BONNERS FERRY — For 56 years, an ever-changing group of dedicated Boundary County artists has gotten together to support one another, as well as to encourage young artists through scholarship programs.
An established artist by the name of Goldie Brewer moved to Bonners Ferry with her husband in 1960. After discovering how many other artists resided in the area, she gathered 12 or 13 of them, and they formed the Bonners Ferry Artist Club in 1961 with Brewer taking the role of club president.
According to a club member history written around 25 years after the club was established, “Their goals were to help each other and encourage young and upcoming artists that would be Bonners Ferry future artists.”
The club sold raffle tickets to raise money and the club dues were $2.50 for the year. They were very active in the Young People’s Art Show and Junior Miss.
Among the charter members was artist Dorothy Smith, an impressionist painter, who was known to be a free spirit.
“Art meant everything to my mom,” said Smith’s daughter, Kelly Wilson. “That was one of her passions — painting — and also giving back to the community, by developing the scholarship for the high school seniors. She was really involved in the art community here and helped start it and promote it.”
Although Smith has passed on, her work hangs proudly in her three daughters’ store in Bonners Ferry, called The Nest. The daughters say their mom was the inspiration for their store and their combined love of art.
The club gained momentum, at one time reaching 60 members. They threw parties for everything and spouses even got involved.
When the president, Brewer, moved away in 1971, a well-known artist, Bette Myers, who was one of the original members, helped keep the momentum going. Among Myers’ portrait clients were former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater. She was known as a great member to inspire others and instill excitement and drive in the club.
According to the history written by a member, “Bette Myers lost her husband in 1981, and when she left the club in 1983, it suffered. She was the backbone of it, a real go getter.”
Along the line, the club’s name changed from The Bonners Ferry Art Club, to the Boundary County Artist Association. At its lowest point, the club was reduced to two members, but they did not give up. The club, with its rich history of bringing art to the community, and supporting young artists, was far from finished.
As evidence to the influence the club had on the young artists, some of the Young People’s Art Show winners from the 1960s went on to become Bonners Ferry artists, with some moving on to become professionals.
In 1975, the club provided paintings for the Restorium, and in 1976, the art club dedicated their new club building at the fairgrounds. “They painted murals on the walls and they were so proud of it,” the member wrote in the history.
Today, the club lives on with 11 members currently, with two more planning on joining soon. The club president is Vicki Bleile.
“I’ve been president of this group for 10 years,” said Bleile. “I forget how long it’s been. I’ve been painting professionally now for about 31 years. I started selling my work and it sold, mainly wildlife and acrylic.”
Darrelyn Rose, the treasurer, explained, “I’ve been painting since 1961, I think. I’ve done a lots of painting since we moved up here in ‘03, mostly acrylics and I am also doing some watercolor pencil.”
The group is not just for painters. All types of artists are represented, from photographers to basket makers.
“I paint the windows around town, said artist and member, Debbie Aaron. “There’s a number of people who paint windows, I’m at the Rex. I do watercolor, mostly nature type of things. I do a lot of fiber arts, baskets, weaving, crochet, those type of things. I’ve been experimenting with incorporating those things into some of my paintings.”
The club picks an artist of the month from among the members, and that person gets to hang their work in Mountain West Bank. After hanging there for a month it then takes a tour, moving to the Boundary County Library, then to Boundary Community Hospital, where it hangs down by Radiology, and finishes the tour at the Boundary County Community Restorium, spending a month at each location.
The artwork may be for sale, or not, depending on the artist’s choice. Member Alison Henslee sold two pieces recently from her display at the hospital. “The sad thing was, they were my two favorite ones, so now I feel like I’ve lost children,” she said. “You get attached to them.”
Any work sold during those showing, or at other club events will have 10 percent of the sale go back to the club.
“All our money ends up going to the scholarship. Our scholarship varies on how much money the group has,” explained Bleile. “For a while it was up $500-600, but for a long time we were kind of short on people and so we had to drop the amount of our scholarship. Hopefully it will be able to grow again.”
January Artist of The Month is Jacqueline Delclos, and her work is currently on display at Mountain West Bank.
“I taught for years, I’ve managed art galleries, I started a co-op in Virginia, and I paint,” said Delclos. “I paint a lot.”
Delclos will also be leading the January program during the monthly meeting, held the second Monday of every month at 11 a.m. at Mugsy’s Tavern and Grill. She will be doing a program on framing. When asked is she would be able to perform the class at Mugsy’s, Desclos laughed and said, “I’ve framed in parking lots.”
“I worked for a framer in D.C., one of the oldest framers in the country, really,” said Delclos. “They used to photograph Lincoln. He taught me so much.”
To become a member, one does not need to be a professional artist. The requirements are $20 for a yearly membership and just the love of art. It is a great learning environment, as well as the ability to network with other artists and to have work shown around the community.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity to have a way to show my art in town and for people to recognize that,” said Aaron. “It has been a huge life changer for me. It’s good for my self esteem.”
The group is very encouraging towards its members and the young artists of the community.
Member Randee Foster who got into painting in 2001, and paints in oils and acrylics, and has recently been exploring pastels, said, “We inspire each other.”
With all the proceeds going toward scholarships for young artists, the club proves its dedication to the arts. The more members that are involved, the higher the scholarship is that they offer.
“I got a four year scholarship because of my art teacher,” said Delclos, who attended the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Young artists are encouraged to apply for the scholarship that will be available again in 2018.
Artists of all levels and medium are welcome to join the Boundary County Artist Association, where they can meet other artists, learn, and have their work displayed in the community. As membership grows again, there will be more funding for a chosen senior high school student to help them go to college and achieve their dreams of becoming a professional artist.