Neighbors on the Fence
The art of setting boundaries
photography: Eric Kiel
(page 1 of 2)
It’s tempting to believe that we rugged Western individualists live and die by the motto, “Don’t fence me in.” But, chances are, we’re going to fence ourselves into our little piece of the Wood River Valley as soon as we begin paying a mortgage.
It may be to keep the kids safe or the pets contained. It may be to keep others off our lawn or to block the view of passing traffic. It may be to create a decorative nook in our yard, or simply to keep the neighborhood kids from wandering too close to the outdoor swimming pool.
“In efforts to define our own space, we have dug moats, hand built a 1,500-mile wall over mountains, and planted a flag on the moon,” says Dan Ramsey, author of The Complete Book of Fences, a build-it-yourself book. “Psychologists say it stems from ‘primordial’ territorial instincts. Whatever the basis for this need to stake out our turf, we’re building more fences today than ever before.”
Tyler Lohrke, a Hailey psychotherapist, agrees: “West of the Rockies, we have the Colt 45, water rights, and barbed-wire fence. It’s the Western mentality. It’s so wide open here, we want to string off our little bit of territory.”
In the beginning, the Wood River Valley was zigzagged by rail fences and barbed wire designed to keep livestock in. Today, you’re apt to find a hodgepodge of chain link, post and rail, picket fencing, and solid boards—even fences fashioned of skis and willow branches, reflecting a strong sense of place.
Randy Wilkins’s ski fence stretches a hundred feet across Baldy’s shadow in his backyard, undulating in height from 170 centimeters to 213 centimeters, according to the length of the skis. It has served as the inspiration for ski fences along Warm Springs Road and in Bellevue’s industrial area. It has also been featured on PBS and KTVB News in Boise.
“It’s appropriate for a ski area,” says Wilkins, who also makes chairs out of skis. “I wanted a fence, and the price of wood was so expensive. I had piles of skis lying around and figured this was a good way to keep some of them out of the landfill. Besides, skis last longer than wood.”
One of the most unusual fences among those on the small lots in west Ketchum is the willow fence outside Strega Bar and Boutique, which juts up against the iron fence of Felix’s Restaurant. Owner Kim Harrison and her husband, Michael, built the fence to route customers into an entryway at the side of the teahouse. They accompanied a river restoration expert on a willow-cutting expedition and garnered enough for themselves. They then tied each piece to the next with wire, leaving branches on some of the sticks.
“It wasn’t difficult—just time consuming,” Kim says, estimating it took about 30 hours to build. “Customers ask how we did it all the time.”
Fences are even more prolific in Hailey and Bellevue, where lots tend to be smaller and homeowners more apt to stake out their turf.
Woodcarver R.C. Hink is adorning the new fence he and Lynn Toneri are building outside their Hailey home with a variety of eclectic wood sculpture touches.
Heidi Albrecht, an artist, teacher, and music producer, has made a canvas of the recycled doors she’s turned into a fence outside her Hailey home. Albrecht started her door fence after she moved from a six-acre ranch in Muldoon Canyon to a small lot in Hailey, hammering a door she’d rescued from a barn onto the old four-foot fence lining the backyard of her new home. Pretty soon people started giving her others, including a vintage sliding door, a door from the Wicked Spud, and an old stage door from nexStage Theatre.
She’s painted “The Doors,” as they’ve come to be known, and hangs cobwebs and spiders, wreaths or spring flowers on them, depending on the season. “I call it my art installation,” she says. “And it saves some really interesting doors from the dump.”
The most common types of fences in Hailey and Bellevue are of solid-board cedar, which stands up to six feet high and blocks out pretty much everything, and white picket fences, which seem to be as much about decoration as about keeping the kids and dogs in. >>>