fill the space every time.”

Today, while he may alternate between the content of his paintings more frequently, his palette, size of canvases and brush selections haven’t diversified much. Davidson says, “Content is more important than technique in some ways. I try to find content that resonates with who I am. Who in the hell are you as a person, or what can you do to express that?”

While he doesn’t go out in the field as much as he used to, Davidson says it was an important part of his artistic development. “When out painting, the sun demands you work fast, because the light changes,” he says. “Now I get out less, but I get more material.” He does some work from slides projected onto the wall in his studio, but years of plein air painting taught him what nature looks like and he relies on that.

“One thing I’m working on is to get a sense of the Western landscape–being part of the landscape, trying to assimilate what is there, being owned by it. The symbiotic relationship, that’s something I deal with all the time,” he says. “In a way, I’m dealing with the archetypal Western ideal, the dilemma I’m dealing with [is] that our modern life is so divorced from living in the landscape. That’s probably the main motivation.”

He holds up a Navajo blanket, made early last century. “This is their way of expressing who they were and who they are,” he says. “They did it intuitively. They didn’t go through the crap of intellectualizing their work. But once they started doing these for sale to the gringos, their work became polluted. Their motivation for doing them changed. The end product eventually changed as well but it was their basic tools to add spiritual content to their lives. That’s why being tied to these landscapes is so important.”

He recalls that the first gallery to show his work was the Fritchman Gallery but he has been with Stewart Gallery for the last 18 years, represented by Stephanie Wilde, whom Davidson labels the “Grand Dame” of art in Boise. But that isn’t the only place to see his paintings. Davidson’s work is all around town, in the lobby of Idaho Power, in professional offices and gracing the walls of many of Idaho’s private homes.

But for all his shows, sales and successes, Davidson’s thrill in his craft remains. His painting is a spiritual experience for him.

“When I’m out painting, I’m at my most primeval place. I get the most out of it,” he says.

Other GPS Games YOU Can Play 

The sport of geocaching already has many variations. Here are just a few:

Geodashing is about visiting dashpoints, randomly selected longitude and latitude locations on the earth’s surface which people locate using their GPS devices. Players then log what they find on, sometimes with photos of what is there. The game is kept fresh by moving to new locations on the first of every month. But while the game is gaining in popularity, there still aren’t very many people playing it. According to one article, the most visited geodashpoint ever only had six logged visitors for the month it was active. Many geodash points never see a soul. The randomness of where the geodash points fall makes this game fun for players and many geodashers claim that they have a knack for falling in interesting spots. For December, according to Buxley’s Geocaching Waypoint (, there are currently four geodash points in the “Boise Region,” which stretches from Lake Cascade to just south of the Idaho State Penitentiary south of the Boise Airport. Visit for more information about geodashing.

Benchmarking involves finding and documenting governmental survey markers placed by the National Geodetic Survey used to pinpoint landmarks like the tops of mountains or the corners of community parks. These markers aid in land surveying, civil engineering and mapping. While most are documented, some can be hard to find. On you can log when you find one. Many benchmarks have not been officially logged as found so the adventure of discovery could be yours for the taking.

Shutterspot is another GPS game where the first visitor to a site logs the GPS location and takes a picture. The game is to identify the exact location and replicate the photo.

Minute War is a virtual game of capture the flag using the entire world as the battleground. Everyone competes locally in their area but uses the same square grid divided into minutes. The first to capture the flag by visiting their square’s location wins.

Learn about other GPS games and variations on the above ones at

So you want to go geocaching? 

Taking up the sport of geocaching is simple. All you need is a GPS unit, a compass, a map and a sense of adventure. You can even forgo the map and compass if you have to.

GPS units are available at many sporting goods stores in the Treasure Valley. REI has perhaps the largest selection. Brands like Magellan and Garmin are the most popular. With greater price comes better features. In order to download basic topographical maps you may opt for greater memory on your GPS unit. You can get started for about $100, but some of the top models include a two-way radio as part of the device cost much more.

You may also want a compass. Some GPS units have electronic compasses and altimeters, but they can be tricky to learn to use. Knowing which way is north can be very important when navigating in the woods.

While you can purchase a basic software of topo maps for downloading onto your GPS units, it is advisable, especially when trying to find geocaches in the deep woods, to have an detailed topographical map. National Geographic’s TOPO! series and waterproof printing paper are ideal for this purpose.

If you go geocaching on longer hikes or try to reach more difficult cache locations ( ranks difficulty using a one- to five-star scale), then you may need additional equipment like climbing gear or survival gear.

When you find the cache, make sure you note your visit if there is a logbook. If you brought an item to leave behind, do so. You should also take an item if the cache instructions (which should be in the cache) say to do so. Put the cache back where you found it and once home, log on to a geocaching Web site to log your visit so that others may know when it has been visited and be updated on any unique conditions in the area. At all times, follow the leave-no-trace policy and pick up trash when you find it.


The sport of geocaching is experiencing growing pains as it adapts to a post 9/11 world.

Around 2:15 p.m., 33-year old Scot Tintsman from Meridian showed up at the scene to tell police that the object was a “geocache.” The bomb squad was called off, the bucket removed and traffic resumed just before 4 p.m. with travelers wondering, “What the heck is a geocache?”

Geocaching is a popular sport–some call it a hobby–where players use handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) units to locate containers stashed in the wilderness and secret urban locations. With technology prices dropping and companies making smaller hand-held GPS units, more and more people are enjoying this modern technological version of a scavenger hunt. But a sport this young still experiences growing pains and players still struggle to learn the rules of the game.

The sport of geocaching, and civilian use of GPS technology, has only been possible since the year 2000 when the U.S. military descrambled their GPS) satellites, allowing citizens to access the signals to pinpoint their location on earth through triangulation. The technology was previously reserved just for military use in tasks like pinpointing troops in the field or tracking and guiding missiles.

President Bill Clinton, in a statement on May 1, 2000, announced the cancellation of the intentional degredation of the signals, based on a recommendation from the secretary of defense and coordinated with the departments of State, Transportation and Commerce and the director of Central Intelligence. This change gave civilians access to a mapping tool accurate within two to three meters. Previously, the signal would only be accurate to a football field-sized area.

Clinton said his intention was to improve worldwide transportation safety, scientific research and commercial interests. It could also allow emergency responders to have pinpoint accuracy to locations, as long as someone at the location had the GPS coordinates.

Just two days after President Clinton officially deregulated the signal, a container was hidden outside of Portland, Oregon, with the coordinates posted online on a satellite navigation newsgroup. According to the logbook, the cache was visited twice within three days. Mike Teague, the first finder of the cache posted the information to his personal Web site. In July, Jeremy Irish approached Teague with a proposed name, geocaching, and a redesigned Web site. By September, Irish was running the site by himself, and he is now the developer and Web master, the mother of all geocaching Web sites.

Geocaching Web sites have varying guidelines as to how they approve the caches posted to their databases. While is perhaps the best known site, there are others, Buxley’s Geocaching Waypoint (, which focuses on mapping geocache locations, and, a community-run site that keeps an open-source attitude toward geocaching, avoiding the individual-ownership approach of the other sites by. But by far, the most visited one is, and is still growing in popularity.

While distinctly grass-roots and with an air of anti-commercialism, in the last year, the sport has dipped into the capitalistic pond. The Jeep 4X4 Geocaching Challenge involved the company hiding 5,000 miniature Jeep travel bugs in caches across the lower 48 states. When a geocacher found one of the little Jeeps, they had the opportunity to sign up for the challenge and have the opportunity win not only Garmin GPS units (another sponsor of the contest) but ultimately a new seven-passenger Jeep Commander.

At a recent Treasure Valley Cacheaholics Anonymous (TVCA) meeting at Ben’s Crow Inn (the event could only be found via GPS coordinates posted to, a small group of geocachers gathered to discuss new caches, share information and listen to a guest speaker. Geocachers signed the log book for the meeting using the nicknames from their profiles on geocaching Web sites. Founded by BOOMHWR653, IDTIMBERWOLF, IDN8IVS and ZEROEDIN in 2003, TVCA now has about 30 active members. Captain Mike, a retired National Guard reservist, manned the logbook and has placed about 41 caches around the area he maintains. One, called “A Walk on the Wild Side” is series of eight caches spread over a four-mile area around Tablerock. But the real excitement of the evening was the guest, Sergeant Dave Hambleton.

Hambleton, commander of the Boise police bomb squad unit, came in talk about geocaching and how the geocaching community should have more open lines of communication with local police so that incidents like the one at Rainbow Bridge don’t occur again. Hambleton told the group there had been only one other incident involving a geocache in the last five years–out on Pleasant Valley Road–and explained what they consider a suspicious or possibly dangerous package: basically, just about anything.

“When we get a call on something suspicious, we have to treat it like a loaded gun,” he said. Something as small as a film canister (a favorite container for “microcaches”) can be turned into a small grenade, so they have to take every call seriously.

He added that the location is important when determining the danger to life or property. “I just learned Sunday a friend of mine was geocaching and he was thinking of putting a cache over near the Caldwell airport. He has permission from some folks but I told him it was a really bad idea, because someone is going to think it’s suspicious and the Nampa bomb squad will get called out on that,” Hambleton explained.

One geocacher at the meeting said, “It probably wouldn’t be approved if it were at the airport.”

Another replied from the back, “There are already three at the Caldwell airport.” Everyone laughed.

Hambleton added, “It’s all in the placement. If it’s in a high pedestrian area, obviously it is going to be more suspicious. An airport will be a high-target area, infrastructure–power, gas, water–any of those things.”

Because geocaching is a free sport (except for the cost of a GPS unit), and because there is no overseeing authority establishing the rules of the game, geocachers tend to police themselves and set up their own rules and ethical guidelines. To have a cache approved and listed so that others may find it, there are several guidelines that must be followed.

First, states there is no precedent for placing caches–meaning, just because someone else has done it and it was once accepted doesn’t mean it will be in the future. Second, a person must have permission to place a cache on private land. This guideline is a little more vague on public land. Depending upon the governing authority, cachers may need to have permission. Many governmental agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, state land authorities or federally managed areas do not have a stated policy and it may be OK, but will not list caches on land maintained by the U.S. National Park Service or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (typically wildlife refuges). Third, caches are also not supposed to be buried, and they cannot deface public or private property to be hidden. Caches should not be placed in close proximity to active railroad tracks, military bases or public structures such as dams, bridges, elementary and secondary schools or airports.

Finally, caches are not supposed to be placed within one-tenth of a mile (528 feet) of each other, except in rare exceptions. With more caches being placed, more guidelines to the sport are likely to be created.

Since August 14 of this year, 50 new geocache sites have been placed in the Boise area, according to Buxley’s Geocaching Waypoint. As of December 12, identified 220,384 geocache sites around the world (16 are in Antarctica) with 66 percent of them (135,075) in the United States. Idaho contains 2,955 with over 692 in the Boise area alone. Geocaches tend to be concentrated in and around population centers. However, even in Tuscarora, Nevada which has a population of about two to three people per square mile, there are over 30 geocaches within a 45 mile radius.

With catchy names like “Token Ring,” “Garrett’s Treasures Redux,” “Mira Frosty” and “You Must Be This Tall to Cache This Ride,” the numbers of geocaches is increasing dramatically. However, leaving goodies hidden in a special location is considered littering by some. Federal guidelines state that burying or abandoning personal property in national parks and forests is prohibited. Geocachers, however, say that caches are maintained by the cache owner and therefore not abandoned. Regardless of the details, many parks and forest rangers recognize geocaching as a legitimate recreational activity and accept it. Some government officials, however, believe that geocaching should not be allowed in certain areas, such as designated wilderness. The Wilderness Act of 1964 established these areas as being untouched by human presence or development. By those rules, however, virtual caches or earthcaches are allowed there (see Glossary on page 16 for definitions).

The geocaching community is adamant about their leave-no-trace philosophy and have set up a global cleanup program called Cache In, Trash Out, or CITO. The first CITO event was held in April, 2003 and geocachers around the world participated. Since then, the event has grown and in 2004, there were 160 cleanup events in 41 states and 10 countries where geocachers went to a specified GPS location and picked up trash along the way. The overall attitude of geocachers’ leave-no-trace philosophy is that if you find trash while hunting down a cache, pick it up. The overall effect may be a cleaner environment in areas that don’t see as much foot traffic.

Captain Mike said he recalls only one incident in Idaho when another organization, the Idaho Grotto Society, a spelunking group that catalogs and voluntarily oversees the protection of Idaho’s caves, got upset about a geocache inside a well-known cave. Once the groups talked it out, and TVCA explained their leave-no-trace policy and concern for the environment, all was well.

There are currently over 692 geocache sites registered online in the Boise area stretching from Cascade to south of the Idaho State Penitentiary. Image courtesy of Buxley's Geocaching Waypoint (

  • There are currently over 692 geocache sites registered online in the Boise area stretching from Cascade to south of the Idaho State Penitentiary. Image courtesy of Buxley’s Geocaching Waypoint (

This attention to conservation, protecting the environment and creating opportunities to share unique places has caused some geocachers to become obsessed with the sport. One local geocacher, BENTHEREFOUNDIT, is known among the TVCA group as having the most found caches of anyone in the group and allegedly doesn’t plan on giving up his title. Others do it only part time.

Dan Driscoll, a member of the TVCA, has been geocaching for just over a year and maintains nine geocaches. “I wouldn’t say it has taken over my life,” he said during a phone interview. “It’s just a fun pastime, something I do on the weekend. It’s just a family-friendly hobby that is interesting. It ends up taking you places you normally wouldn’t have seen.”

While government agencies may look the other way or accept geocaching as a legitimate sport, it doesn’t mean that Big Brother isn’t paying attention. Outreach efforts like Sergeant Dan Hambleton’s visit to the TVCA meeting and open lines of communication between police and the geocaching community could prevent another incident like the September one at Rainbow Bridge. At the meeting, TVCA members even offered to create a local database of known geocache locations, so that owners of the caches could be contacted if a suspicious package is reported close to a geocache site. But it is likely as the sport grows, more and more regulations about where people can put caches will be handed down by government agencies, despite self-policing by the enthusiasts.

On September 27, 2005, this green bucket was reported as a suspicious package underneath the Rainbow Bridge just north of Smith's Ferry on Highway 55. It turned out to be an imporperly placed geocache. - PHOTO COURTESY IDAHO STATE POLICE

  • On September 27, 2005, this green bucket was reported as a suspicious package underneath the Rainbow Bridge just north of Smith’s Ferry on Highway 55. It turned out to be an imporperly placed geocache.

Still, with so many new geoenthusiasts, mistakes are bound to happen. Scot Tintsman had been geocaching since April of this year and had found many geocaches near high traffic areas and even one underneath a six-lane bridge in California. So when he wanted to put up his first geocache, he didn’t think it was out of the ordinary to try to direct people to a part of the Payette River they don’t normally see. “I’ve driven over that bridge a thousand times, but I really liked that portion of the river and wanted people to see it,” he said.

However, his timing couldn’t have been worse. The very next day, Tintsman’s cache was discovered by the Idaho Transportation Department. He was heading back up to the bridge to finish putting it all together when he noticed the roadblocks and police. Now, he realizes that should have been a little more thoughtful about where he placed it.

Since then, Tintsman has placed two more caches, this time following the guidelines. His advice to new geocachers is to “hook up with someone who’s done it before. Get on the forums and meet someone who knows what’s going on.” That way, he said, it might make it easier to understand what the sport is about.

This geocache, called "Forgotten Monument," is in the heart of Boise. The memorial Identifies the original campsite of the first western visitors to the area and was placed there in 1933. When the Downtown Connector was constructed in 1990 the monument became difficult to reach. Today it is part of a multicache, and to find the next stge you must performe some mah using the engraved dates. - PHOTO BY BINGO BARNES

  • This geocache, called “Forgotten Monument,” is in the heart of Boise. The memorial Identifies the original campsite of the first western visitors to the area and was placed there in 1933. When the Downtown Connector was constructed in 1990 the monument became difficult to reach. Today it is part of a multicache, and to find the next stge you must performe some mah using the engraved dates.

While Tintsman violated geocaching guidelines by placing a cache underneath the Rainbow Bridge, this week he will be charged with breaking the law, too. Valley County Prosecutor Matt Williams is charging Tintsman with violating Idaho statute 18-7031, placing debris on public or private property, a misdemeanor punishable of up to six months in jail or a $300 fine. Tintsman may also be held responsible for costs involved in shutting down the highway and calling the bomb squad up from Boise. Boise Police spokesperson Lynn Hightower said because the overtime for the Boise bomb squad is paid for by Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), they would be the ones asking for restitution. Julianne Marshall, special agent and spokesperson for the ATF in Seattle, said that they usually leave it up to the local prosecutor, so it is uncertain at this time whether Tintsman will be required to pay additional restitution.

Except for the occasional accidental misidentification of geocaches, the sport is generally safe. There has only been one death associated with geocaching. Last winter, 64-year-old James Max Chamberlain was on a geocache hunt with his new GPS unit near San Antonio, Texas when he fell off a cliff and died. The moral: While watching your GPS unit can be exciting, as you get closer and closer to the cache, it is important to remember where you are stepping and to keep your eyes on the trail.

Art Excavation 

The singular geography of artist David Giese

I entered the house and heard opera music playing lightly in the background of Giese’s living room, which was richly adorned with art and opulent artifacts. Baroque, oriental and Renaissance influenced furniture mixed with a hint of modern boudoir appeal and filling the room with the warmth of deep reds, golds and deep earthy tones. An orange tabby played at my feet, rolling around on an oriental carpet. Soon a second orange tabby overcame his shyness and made an appearance.

Named for the Italian and Armenian words for gold, the cats jumped on the delicate furniture, threatening to knock over ornate lamps but never doing so. Clocks throughout the house chimed at seemingly random times. Collectables from around the world adorned every wall, tucked in corners and around the room creating a cozy but not necessarily claustrophobic feeling. Although Giese said he’s lived there just six years, it seemed like a house filled with a lifetime of memories.

Ancient frescos and architectural pieces adorned the walls of his home. But wait. These are his works, his creations, and further inspection reveals tiny details that they aren’t ancient at all, but modern knockoffs of historical paintings. I recognized some of the figures in the paintings, some of the styles from Renaissance, Classical and other period painters. But I don’t recall seeing them in these arrangements, ever. A building in one of the frescoes comes from a famous painting, I am sure of it. The figure standing in front of it from another, yet it baffles the mind to conceive of newly discovered works by these masters long since dead. Which is precisely what Giese is trying to do: baffle. Baffle and maybe generate a little interest in the masters by making their art live on in new works. He came across as a shy man, avoiding eye contact until I got to know him a little better. Reluctant to speak about some things, fidgeting with his hands, we took the time to chat, to get to know each other a little, before the intimacy of the interview began to loosen us both up.

Raised in Minnesota, Giese graduated from Minnesota State University Mankato, where he first attended to become biophysicist. He didn’t take his first art class until he was a junior. But he said that class changed his life.

“I asked myself, ‘Who do you want to spend your life around?'” he said over a beer at the local bar we had migrated to. “Biophysicists or artists?”

After changing majors mid-stream, he still managed to graduate in four years. Because he forgot to notify the draft board of his intentions to go to graduate school, he ended up getting drafted in to the army during the Vietnam War. Ironically, he said he was really glad that happened, because he ended up becoming an arts and crafts specialist–not a common army job he added–and got to travel the entire Pacific theater. While serving at a military base in Arizona, he applied to the University of Arizona, Tuscon, graduate school, where he received his MFAs, one in photography and one in ceramics. He got a job in Milwaukee for five years, then in 1977, a job opened up at the Univeristy of Idaho’s College of Art and Architecture in Moscow where he ran the foundations program for 14 years.

In 1986, Giese received a seed grant from the university and had a one-person show at the Boise Art Museum (since then he has had over 19 one-man shows at various institutions). He was in the process of perfecting a laminating process at the time and was using expandable foam in a new sculptural technique. Central to the theme of the works, he created an imaginary place, a villa in Italy where his works, which resembled ancient, salvaged architectural pieces with partially peeling frescos supposedly came from. He created 54 pieces for the show between July 7 and September 10 of that year, including crates and mounting systems, an accomplishment for any artist. Sandy Harthorne, the Boise Art Museum curator loved the show and helped get it into other museums. It then traveled to 12 institutions for two-and-a-half years during 1988 to 1991.

During that time, Giese traveled to the show openings to lecture and hobnob with the artistic illuminati of those cities. While he still loves to travel, he finds that living in Moscow suits him. “Moscow is a great place to function out of,” he said. “I can get so much more accomplished here. But it would be a horrible place to be if you felt trapped.”

He has found distractions in Moscow other than traveling, teaching or creating his works of art. For 14 years, he and several others ran Moscow’s version of Mardi Gras, which eventually got so big–with the balls, bus tours, parties and more parties–that the city changed parade rules to tone it down. Now they really don’t have that anymore, he said. After turning 60 last year, Giese stays involved with the local arts community, as a member of the Moscow Arts Commission, to which he was appointed this past summer.

Giese’s work centers around a central idea, which he calls “the rise and fall of tastes.” He explained over dinner that an archeological record is like wallpaper. People keep putting new wallpaper up over the old in a house. Before wallpaper, however, Italians would do the same by plastering old decoration with new. As time wore on, earthquakes and disrepair would reveal what was underneath as pieces of the newer plaster fell off.

“I began to understand as an undergrad how people viewed art,” he said. “I would go to a museum and would spend more time in the museum bookstore than in the galleries. But I also began to be interested in watching people go to museums. There seems to be two types of people, those who read everything–the signage accompanying the art–and those who didn’t.”

As a result of this insight, Giese began to conceive of works that were based in history, or as he put it, “Bridging the gaps between the explanation of the truth and the unknown.” His postmodern works are a fantastical creation. Typical of other postmodern artists’ appropriation of others’ works and liberal use of parody, he has created a fictionalized place that he bases all his works upon. But despite the rich history and story behind every work he creates, “I do the work first and then come up with the story,” he said. “I think the work is the primary.”

While his works imitate ancient artifacts dug up from archeological sites, they are made from extremely high-tech and expensive materials, some of which are developed and used exclusively by Giese himself. While the finished works seem extremely heavy, as if made from three inch thick plaster or ancient concrete, they are in reality quite light, a large piece weighing a fraction of what it would be if made of natural or man-made stone. While his proprietary techniques have been developed through experimentation and with the precision of a scientist, they are not patented. But neither does he teach his students about the techniques in classes, since he said that the materials cost alone are usually out of the range of student’s budgets. Besides, why would he want to reveal his secrets?

Beginning in what he thinks was “around 1992,” Giese started experimenting with two-dimensional frescos. He scanned classical paintings into a computer, collaged them into new works, outputting them onto colored prints and imbedding them chemically into his unique concrete chemical mixtures. As a result of the chemical science he has developed, he has created a technique that may last as long or longer than original fresco technique. He was also very interested in carrying the two-dimensional elements of paintings, many of which depicted drapery on the edges, into the three-dimensional drapes of the surrounding sculptural works of his pieces.

While one may see recurring elements in some of his works, such as a cupid head or gargoyle face replicated within the same piece, Giese’s array of molds have been collected over a lifetime. His art dealer in New York City gave him carte blanche to make molds of his private collection, which includes thousands of pieces, stretching back to the Greco-Roman era. Giese found some of his best samples this way.

While his works are rich, detailed and fascinating to look at for their beauty of mimicry, the backstory he creates for each piece makes one chuckle long after looking at the work. His works are even more enjoyable when one is aware of the inside jokes and satire that he sometimes puts in to the story. He has woven just about every key historical figure of the last thousand years into his backstories. They have all visited the villa and been infuenced in varying degrees by what they have seen. No historical figure is sacred. Giese even claims that Walt Disney was inspired by the degraded frescos and sculptures while visiting the villa. While there, Disney sketched the basis for many of the characters found in the cartoons he created and in turn, influenced an entire generation. By tapping in to what most people can relate to, the 20th century, Giese bridges the gap between the past and the present, even if the connection is false.

But some don’t seem to get it. At the Boise Art Museum opening in 1988, Giese’s works were shown alongside real drawings of Italian masters. Although clearly labeled as new works with modern dates, and with all the obvious show catalogues detailing that his works were new creations, people still proceeded to question the originality of the real (and ancient) master’s drawings, preferring to believe that those were fake and that Giese’s works were the real deal. He even overheard a woman telling her friends that she had visited the excavation site in Italy and what a tragedy it was that the Nazis destroyed most of it during WWII.

Confusion over what is real and what is not seems to surround his work, which is entirely what he is aiming for. When his Web site was up (it has been down for some time but plans to return it online are in the works) he received inquiries from archeology interns offering to work at the excavation site. At some shows he overhears people wondering, “How does he get these through customs?”

Institutions hosting his works seem to get in on the fun of the fiction as well. Wilamette University exhibited his show “Excavations at the Villa Bitricci” in the fall of 2001 and promoted it as real. The only clue in the exhibition description were a few carefully placed quotation marks to help attendees read between the lines: “In the early 1980s, while traveling in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, Professor David Giese discovered the remains of a fabulous country house/estate in the foothills of the Italian Alps. Based on archaeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence, Giese believes the house to be the longest continuously inhabited private residence in Europe, dating back to the 3rd century AD. The exhibition will feature a range of frescos and architectural fragments that the artist ‘claims’ to have excavated at the site.”

Scouring the Internet for information about the Villa Bitricci, one can find references on study sites referring to his Web site, not as an artist’s site, but as as an excavation worthy of study by students of archeology. They cite the fictional details as reality, which just makes the joke that much better.

One such site reads, “The structure that is the subject of this Web site was begun just after 200 C.E., and occupied as a private residence continually thereafter into the 20th century. First begun by Roman Emperor Caracalla as a last attempt to show the power and splendor of Rome, construction and renovation on the estate continued until it was stopped by the Fascists at the outbreak of World War II. It was owned through the centuries by powerful political and business leaders who each tried outdo the previous don in building and decoration. During the 13th to 18th centuries, many of Europe’s foremost painters, sculptors, and architects were commissioned for projects at the villa. As a study site, this is a rich niche of history, art, and architecture. Students of archeaelogy may learn here from the exacting work of the those engaged in studying Villa Bitricci. They say that because so many people of intellectual prominence sojourned there, the art and architecture affected Western thinking in important ways, ranging from Thomas Jefferson’s surveying theory to Max Wertheimer’s gestalt psychology.”

Like an urban myth, the “reality” of the Villa’s made-up history seems to get replicated over and over across the Internet and may end up become a real place in historical textbooks and study materials. One just has to laugh at that.

Whereas the fake background stories can be humorous, Giese finds greater purpose in his works.

“What I like about my art is how it confronts your own basis of knowledge,” he said. “There are layers of meaning. If that work is just a piece, can you imagine what the rest of the room in the villa looked like?”

The story Giese tells is that the villa has been visited by nearly every major artist and member intelligencia for the last 1,000 years. Each influenced the art and design of the villa in their own way while there. By imagining such a deep history over this period of time, Giese can tap into ancient Roman motifs to the Renaissance. But being fiction, he can also make it all up as he goes along. “When Jefferson visted the villa,” Giese said with a storyteller’s smirk, “he perceived the parts as making the whole. It inspired him to influence George Washington to conceive of separating the government and political areas into separate but equal parts.”

After spending a year at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas as an artist in residence in 1992, Giese took a sabbatical from the University of Idaho. When he returned to Moscow, he became the chairman of the Department of Art and began teaching more upper division students. During that time he helped redesign the process of the curriculum. This allowed the art and graphics students to develop a stronger body of work. It also allowed the undergraduates to mature more quickly and have a larger portfolio, with practical experience, by the time they graduated. It was the gem of art programs in the state and the University of Idaho had a reputation for having one of the strongest art programs in the Northwest. Then came a shift in the wind. For reasons that some say were personal or political, but officially to deal with funding shortfalls, university administrators began cutting back on the art programs and in 2002, announced that they would eliminate the College of Art and Architecture at the University of Idaho. The classes and students would be merged with the College of Letters, Art and Social Sciences and would only address design, not fine art.

“You spend your whole life working with students, to be told to your face that what you do is not worth it,” David said. “It’s very insulting.”

But the hammer didn’t completely fall on all art programs. The debate came up again earlier this year when Dean Joe Zeller brought up the desire to cancel more art classes and send the art students to Washington State University in Pullman (allegedly without consulting WSU administration officials first). The dean’s office sent out letters to prospective art students that there most likely would not be a four-year art program at the university. Listening to a call from faculty and current and former students of the college, on October 17, 2005, the state board of education voted to reinstate the College of Art and Architecture at the University of Idaho. Giese said when they voted it was like something out of a movie. Everyone at the meeting stood up and cheered.

But the controversy has had a lasting impact. The result, said Giese, is that art students for several years now, unsure as to the future of the fine art program at the university, have sought programs elsewhere. Conversely, with declining numbers of students taking art classes, they have reduced the number of art faculty and now have about eight full-time and two part time staff.

In his studio on campus, an old warehouse on top of one of the hills, he stores his work on floor-to-ceiling shelves housing the hundreds of molds. Usually he works on four to five works simultaneously. In the studio, Giese showed me some pet urns he was playing with at the time.

“I’m making up all these stories about these people who lived at the villa and their pets,” he said while turning the work around and inspecting the underside.

Some of the materials he uses as inspiration come from unsuspecting places, like cheesy candlesticks from department stores. “But when you cast them they look great,” he said with a grin. “I think of myself as a collagist. I make the flats and I start adding stuff.”

Giese makes transfers from colored prints onto the flats, which he had light-tested for archival aging. With the preservative coating, they determined his works are five times more stable than a Kodak C-print, which has an estimated color-maintaining duration of about 80 years.

On the other side of the warehouse is the room containing all the storage crates, some filled with his older works and others being prepared to ship newer ones. While the works–selling for anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000, more for commissioned installations–may look fragile, Giese said they are quite sturdy.

What the future may bring for his historically based works, no one knows. Giese does not fear the future, nor has he any doubt about his works. He sees himself continuing the process. “I suppose I find there are so many various combinations of motifs that I’m not tired,” he said. “I have no problem coming up with new pieces.”

When one avenue of creations peter out, Giese simply fictionalizes another part of the archeological dig and “discovers” new works inside his own mind.

A Dry and Warmer Season 

The sky isn’t falling, but a pig’s spleen may tell you otherwise

Some people are obsessed with the weather—especially people whose recreational activities depend solely on the conditions falling from the sky. Weather obsessors are constantly monitoring forecasts via a variety of sources including television, radio, newspaper and the Internet. Fanatics even get their own home monitoring station with barometric readers and rooftop wind gauge instruments. For most, all they want to know is whether a big storm is on the way because a planned trip to the mountains might be delayed. For recreationists, a good storm might mean a great cross-country ski trip or fresh powder. It could also mean bumping your butt on a stump in February as the snowpack on the sledding hill gets a little thin.

Predicting the weather is tricky business. We love to gripe about the weather reports being wrong, but that doesn’t stop us from looking to the experts for advice. So with the official opening of Bogus Basin Ski Resort last week, we consulted the experts as to what will happen with the weather this winter. (While astronomical winter does not begin until December 21, meteorologists start winter with the beginning of December.)

First, let’s look at what the scientists have to say. In mid-November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its final update to the 2005-2006 Winter Outlook. The diagnosis went like this:

“By the end of October, equatorial SST anomalies greater than +0.5oC were found between Indonesia and 175oW, while negative anomalies less than –0.5oC were observed at most locations between 130oW and the South American coast. The SST departures in the Niño 3, Niño 3.4, and Niño 1+2 regions were negative, while weak positive departures were observed in the Niño 4 region. During the last three months surface and subsurface temperature anomalies decreased, especially in the eastern equatorial Pacific, and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) increased…” blah, blah, blah.

This is why you leave scientific weather predicting to the scientists. What they were trying to say is that they predict warmer than normal temperatures across the United States, based on the 30-year average, and equal chances of the precipitation being greater or less than the 30-year average.

The regional precipitation predictions for January, February and March in southwestern Idaho are 3.63 inches for the three month period. The average for this area is 3.72 inches. (On average one inch of precipitation equals 10 inches of snow.) In the central Idaho mountains, scientists predict average precipitation to be 7.34 inches (average is 7.22). But with higher than normal temperatures predicted, that snow may have trouble sticking around.

You might have a little better luck with taking a look at either the Farmer’s Almanac or the Old Farmer’s Almanac (two different publications as they are very determined to tell you). The Farmer’s Almanac—published every year since 1818 and the younger of the two—has been relied upon by farmers for almost 200 years to predict the proper time to plant and harvest their crops. Its forecasters claim a 60 percent accuracy rate for predicting the weather and base their predictions on a variety of factors including moon phases, solar cycles, meteorological science and 30-year averages.

The Farmer’s Almanac divides the country into seven regions, and for the Northwest, predicts specific days in December and January to be wary of. December 16 through 19 should be cold and dry, but watch out for a risk of a small shower between December 12 and 15. They predict very unsettled weather between December 24 and December 27, potentially indicating a white Christmas. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, it will be stormy between January 1 and 3 with more to come January 8 through 11. While it will be chilly throughout January, more storms and unsettled weather aren’t predicted until late in the month.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac, published every year since 1792 (“old” meaning 26 years older than the other almanac), divides the country into regions as well. It states in the Intermountain West, the season will be mild with slightly higher than normal temperatures. December, however, might be colder than normal, but snowfall throughout the winter will be far below normal. The almanac predicts the snowiest weather should happen in late November, late January and mid to late February. Precipitation in March and April should be about normal but temperatures might be lower.


Other forecasting methods are a little more obscure. Across the country you may find the Wooly Bear, the larval form of the Isabella tiger moth. It is a particular kind of fuzzy caterpillar with black ends and a band of orange, yellow or brown in the middle. According to lore, the thickness of the middle colored band determines the severity of the upcoming winter. A wide band predicts a mild winter, while a thin band predicts a severe winter. Of course, you have to know how thick the previous years’ bands are to compare, and unless you have already been looking at a lot of caterpillars, you probably don’t know, as my dad put it so eloquently, “your ass from your elbows.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac also claims that the thickness of onionskins or cornhusks have been used to determine the severity of the upcoming winter, but perhaps the strangest prediction method is the pig spleen. As taught from generation to generation, observing a fall- or winter-slaughtered pig’s spleen can offer guidance as to what kind of winter will be forthcoming. According to pig spleen reading expert Saskatchewan farmer Gus Wickstrom, a harvested spleen is divided into six equal areas, each representing one month in the future. The point of the spleen closest to the head of the pig is the first month. When the spleen is wider, a change is predicted for colder weather, bulges indicating bad weather. Most would be able to only get the basics, but Wickstrom claims to be able to predict wind and rain as well. You’ve got to see a lot of spleens for that kind of expertise.

For short-term predictions, one simply has to look up in the sky. “Duh,” you might say. But rings around the sun or moon indicate high altitude moisture. One can also look at contrails left behind by airplanes. While conspiracy theorists claim the government is using chemicals disguised as contrails to control the weather, scientists say that contrails are an indicator of weather, not a cause. A thicker contrail that stays in the sky may indicate moist and rising air, foretelling a storm in a day or so. Disappearing contrails indicate falling and dry air meaning clear skies ahead.

While BW was unable to acquire a fresh pig’s spleen or find any wooly bears, the overall outlook for weather this year is below average to normal precipitation but warmer temperatures with December being unusually cold. It’s not good news for a state stretching into its sixth year of drought. But as my father once said so eloquently, “Weathermen don’t know shit from shinola.” Anything could happen.

Timeline:  The 8-and-a-half year history of the hole

November 1994–The deadline for proposals to develop the property at 8th and Main streets ends. The only one submitted is by developer Rick Peterson.

May 1997–Capitol City Development Corporation (CCDC) enters into a development and disposition agreement with Rick Peterson’s Boise Tower Associates (BTA) for the construction of a mixed-use 22-story building project on CCDC-owned property at 8th and Main streets.

January 1998–BTA and CCDC team up to allocate $150,000 worth of public art to be incorporated into or next to the Boise Tower.

August 1998–CCDC authorizes BTA to increase the tower to 23 floors.

November 1998–BTA applies for building permits with the City of Boise, then asks for a delay in issuing those permits.

December 1998–CCDC authorizes BTA to increase the tower to 25 stories. BTA’s Winter/Spring newsletter announces new unit configurations for the condos, a seventh floor tower club with indoor/outdoor swimming pool and dining, two floors of retail space on the bottom, one floor of office space and three floors of enclosed parking. It will all be topped by 18 floors of condominiums with prices ranging from $200,000 to $850,000.

March 1999–BTA again fails to begin construction by deadline date. A new deadline is set for July 30.

July 1999–BTA again fails to begin construction and CCDC authorizes open-ended deadline extensions.

December 13, 1999–CCDC is asked by several developers to halt the project and accept new proposals for the site. CCDC appoints a committee to review these requests. Rick Peterson sues one of the developers, Gary Christensen, for slander, defamation and attempting to negate the contract Peterson had with CCDC.

February 2000–CCDC’s board votes to allow Peterson to continue with the project and sets new deadlines. He must show proof of financing by November 2000 and break ground by January 31, 2001. The project is listed as costing $51 million in press reports.

November 2000–Deadline to show proof of financing passes, but CCDC staff receives documents from an undisclosed financial group showing interest.

December 2000–CCDC allows Peterson to proceed after he shows that a Los Angeles lender is interested in financing the project.

June 2001–Groundbreaking ceremonies launch the construction phase of the project, two years and three months past the original start date. The estimated completion date in press reports is Summer 2003, and the cost is reported at $62 million.

August 2001–Finance options are being worked out. The proposed lender is through Washington Capital Joint Master Trust Mortgage Investment Fund comprised of union pension plan trusts. The lender requirements include using union workers on all work for the project. The union’s Southern Idaho Master Agreement with general contractor M.A. Mortenson stipulates that it cover “all the work Mortenson has in southern Idaho.”

September 2001–BTA submits a $29 million loan application to Washington Capital Management, Inc. (WCMI).

October 2001–Rick Peterson submits a $29 million loan commitment to CCDC.

November 2001–CCDC sells the property for the Boise Tower to Rick Peterson for $265,000. CCDC originally bought the property, which then contained the Eastman building, for $528,000 in 1972. A 340-foot crane with a rental cost “in the six figures” is set up on the site to build the 299-foot tall building. BTA says all of the office spaces have been sold as well as 60 of the 100 condominium units.

February 2002–Work is halted on the site as a dispute arises between the union and general contractor. Financing by the union pension fund is stalled as well, because it is tied to using union labor on the project. Peterson says delays in construction are due to problems with excavation for the building and concerns by city officials regarding the foundations of the adjacent Eastman Parking Garage.

March 2002–Conversations and correspondence between Mortenson and the union commence. Debate centers around the union’s insistence that Mortenson use union labor in all of their southern Idaho projects. Mortenson wants the agreement to be solely for the Boise Tower Project. The parties reach an apparent impasse.

May 2002–Rick Peterson files a $12 million deed of trust against the Boise Tower Property. On May 23, Mortenson and union officials meet again and Mortenson proposes a compromise agreement.

July 15, 2002–The union rejects Mortenson’s compromise proposal. M.A. Mortenson Co. quits the project and Rick Peterson announces that he may have another financial backer. The estimated construction costs in press reports now drops to $61 million. Estimates of a fall 2003 completion date are given.

August 2002–M.A. Mortenson Co. files a $536,495 lein against the property.

November 2002–Peterson and CCDC agree to a list of 20 stipulations that must be met to restore the building permits. These include proof of financing and requiring Peterson to acquire a $59,000 bond to pay for filling in the pit.

January 2003–Peterson is given a two-week notice to come up with financing or the City of Boise will cancel his permits. If all goes well, estimated completion dates for the Boise Tower are late 2004 or early 2005.

February 2003–CCDC urges the City of Boise to “do all it can” to restore the building permits. Three days later, Boise officials reject Peterson’s financial arrangements and officially cancel the building permit due to financial problems and a lack of progress on the buliding. Press reports now label the Boise Tower a $63 million project.

March 2003–BTA files a lawsuit in Idaho State Court against WCMI and the union under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

April 2003–M.A. Mortenson Co. files a second $768,890 lein against the property for unpaid construction. CCDC begins to take steps to acquire the property back from Rick Peterson. Peterson threatens to sue the City of Boise. The City Council votes four to one to reinstate the building permits on April 9.

May 2003–Rick Peterson establishes his right to sue the City of Boise by filing a $10 million tort claim against the City of Boise for revoking his building permit. He has one year to file suit. Peterson claims he has spent $11 million of his own money on the project in press reports. According to CCDC board minutes of May 12, Rick Peterson requests that CCDC and BTA enter into an agreement to allow him to fix the defaulting conditions, assign the project to another developer or voluntarily surrender the site to CCDC. CCDC also claims it has become aware of past due property taxes on the site. In the board meeting it is announced that Rick Peterson has 60 days to cure the default.

June 2003–CCDC board finds Rick Peterson in default of his agreement.

July 2003–Rick Peterson files another $10 million tort claim alleging conspiracy between CCDC and the City of Boise over the revocation of his permits.

August 2003–CCDC sends a letter to Rick Peterson demanding he hand over the property. Rick Peterson is granted sole ownership of the deed of trust of the property from Columbia Bank.

September 2003–CCDC files a notice of exercise of right of reentry.

December 2003–BTA voluntarily dismisses its RICO lawsuit.

February 2004–CCDC files a complaint and demand for jury trial against BTA, requesting return of the ownership to CCDC and compensation of damages as a result of BTA’s breach of the original development and disposition agreement.

April 2004–Rick Peterson responds to CCDC, claiming the failure of the project was due to CCDC and the City of Boise officials behaving illegally. Peterson requests a jury trial. Price tag on the project now officially listed as $63 million.

AUgust 2004–CCDC Board votes unanimously to authorize a request for qualifications for the Boise Tower site.

November 22, 2005–A hearing before 4th District Court Judge Katheryn Stricklen commences between the Urban Renewal (CCDC) and Boise Tower Associates. The judge hears both plantiff and defendant and adjourns with requests for more briefs. The case goes to a jury trial slated for April 2006. At question is Peterson’s personal investment of approximately $12 million and whether or not he should be named as part of the trial.

Did anyone ever think it would take this long?

CCDC Board member and City of Boise City Councilman David Eberly says, “From what I knew then (when he wasn’t on the board) and what I know now it’s a little bit different. There are a number of steps now we’re [CCDC] doing in our agreements with developers that weren’t done with the Peterson contract. I think the previous board was very optimistic about the project, but it just kept not starting and not starting. When I looked at it as an outsider prior to being on the [CCDC] board, other developers were going forward with their other projects. So it made you question why this one was unable to go. CCDC transferred the property over at a discounted rate. It should have given him a competitive advantage in the market. I think the new-term strategy is that we’re at an impasse and we’re going to let the courts decide. As frustrating as it is, with all the delays, let’s just get it decided so we can get the property back on the market.”

Compiled from CCDC Board meeting minutes, press releases from companies, agencies and organizations involved, legal filings and press reports in the Idaho Business Review, Idaho Statesman and Boise Weekly.

Other Southwest Idaho Hauntings 

Southwest Idaho has a long history with trouble, and trouble, stress and traumatic moments are the ingredients–for whatever causes spirits to be restless or leave an impression in this reality. Here are some of the more publicly known local hauntings.

•The Idanha Hotel is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts. Several years ago during remodeling to convert the rooms into apartments, many construction workers and employees in the building reported strange phenomena. The ghost of a bellman shot by a guest in the 1970s, is said to move the elevator up and down. In the early 1920s a man allegedly killed his wife with a pair of scissors and buried her body beneath the building where Basement Gallery is now. The second and fourth floors are said to be the most haunted. Word has it that ghost activity has quieted down post-renovation.

•Boise Little Theater is rumored to be inhabited by the spirits of two men who died in a fire

•The basement of the Idaho Historical Museum was the site of a murder in the 1940s. During construction of the building, a patrol officer found the body of a teenage boy at the site. Rumors associate the victim with the Boys of Boise incidents. Today, employees say they get a creepy feeling there at night but Ken Swanson, Administrator of Historical Museum and Historic Sites, has been there for over two decades. He says he has spent many late nights working and has never felt a presence.

•In addition to the aforementioned spectral soldiers, Mountain Cove High School is rumored to be haunted by some restless spirits displaced when a nearby cemetery was relocated. Several years ago in the same area, construction workers discovered some skeletons and a casket in a culvert. The bodies were reburied in a cemetery.

•Mulligan’s, a popular bar on Main Street, is said to be haunted with strange smells (yeah, what bar doesn’t have strange smells?) and moving objects. The abandoned second-level is said to be particularly spooky.

•The Boise High School green room in the basement is said to be haunted by the spirit of a young woman who died in the 1930s. Abandoned tunnels and passageways beneath the school add to the legend.

•”Dinah” is said to haunt the Boise State Communications building and several ghost investigators have confirmed there is definitely something strange going on. Apparently the spirit will interact with male investigators only. The spirit received her name when someone once asked what her name was and a piano began playing “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah.” Many students and faculty report computers and lights turning on and off and when the attic was used as a costume storage area, fabric would be pulled out and bolts left standing in the room. Other reports include disembodied giggling and strange writing on chalkboards.

•Some say you can hear the sounds of a horse running along the banks of the canal near Dry Creek Cemetery at 2:15 in the morning.

•Night Moves Gentlemen’s Club on State Street has been the location for several sightings of apparitions, some of which resemble a little girl. Others report poltergeist activity.

•The Kit Kat Klub in Meridian is also said to have apparitions, strange pounding noises and sightings. But one could say that about any strip club.

•There are reports of haunted dorm rooms at Boise State. Allegedly a young girl hung herself there after discovering her boyfriend with someone else.

•At a place called “The Field,” near the intersection of Fairview and Milwaukee by the Alsace Crematorium, people claim to hear strange laughing at night.

•The ghostly figure of a young girl who was killed while skiing, has been sighted on Gots Point on Lake Lowell. She disappears when approached.

•Canyon Hill Cemetery in Caldwell is haunted by a legless jogger who will tap on car windows when people park around the cemetery at night.

•According to Shoshone and Bannock legends, the Owyhee mountains are said to be haunted by naked cannibalistic dwarves who have been known to kidnap children and eat them.

Silver City has been the site of several suspected hauntings over the years. The Idaho Hotel, still an operating hotel from Memorial Day through October, is said to be haunted by at least three spirits. In the late 1800s, J. Marion Moore and Samuel Lockhart had a shootout on the front steps of the hotel. Both died inside the hotel. Their spirits are said to roam the hotel. The third person who died in the hotel was former owner O.D. Broombaugh who killed himself in the south saloon while suffering from pancreatic cancer. His original room in the hotel was number 27 on the third floor and people who have stayed in that room have reported being touched on the leg at night. Several people have seen a man, always in and around the stairwell to the third floor, in a duster coat. Roger and Jerri Nelson, who have worked at the hotel since 1991 and owned it since 2000 have never seen any strange phenomena and don’t really believe in the hauntings, but will admit that lights and water will turn off on their own … even after the hotel had been rewired several years ago.

The winter watchman and several Silver City residents have reported seeing a young boy and girl, in clothes from around the turn of the previous century (tailed coat for the boy, dress for the girl) playing marbles on Washington Street. The sightings occur in the evenings in late fall and early spring when tourists aren’t really around.

While many old buildings creak and moan, one popular explanation is that it is “Screaming Alice.” Apparently Alice, who had lost her husband and both children to measles in the matter of just a few weeks was staying at the old War Eagle Hotel in Silver City. She packed her bags, went to catch the stagecoach and was never seen again. Her bags, including one filled with her babies’ clothes, were left behind. No one ever found her and it was said she died of a lonely heart. Locals tend to embellish the story and one version has her falling down the front steps of the hotel, breaking off both arms and running back through the hotel screaming and waving her bloody stumps.

Jerri Nelson said that although she has never seen a ghost, one time at the Stoddard House–an ornate old house seen through the windows of the bar at the Idaho Hotel–she took a photograph of an archway inside. There was a strange “energy” in the photo right in the middle of the archway.

Jerri believes that, “Part of the ambiance of ghost tales is where you are at.” While she has never seen a ghost in Idaho City, she finds it strange that all but three of a large number of Chinese graves have been exhumed and the bones sent back to China. The last exhumation, she said, happened in 1993.

Touched by a Fallen Angel 

Ghostly experiences in Boise and from the Beyond

The last time Boise Weekly went on a ghost hunt, we visited Mountain Cove High School, where soldiers returning from World War I would convalesce after being exposed to mustard gas. For years after, the ghosts of some of those young men would allegedly haunt the now remodeled classrooms and administrative offices, routinely turning off lights and turning the dial on the school secretary’s radio. While our previous investigation yielded no results, the most current one, with the help of ghost-hunting hobbyists Bruce and Nancy Priddy, we encountered a little more unexplained phenomena, including the “touching.”

A few years ago, Bruce and Nancy Priddy bought a camper trailer and, looking for something to do, decided to go to a paranormal convention in Virginia City, Nevada–allegedly one of the most haunted cities in the West. There, they went on ghost walks, tours, learned of equipment and techniques and, well, got hooked. They educated themselves on photographic phenomena called “orbs” and managed to catch a few on film (see “A Ghostly Glossary” on page 16). They got excited and creeped out, but had fun nevertheless. Since then, the Priddy’s have arranged their trips around hunting for ghosts. At Givens Hot Springs, they witnessed a swing move by itself, at 11:30 at night, without wind and while the other seats were still. They have a photo, taken at night, of a window in one of the historic buildings in Julia Davis Park that shows someone looking out when the photo is made into a negative even though nothing can really be seen when the photo is positive.

Both Bruce and Nancy are skeptics, which they say is something you have to be in order to take ghost hunting even semi-seriously. “Some people get heavily into the spiritual side of this,” says Nancy, “but we don’t.” They just do it for kicks.

“Science says that energy is neither created nor destroyed,” Bruce adds philosophically. “We are biological batteries. Where does the electricity go when you die?”

Bruce and Nancy meet me at the office and we go through our equipment. They have a digital video/still camera, an Olympus digital camera, two voice-activated voice recorders, a directional EMF sensor and an infrared thermometer. They say they always load their equipment with fresh batteries and bring along extras, as sometimes spirits like to feed off the energy and drain them. This has happened to the Priddy’s before, the only evidence in an otherwise evidence-free expedition. I have a high-megapixel digital camera, a digital recorder and a digital high-8 video/still camera with night vision. We are loaded for bear, or in this case, ghosts.

In a 1999 Gallup poll, thirty three percent of the people questioned said they believed in ghosts. However, at one time a majority of people in the civilized world believed the world was flat, the universe revolved around the Earth and that the moon was made of cheese. Some still do. A majority of Americans believe a man walked the earth that healed people and was born from a virgin. It isn’t outlandish to accept that there are things in this world difficult to prove through science. For those who believe in ghosts, these stories and experiences can be scary and exciting. For those who are skeptical, as most of the ghost investigators interviewed for this story–including myself–ghosts are fun to talk about, and occasionally get creeped out by. For those who don’t believe at all, it’s just a good story to scare the kids with.

Television shows such as Ghost Hunters on the SciFi Channel and movies like White Noise–which has some great bonus features on the DVD about Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP)–have popularized the science of ghost investigating. But these investigators say if you’re going to do it, it’s important to go do it right.

Marie Cuff, owner and operator of Idaho Spirit Seekers and its accompanying Web site (, started out as a hobbyist but has become very active with ghost investigations in the last year. In existence for about four years, the group acted as a hobby group of those interested in ghosts. “They were pretty inactive,” Marie said. Then, about a year ago, she contacted the founder and asked if she could be the president and asked to buy the name.

“The founder wouldn’t sell it,” she said. “They donated it free of charge.” Since then, she has developed a team of investigators that have been very busy since last December. “We have very few free weekends,” she added.

With about 18 active investigators in the area and a network of contacts in Oregon and Montana, Idaho Spirit Seekers mainly assists people in private residences but do some investigations in public spaces. A few weeks ago, they were accompanied by a local television station out at the Old Pen and Marie says that while looking into one cell, it felt as if someone reached through the bars and played with her hair.

“About 80 to 90 percent of cases can be debunked, but it often takes more than one investigation to determine if a haunting is real or not,” she said. Oftentimes, she says it’s just helpful to educate people about ghosts, hauntings, impressions and poltergeists. With all of their investigations, they respect the privacy of the individuals they are doing investigations for, but do post investigation reports on some of the stranger incidents on their site.

The Spirit Seekers are set up very similarly to the group in the show Ghost Hunters. A lead investigator sets up and manages the team. They coordinate the investigation so that everyone isn’t trying to photograph at the same time or stepping on each other’s toes. A tech support guy helps set up the equipment and recording devices quickly and correctly. Marie says they have “sensitives,” people who can sense changes in the environment, but they are still looking for a psychic to join the team. All team members, she says, are volunteers and come from a variety of backgrounds, including law enforcement, engineering and law.

One local investigation involved a woman who was really scared, which is the case in most of the people that contact the Spirit Seekers. A woman felt a male presence in the home and had witnessed what looked like an invisible man sitting down on the couch, leaving an impression. Marie said that during their investigation, the trash can top started swinging back and forth and she witnessed a coffee cup apport and disport around the sink. Asked if she was ever scared during investigations she said no. “But it’s like driving a car for the first time,” she reflected. “You are scared to death. Then it gets easier.”

We weren’t scared to go to the Old Idaho Penitentiary, just cautious and expecting to be creeped out a little. We had reserved a couple of hours after dark at the Old Idaho Penitentiary. We had two hours, so Bruce, Nancy and I made our plan. We wanted to see the women’s ward first, where we would leave a tape player running. Next we’d circle around to solitary confinement, “Siberia,” and leave another recorder. That’s where I would leave mine as well, hoping to capture some EVPs. Then we’d make our way over to the maximum security wing where they housed those on death row and executed them in the gallows room. From there, we’d explore one of the oldest cell blocks, “2 House” where it is believed that a man cheated the executioner by jumping off the third floor cells while being led to the gallows. He broke his neck in the fall. Bruce and Nancy had high hopes for this tour.

“A lot of emotions, anger and despair happened at this place,” said Bruce. “When the sit down is completed, I’d be surprised if we don’t come up with something.”

We met Joanne Moss, our Old Pen escort for the next two hours at about 8 o’clock. We could still see a tinge of light on the western horizon, but it was fading fast. Joanne herself had a strange experience at the prison she related to us. One night, while sitting at the front desk just through the entrance, waiting for a party to finish out in the yard, she heard creaks and pops sounding like footsteps on the floor above her. This didn’t alarm her, as the old building pops and creaks all the time. She then heard these creaks start descending the stairwell, the only way up to those offices. Although she didn’t think anyone was in the offices above her, she thought someone was descending to the stairs. When no one came out she went up to find not a soul up there–at least not a living one.

After discovering in the women’s ward that a suspicious shadow was caused by the range finder light on my camera and leaving a recorder, we made our way over to solitary confinement. “Siberia” as it is known colloquially, is the one place where a grounds worker–who would never admit so on the record–won’t go into unless he has to. Strange smells have been reported in one particular cell, without explanation. As we went in one side, and after almost entering one of the dark cells, Nancy started breathing heavily and backtracked quickly. She said that she felt something come out of the cell at her and put pressure on her chest, a feeling she hadn’t experienced before. We cautiously took a few pictures, asked a few questions on tape, left the recorder and moved on.

In the maximum security building, some in our group thought that they saw something walk down the hall and enter a cell. I was there too, monitoring the camera and looking up occasionally, but did not witness the same thing. Interestingly enough, in the death row room, one camera did not function, but resumed working once we left the room. One particular photo taken from the viewing room into the gallows room has a strange shadow. Joanne Moss says that shadow is exactly where the hangman would stand and pull the gallows handle to lower the men being executed.

The Old Penitentiary is creepy enough during the day. At night, it’s flat-out, extra-pair of underwear scary. After making our way through the buildings, we decided to check out “3 House.” We went up to the second floor, snapped a few pictures and looked in some cells. Then on the first floor, as I was using the super-night scope on the digital camera I heard our group begin to leave. But I thought one of them was still next to me. A gentle hand on my shoulder pushed me as if to signal “let’s go” and after looking to my right I saw that no one was there. I reached out to feel if I may have accidentally bumped into a wall or something hanging. Nope. Nothing there. I looked to my left and saw that everyone was heading out the building, quite some distance away. That’s when I decided I’d make a hasty retrea,t too.

Over the weekend we analyzed the data. A great deal of the time spent on a paranormal investigation involves data analysis. The EVP recording devices picked up very little, other than the sounds of low flying airplanes, but a few unexplained creaks and pops appeared on the audio recordings. There was one recorder in solitary confinement that had loud tappings of metal on metal that the other recording device in the area did not pick up. We are still analyzing the photos, but besides my shadow picture in the gallows room, the Priddy’s had a few photos with alleged orbs.

I’m still creeped out by being touched. The hairs on my neck rise when I think about it now, many days later. But did that make me believe in ghosts? I’m not sure. I think I’ll have to keep investigating.