Creators, Makers & Doers: Charles Gill

Charles Gill Studio 012

Now in his eighties, Charles Gill paints nearly every day as he has for roughly 68 years. He paints with no commitment to specific style or subject, with work ranging from representational to totally abstract. As a past instructor at an impressive variety of art institutions, including the California College of The Arts, San Francisco Art Institute and the Osaka University of the Art, he is now retired and spends his days in the studio next to his artist wife.

Finding the right formula for personal success in the arts is nothing short of a monumental struggle. Often measuring and celebrating success is the last thing we do, as our multi-tasking hats are more focused on developing a personal brand, selling work, making work, getting work “out there” and so on.   This week, Gill speaks on living in Boise, making work and “tips” for aspiring artists.

How much time per week do you spend in your studio?  

Just lately in the last few months, probably less than usual. Probably only twenty hours a week now, but I for years, pretty much put in about a forty hour week in the studio. Just like going to work.

Charles Gill Studio 005

Where do you find inspiration for your current work? 

Oh boy, uh. Inspiration… I go for the joy of actually doing it. Making a painting. Seeing it up. When I get my tools out and set up the easel, I anticipate the pleasure of it. So, that’s an inspiration. Where I look to what I want to paint? I can look almost anywhere. I’m willing to try to make a painting of almost anything. That’s a dilemma, because I’m constantly bombarded by possibilities. For instance right here, this painting of a jacket that I habitually wear and it was hanging on that door over there, where that towel is, that’s it. Then, I haven’t done it yet, but I’m going to make a painting of the door knob that’s on that door, just the door knob. Why? I don’t know.

Inspiration is not exactly the right word, just the opportunity. I see opportunity in a thing, in a subject and then there are moments when the opportunity presents itself — right in the material itself, the paint itself. That leads to a non-objective, totally abstract work, but the driving force is pretty much the same, it’s just what I see. That I see, I can make something of it. The inspiration, the real you know thrill of it, is in the joy of actually seeing it happen and being a part of it. Being the agent through which it happens.

Charles Gill Studio 022

What is the driving force behind your work?

Well, that’s a big question. It’s what I do. You know, I’m in my eighties now and at this age you do have a lot of time to mull this over and wonder how you got this far and why you do what you do after all these years. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of verbal stimulation, I mean I wasn’t neglected, but I was over protected actually. Because of that I didn’t socialize very well. My father had been a violinist, he died when I was very young and I never knew him.

So very early on, I got the notion I wanted to play the violin. I was given a violin and lessons. I was six, I must have taken lessons for six years, from the age of six to twelve. I probably never practiced in that whole time. Maybe an hour, I don’t know. The teacher that came to my house must have just despaired.

I was always coaxed to play, to practice, but I wouldn’t do it. But I loved to draw. I was never coaxed to draw, never required to draw, never. I wasn’t discouraged, just allowed to draw you see. So, I was developing a visual language as opposed to an audible language. It was just what I was allowed to, how I was allowed to develop and a way of dealing with my reality.

This is a stretch but thinking of James Castle as someone who was certainly deprived of audible information. He developed a language thing, that’s what he did, that’s how he coped with his reality. I’m not so isolated in that sense. Back at the beginning that was my avenue for looking, seeing and making sense of what I saw. When I started teaching I had to learn how to talk. Just on the job training.

Charles Gill Studio 001

Are you represented by a Gallery?

Yes, I have a gallery here in Boise, the Stewart Gallery which handles my work and the Tayloe Piggott Gallery in Jackson Wyoming. Those are my only two galleries. It’s not a lot of action. The art market is, Eh. I couldn’t make a living on painting sales; I go out to dinner a couple of times if I sell a painting.

Charles Gill Studio 004

Do you have work in museum collections?

I have more at the Boise Art Museum then typical, because I’ve been here now for seventeen years and I’ve been wonderfully well received here. I’ve just felt really welcomed by the arts community, so I’ve had a good run. It’s not so much having them in their collection, it’s just having the opportunity to show in a serious venue. The Stewart Gallery is a very small little space, she’s moved every few years, she has moved from one space to another. Right now it’s very small but boy she puts on great shows. Just impeccably curated exhibitions and I enjoy seeing my own work handled with that kind of care and attention and just to show it to people.

Do you sell work online too or just through your galleries?

I only sell through my galleries, there’s an ethical question there in my opinion. If you sign on with a gallery their job is to promote your work and sell it. It costs them a lot to run a gallery, they’re investing a lot. So when they sell something they get their commission, it’s fifty percent typically. I don’t resent that a bit and I certainly wouldn’t turn around and sell to an individual for half price because that’s all I’m going to get anyway, that’s tacky.

Charles Gill Studio 023

Do you think there’s a thriving art community in Boise?  Is it enough to keep you interested and active here or are you more studio based, doing your own thing?

Frankly, I wouldn’t call it thriving. It’s a struggling art community. The people I know, who I see regularly at art exhibitions, have good reason to interact with. Earnest and skilled, they’re all very much involved in what they do. You don’t necessarily like what they do to appreciate their commitment, you see. So there’s a lot of stuff going on here, it’s strange and weird, Freak Ally art and stuff.

Charles Gill Studio 024

So what keeps you in Boise? Why did you come back to Boise after teaching in California for so long?

Birthright. I was born over in Caldwell. My father grew up in Boise, went to Boise High. My grandfather was a sign painter here. He was listed as a decorative artist in the directory back in 1915 or ‘16. So I have these deep family roots here. We came back partly because of that, but more just the economics of it. Coming back to a more affordable place to live and a quieter town, we were pretty tired of the urban pressures of living in the Bay area. I mean, it’s a very exciting place, but excitement is overrated. It’s very expensive to live there, so we couldn’t afford it and have studio space.

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Is there anything that you feel is lacking here?

I don’t have to pursue a career, career isn’t even a word I like to use. I’m an artist. It’s just what I do. So if I were more dependent on sales I would want to live in or be connected with a little more vital art market city then Boise. It’s just not enough, there’s not a critical mass. It’s here, but it’s just so small, that’s reality. The museum is a good museum, but it’s small too, it doesn’t have the resources of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for instance. So what’s happening here is good. There is a very vital art scene, but it is small and it struggles.

Do you have any tips or inspiring words for other artists?

Get a good day job and keep it. I guess that’s always been my focus, even as I was teaching at California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as California College Of The Arts). I was teaching fine arts, I wasn’t teaching graphic design or video or those subjects where there are job opportunities. I was teaching painting, drawing and printmaking. So mine was always, get a day job.

Creators, Makers, and Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.

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Creators, Makers & Doers: Grant Olsen


Adorable dogs, strong black coffee, musical instruments, and a collection of Richard Nixon photographs all comingle in Grant Olsen’s live-work space. Grant’s full-time art career began in 2002; in that time his work has evolved through experimentation within  a wide range of mediums stretching from painting, to sewing, to now mainly digital. Grant’s art can now be found in almost all four corners of the city. Grant discusses with A&H staff the challenges of holding on, staying inspired, persevering, and making a living in Boise, Idaho.


Have you been able to make a living as an artist?

Yea. I had this sort of immediate recognition in 2005. My work was selected for inclusion in the Boise Art Museum’s Triennial. I was very happy to have been juried into the show by Arthur Danto. Shortly after the Triennial, I received a fellowship in visual arts from the state. I had this career going, this real excitement from other people about my work. I had a group show in LA, I had work in Portland and work in NYC.

Then everything started collapsing, in terms of my ability to deal with the world. The first hints of a disorder. A major depressive disorder started rearing in my head. It was a slow and difficult slide that lasted 8, maybe 9 years. Pretty significant. I really felt like I was doing something that was exciting and meant something, and then it stopped. I didn’t have a career anymore. I was just treading water. Everything I did was about trying to stay ahead. I was trying to make money and trying to find work.

Depression is not a friend to art and not pivotal to work. It is destructive. It makes it impossible to do anything, including making art. It was only in the last year or so that I’ve really been able to find a safe place again.


Do you still have support from the community?

Yeah, people here were wonderful to me. Boise has been so supportive and incredible. People are so welcoming of who I am both as an artist and as a person. Obviously the city has always been supportive with as much budget and time as they can offer people. I have never hesitated, when people ask me for advice, to say that I could tell you a thing or two, but you are much better served talking to the city, or speaking with the Idaho Commission on the Arts.  I don’t think I could be more supported anywhere else.


Are you optimistic about the art scene and community?

I have nothing but respect and excitement for my friends and the work they do here. I love my friends’ work. It’s almost an automatic thing; as soon as I become friends with someone I will always support them no matter what. Even if I’m not that excited about the music or art necessarily, I will stand up for them because there’s something in our friendship that is clearly something that I will be attracted to in their work.

In addition, Boise State has transformed itself in a really magical way. The people who are there now are so much more focused on contemporary work, making work, thinking about work, and understanding how to deal with the world. The MFA program is really fantastic and I see now the fruits of that.

It’s pretty incredible to see what Boise has been able to do; new galleries existing that are vital; new spaces that are embracing public works; new guerilla style installations, and people who are willing to work outside the system and do exciting and vibrant things.

Is there anything that you feel is lacking here?

Yes, but changing it would involve Boise not being Boise. I would rather Boise just stay what it is and keep what makes it vibrant.


Do you have any inspirational words for artists out there?

No, that’s not my job. I only know how I work. I don’t know how other people work.  I trust that other people are doing exactly what they need to be doing and have their own process, their own things that they’re attracted to, and their own pace at which they need to work. While I have my own course of action, which is exactly what I need to be doing, my process would absolutely not work for anyone else. We all think of art as bodies of work. We all think about being an artist or making work that spans a lifetime. That’s a mistake in a lot of ways. Look at the way music works or literature. There are people like Jim Thompson, a genre writer, who wrote many novels and wrote them in such large quantities because that was the way he had to work. He was functioning in a different system and was writing basically a penny on the word. Art was a way to support his family. Then there are people on the other side of that spectrum like Ralph Ellison, who wrote The Invisible Man. He never wrote another work. Everyone just has their own way of working and I can’t tell anyone what’s right or wrong.

Creators, Makers, and Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.

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Creators, Makers & Doers: Amy Westover


In Amy Westover’s studio—a modest yurt on her property in Boise, Idaho—, it’s not uncommon to find shards of glass, printing presses, kilns and planning documents. This multi-faceted, non-medium specific artist has public artworks scattered throughout the city. From her first public art commission in 2003, Grove Street Illuminated, to her most recent work Virgo in 2014, Amy has managed to stay very, very busy. This artist, designer, and fulltime mother discusses her work, workspace, and the ever-changing landscape of Boise’s creative class.

What’s your favorite piece of artwork that you’ve created?

They all have reasons for being a favorite, but my most recent work “Virgo” was special. Usually an install is very intense and fast paced, with no time to interact with the public. The slow pace of this install was the best thing that could have happened. We had a great deal of intimate conversations with onlookers about the work. It was great to see people interacting with the work and not just kids, adults too.  I would see people standing at the crosswalk waiting for the light to turn green wondering what the random assemblage of parts and pieces were. Then, a light bulb would go off and “ding” they understood what they were looking at! It was so fun to see.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a design team for the Boise Watershed River Campus. The Boise Watershed Environmental Learning Center is located at the waste water treatment plant in Boise and is now creating a three-acre campus around the education center. Essentially, we’re creating a mini watershed system as an educational tool. Educational vignettes will be placed throughout the property telling the complete story of what happens with our water, how precious the resource is and how we can be more responsible with it.

In my own private studio work, I’m just plugging away on glass projects and printmaking projects in the time I have between other things. I don’t have another job. I’m a fulltime artist and a fulltime mom.


Where do you sell your work?

I was one of the ten artists who started Enso. I was with Enso Art Space for a couple years, before that I was with the J Crist Gallery. I have a website, but don’t sell my work online. Most of my commissions come from past work. I think some people don’t have it in their consciousness that the public artist also has a private practice.


How much time per week do you spend in your studio and what kind of relationship do you have with your workspace?

I spend about 4 to 5 hours per week creating, of course when I’m really working on a project that’s very different. Since I’ve moved to Hagerman, I come back to Boise every other week to work in my studio. Eventually, I plan to build a new studio space where I live. As far as my relationship to my workspace, it is my sanctuary. I’m surrounded by natural light and wood in this round space. I don’t feel separate from the outside, because it’s basically a tent. It’s wonderful. I hear the birds. I hear the wind and rain in this space. A connection to nature in my studio is really important to me. It’s really functional for me too; I can easily rearrange the space for printmaking or glass work or whatever I’m doing.


What types of resources do you need to further your art career?  

The thing that I struggle with so much is documenting my work properly. It’s so tedious. I don’t have the patience for it and it’s not something I’m super interested in. It’s also really hard for me to relinquish my work to someone else. I have so many projects that aren’t photographed.

People also say that you need someone to market you and your work. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t really feel that I need “marketing.” I need an “agent,” someone to help place my work in different galleries or helping send out applications for projects. It would be amazing to have someone working on photography and documentation of my work.

Do you have any tips or inspiring words for other artists?

As far as I know, we have one life to live. If you have something that needs to be expressed through sculpture or glass or printmaking or dance or theatre or puppets or whatever, do it now. Make your priorities yours. If you don’t live your life, there are a lot of other people who’d be so happy to live it for you.


Do you feel that Boise’s art community is thriving? Is there anything lacking in this art community?

For the last three years I’ve been living in Hagerman, so I’m not as active in the local art scene. I don’t have a good thermometer on it to tell you the truth. In general, I would say that over the course of the last four or five years there has been less gallery activity and less visual artists doing their own self-motivated projects. I remember going to more random visual art performances on the street.

On the flip side of that coin, the music scene has just blown up in Boise. I think the pendulum has swung towards music. I really wouldn’t be able to say if there’s something lacking necessarily, the public art in Boise is phenomenal and that has been a life line for visual artists here.

I think things ebb and flow naturally, the pendulum swings in different directions.  Trey McIntyre Project was a huge force in Boise’s arts and culture scene, dance was huge. There was an incredible force of combining visual arts and dance with opportunities to collaborate. Maybe we’ll see more of that with this pendulum swinging more toward music.

I think the arts and cultural scene of Boise as a whole, is still thriving. Right now, visual arts might not be the driving force, but it’s alive and well for sure.

Creators, Makers, and Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.

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Creators, Makers & Doers: Rick Friesen


At his North-End, Boise home, Rick Friesen quietly paints with a humble determination. Snapshots of landscapes and familiar faces adorn the studio walls of this 21-year veteran to Boise’s creative class. Quoting Picasso, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” Friesen opens up to Arts & History staff, discussing the challenges of living and working in the City of Trees and where he finds inspiration. As one of the original founders of The Basement Gallery (a local gallery, now closed), Friesen’s artwork can be found in the City of Boise’s public art collection, including a recent  purchase of artwork added to the Boise Visual Chronicle.


What is your preferred medium and why?

I like all mediums, but painting seems like the easiest one to turn into money and to make a living with. I’ve also made a lot of sculpture, but sculptures don’t sell. I do like oil painting; I’ve taken a lot of painting classes and really enjoy painting portraits and plein-air landscapes. I just roll with what feels right at the time.


What are you working on right now?

I’m working on local landscapes mostly inspired from photographs I’ve taken on walks. I’m trying to get set up to paint from life, but, I have a big French easel which weighs about 20 pounds. I’m working on a kit so I can paint quick, small works instead of relying on my iphone for my images.

I’m also trying to work in a looser style, just to be a better painter. I’d like to get to the point where I can paint all the right tones right off the bat. I like the looser areas in paintings. It becomes about knowing when to stop sooner and not overthinking it. I’m always trying to learn new stuff about painting. I don’t think painting is something you can ever master. If you think you’ve mastered it, you’re pretty delusional.

Have you always been able to make a living as an artist?

Just barely, I am always scraping by. You have to live on faith when you do this. I like to design and build sheds and redo rooms and bathrooms. I’ve done murals and a little bit of design work, which to me is all creative.

What is your art making schedule like and how many hours a week or day do you work?

Sometimes I go for weeks without painting and sometimes I paint every day for weeks, up to 4-5 hours a day. I tend to work when I feel comfortable, when I think I can do whatever I want because I have enough money in the bank. It depends though, I might have to go look for a remodeling job or something else to supplement my income. It’s just life, right? I’m not considering a regular job.


What’s the history of this workspace and your relationship to it?

It’s been through a few evolutions, this workspace. I have considered selling and moving to Garden City and doing what Surel did. I don’t know how soon or if for sure at this point. I’m not sure if I have enough equity to buy a lot in garden city and build a studio from scratch, which is what I’d like to do- design and build my own space. I have been trying to do some teaching out of this space, which is another reason why I’d like to move. In Garden City, I could build a nice big space with plenty of room and proper sinks.

Are you able to sell work in Boise? What kind of work sells best?

The kind of work I sell is local and more traditional work. There are so few people doing it here. It seems like people are taught in school, not to do regular, traditional oil painting. Some people think landscapes are so passé, or old school, but it’s what people are buying here. I also love doing portraits, but I don’t think people are into having their portrait painted; it’s almost tacky to have your own portrait hanging in your house.

I’m getting, or staying busy, by gaining friends on Facebook. People see my work on Facebook and immediately ask if it’s sold, then buy it. Most of the works are two to three hundred dollar paintings. There is however, a need for galleries in town.


Are there any particular artists that you look to for inspiration?

There are some local artists doing great work, like Rachel Teannalach. She’s up every morning with a picture of new work posted before I get out of bed. It’s very inspiring in a way. I’ve also been following an artist out of L.A. named William Wray. He’s a great painter, doing really loose and large work. Like me, he goes out and takes photos and paints from his images. It’s funny though; he was the Ren & Stimpy artist and now paints traditional and loose works.


Do you ever reach a period where your inspiration dries out?

Well I have enough images to inspire me and keep me working for a while. However, I just read a quote by Picasso where he says, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” so if you wait around for inspiration to strike you, you won’t get much done.


Creators, Makers, and Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.

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Top Ways to Explore Boise’s Culture



Expedia Viewfinder teamed up with the Boise City Department of Arts & History to compile the best cultural attractions in the Gem State’s capital. 

Here at Expedia Viewfinder, we believe that there’s a lot you can learn about a city when you dive into its culture, and we love nothing more than getting to know a region by exploring its museums and discovering its history. Drawn to the capital of Idaho, we decided to partner up with the Boise City Department of Arts & History to uncover some of the best places to get a sense of the town’s vibrant and thriving culture. From art museums to music festivals, we rounded up the top cultural sights in Boise to visit this summer:

Boise Art Museum
The Boise Art Museum (BAM) belongs at the top of your itinerary. Founded in 1937, this museum boasts a sculpture court, artist studios, and exhibitions ranging from controversial works by Chinese artist Liu Bolin to photography from local high school students. During a visit to the oldest visual arts organization in Boise, don’t miss the BAM gift shop, which offers a range of handmade jewelry, ceramics, textiles, and other souvenirs inspired by the museum’s exhibits.

Photo2_Idaho Penitentiary

Old Idaho Penitentiary
In the 19th century the Old Idaho Penitentiary was established for some of the worst criminals. From 1872 until 1973, the Old Idaho Penitentiary housed more than 13,000 inmates including famed criminals like Lady Bluebeard, who killed several husbands for insurance money, and Harry Orchard, who assassinated former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg. Today, the Old Idaho Penitentiary is on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour the buildings that once housed criminals, admire unique exhibitions tracing the history of tattoos in the prison system, and even set eyes on the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit, which is one of the largest collections of military memorabilia and historic arms in the U.S.

Boise Music Festival
Every summer, Boise comes to life with the annual music festival held at Expo Idaho, and this year it takes place on June 27. Along with featuring the best musical talent in the area, the Boise Music Festival grabs headlines with major performers like Shaggy, The Ting Tings, and Nick Jonas. There are multiple stages to catch musicians throughout the day, and even an after party hosted by a local radio station.

Egyptian Theater
In 1927, the Egyptian Theater of Boise opened its doors and showed the classic film Don Juan, starring John Barrymore. The landmark is the city’s last-standing single-screen theater, and it remains one of the most historically significant buildings in town. The theater’s name is derived from the spectacular design around the main stage. Elaborate decor includes scarab ornaments, colorful Egyptian art, and stylized figures. Visitors can catch a variety of shows at the Egyptian Theater, ranging from retro films to performances by the Opera Idaho.

Photo3_Public Artwork_Anne Frank

Via: Kenneth Freeman

Public Artworks
One of the things that sets Boise apart from other cities of similar size is the incredible amount of public art displayed throughout its streets. Visitors can spot dozens of unique sculptures and memorials, all of which are free of charge and designed for public education and awareness. Some of the most celebrated include the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial and Statue on the Boise River Greenbelt, as well as the Sacagawea and Pomp bronze statue in Julia Davis Park.

Boise bursts to life with culture and you won’t want to miss a beat. On your next romp around Idaho’s capital, check out the masterpieces, history, concerts, and memorials to soak up the city’s vibe.

-Expedia Staff Writer

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What’s Happening in Public Art Academy?

chair 1 @ Ming Studios

What’s Happening in Public Art Academy?
by Karen Bubb

Take a paper cup, some scissors, tape, and a couple of toothpicks. In five minutes transform that cup into a stylish model chair. This is a warm-up activity the sixteen public art academy fellows executed in class to explore how to generate ideas quickly and create proposals for public art projects.

When we started class three weeks ago, students identified their perceived barriers to submitting public art proposals. The primary obstacles included lack of confidence and “know how”, the daunting paperwork, the need to change scale, fear that their art is not right for public space, confusion about how to find opportunities, lack of time, incomplete understanding of the process, and scarcity of financial resources. It was heartening for them to realize they were not alone in feeling hesitant t to dive into public art as a new application of their creative skills.

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Top 5 Things I Learned at RootsTech 2015

1_three women and two men in car_no description_Tom Byrnes_A&H

Top 5 Things I Learned at RootsTech 2015

By Brandi Burns, History Program Manager

 Your beloved History Division staff was out of the office last week so we could attend the RootsTech 2015 conference in Salt Lake City. I received four research requests the day I returned, so it’s good to know you have been thinking of us. We went to RootsTech this year because our Boise State University Graduate student, Kaci Nicks, was selected to present a class. She delivered a great presentation, “Tumble Your Family History.” She attracted an audience of at least 100 people, all eager to learn how to use Tumblr to blog their family history. The conference inspired me to share the Top 5 Things I learned over the last week.

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Share Your President Obama Story


Photo Credit: Sean Briggs, Boise Airport Marketing Manager


Share Your President Obama Story
By Amy Fackler, Cultural Programs Manager

 Where were you when President Obama visited on January 21, 2015?
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The Life of a Public Art Project


The Life of a Public Art Project
By Karen Bubb, Public Arts Manager

How do Boise City public art projects come to be? It may seem to some as if an artwork just appears in a public location with little context of why it is there or how it developed.

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Ode to Snow

Motorcycle stuck in snow on 9th Street near Idaho Street in 1919. Man on the right is Roy Thompson. McCarty Building on the left. Photo courtesy ISHS 73-205-5

Motorcycle stuck in snow on 9th Street near Idaho Street in 1919. Man on the right is Roy Thompson. McCarty Building on the left. Photo courtesy ISHS 73-205-5

Ode to Snow
By Brandi Burns, History Program Manager

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