Sun Valley's Most Influential Leaders
(page 2 of 8)
A Spark that Started a Fire
The Artistic Revolution of Sun Valley
BY KATE ELGEE
When Glenn Cooper arrived in Ketchum in 1968, straight from the noisy streets of L.A., recently widowed and towing five young children, she found a small mountain town with dirt roads and one stop sign. “It was mostly hippies, ranchers and ski bums back then,” she said. “I fell in love.”
A classy woman, well connected in the California art world, she settled in amongst the sheepherders and snow-capped peaks. Even though her children—all under the age of 15 (one of whom, Christin Cooper, would become an Olympic silver medalist)—raised their eyebrows, she built a house on Bitterroot Road in Ketchum and made camp for the next 40 years.
Over the decades, this remarkable woman would forever alter the face of our small community. A cultural tour de force, Glenn had already organized and founded the first volunteer docent council in the United States at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was named L.A. Woman of the Year in 1965 by the Los Angeles Times, before going on to spark an artistic revolution in Idaho, taking Ketchum from a dusty mining district to a nationally-renowned epicenter for the arts.
A few years after Olympic ski team member and founder of Snowmass, Bill Janss, purchased the Sun Valley Resort, he asked Glenn to start an art institute for him. “I said no. I won’t. I’m exhausted. I just want to be with my children, and that’s why I’m here,” Glenn explained.
The pair had been family friends from their days in Southern California, sharing an enthusiasm for art collecting and curating. Bill had big plans for Sun Valley, so Glenn finally gave in to his requests. “Fine, I’ll do your art project,” she told him. “But I want to do it my way, the community’s way. I knew I didn’t want it to be like Aspen.”
She started small. At the time, there were only a few artists quietly producing work in the Valley, but without anywhere to sell. So she opened the Potato Gallery in the Sun Valley Resort Village (where the Sun Valley Gift Shop is now). “That’s where we did everything,” she explained, “out of that little place.” It was the first hub, or “center,” for arts in Sun Valley, and people gravitated to it like moths to a flame.
Glenn then took her project into a few local schools, like Hemingway Elementary. “We had five subjects. Julie Atkinson taught multimedia. Gordon Webster taught ceramics,” Glenn recalled. “We also had photography, weaving and painting. From there, it just took off.”
Realizing she had outgrown the cramped Potato Gallery, Glenn asked Bill for more space: “I explained to Bill, wonderful Bill, that we needed a location and he took me to where the Sun Valley sled dogs were kenneled, near the horse stables, and waved his arm. He said, ‘You can have all of this.’”
It was on this very 6.7-acre property (now the modern-day Community School) that the Sun Valley Creative Art Workshops first began. And from within this campus, Glenn stoked the glowing embers of an artistic movement.
“This was a great time for the Sun Valley Center, in the ’70s,” she said. “That was when all these really wonderful artists came out. We had amazing teachers like Jim Romberg and Sheri Heiser and Walt Jones from the Yale Theater Group. We took over the Quonset hut, where LA Dance came, and Robert Ketchum taught at Dollar Cabin. Artists, who were the most famous in the country at the time, flooded to Sun Valley. Bill let us have the ski instructors' facilities to house the students and the whole town became an art center in the summer. I can’t tell you what an exciting time it was—it was just so rare that this was happening in such a small town.”
Artists like Annie Liebovitz, Peter deLory and Paul Soldner came to see what was happening on the fields and riverbanks of a small town in Idaho, where rumors spread like wildfire of a movement underway. Over 500 students filtered in throughout the summer and in 1970 “the Center” was formally founded as a nonprofit.
From this incubator of ideas would spring the modern-day Sun Valley Summer Symphony, the Sun Valley Gallery Association, the annual Sun Valley Arts and Crafts Festival, the Summer Concert Series, Plein Air Projects, Ketchum Arts Festival and local artists like Mariel Hemingway, Carol Glenn and Tina Barney.
When Jim Belson took over in 1973, he changed the name to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities (what is now called the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, or SVCA).
Gail Severn, who had worked at the Potato Gallery in the early ’70s, opened one of the first art galleries in Ketchum in 1976, followed shortly by Diane Kneeland, Barbi Anne Reed and many more. “It was Bill Janss who encouraged me to open my own gallery,” said Gail. “Without question, Bill and Glenn were my mentors.”
Glenn explained, “I will always credit Bill for creating what he called ‘the total community,’ a place where all of the human needs were met—not only spiritually and physically, but the more ethereal, creative and artistic sides. That’s what he believed fulfilled a human being. That was his vision for Sun Valley.”
After Bill’s wife, Anne, died in an avalanche accident out Trail Creek (skiing with Glenn, as fate would have it), tragedy brought them together. Friends for 40 years, these two married in 1973.
Soon thereafter, things came to a sudden halt for the SVCA. Oil billionaire Earl Holding bought the Sun Valley Resort from Bill Janss and the community of vagabond artists that had collected for the summers was uprooted—shooed out of the resort buildings and housing apartments where they had set up shop. Earl Holding had a different vision for Sun Valley.
“Earl has done so many great things for the community,” said Glenn. “He just had different ideas, and he didn’t have the space for us anymore. I don’t blame him for that.”
The students packed up their paintbrushes, their ballet shoes and their clay pots and left town. Many of the artists moved back to their homes across the country. Some drifted to larger cities where new movements were underway, closing the doors on what would be Ketchum’s, and Idaho’s, most significant artistic renaissance.
The effects of that decade, however, would ripple throughout our art community for years to come, and the ideas ignited by Glenn would pulsate into the rest of the state like a beating heart.
“If Glenn and Bill had not started the Center and not had the vision to encourage young art professionals to move here, this would be a very different community,” said Kristin Poole, the current artistic director for the SVCA. Kristin gravitated to the Valley in 1983, drawn, like so many others, by the Center. “They have made it not only a recreational destination, but a destination for arts and culture as well.”
Today, Sun Valley now has nearly 30 art galleries and exhibition spaces. The newly established Wood River Valley Studio Tour connects over 50 local artists up and down the Valley, and more emerging art shows like Death to Day Jobs are popping up regularly.
The SVCA, now located on 5th Street in Ketchum, with a second location in Hailey, has plans to expand to an even larger building. They also recently merged with the Company of Fools, a local theater production company, and continue to bring world-famous artists and thinkers, like Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem, E.O. Wilson and Terry Tempest Williams, to the Wood River Valley. In 2006, they were given accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums and remain the largest arts organization in the state.
Glenn is still an advisory member on the board at the SVCA, but she now lives in the small town of Tetonia, Idaho, with the rolling agricultural fields and a view of the Teton Mountains. “It’s mostly ranchers and farmers here,” she said. “It reminds me of Ketchum when I first arrived in the ’60s.”
Sun Valley is now almost unrecognizable from those early days, she said. “But that’s ok. That’s good. That’s how resorts develop. It has become the arts center of Idaho, there’s no doubt about that. And the beauty of it is you can still go into the mountains, hiking and biking. It really has become a total community.”
Glenn returns to Sun Valley often, but she has passed on the proverbial torch to those like Kristin Poole, Gail Severn and Dennis Ochi, who continue to grow Sun Valley’s art community, drawing in new, young and emerging artists every day.
“I still check on things when I’m in town,” said Glenn.
Wife of actor Scott Glenn, Brooklyn-born Carol Glenn studied ceramics at the SVCA under longtime mentor Jim Romberg. She’s had a lifelong passion for ceramics and her new self-titled book, pictured above, was published locally and captures the evolution of her success.
A student of Seattle-based Dale Chihuly, William Morris is considered a revolutionary master glassblower. His work, inspired by archeology, nature and historic/pagan culture, has been represented by the Friesen Gallery in Ketchum for over 20 years.
The critically-acclaimed Jane Wooster Scott has used her bright colors and imaginative compositions to capture the “good old days” of 20th-century America, including Sun Valley—painting everything from ice-skating and Bald Mountain to Grumpy’s.
German-based painter, Mario Reis, began working with water and canvas in Paris in the 1970s. Since then, he has traveled to almost every continent, documenting the world’s waterways with natural materials. Reis first came to Idaho in 1992 to "paint" Idaho’s pristine rivers and has been exhibiting locally at the Gail Severn Gallery for over 20 years.
Tony Foster paints tales of journey, or what he calls the “culture of the route.” An Englishman by birth, his paintings as an adventurer and preservationist seek to protect the natural beauty of the world’s greatest wildernesses (including those in Idaho).
Internationally renowned artist David McGary, known for his bronze sculptures of Native Americans, found a home in Sun Valley with his wife and daughter many years ago. McGary studied sculpture in Italy before returning to the U.S. and captivating the Western art world for over 30 years. He passed away last October in Arizona.
Rod Kagan, who has been hailed as one of Idaho’s greatest artists, lived in Sun Valley for almost 40 years before his death in 2010. His bronze and steel sculptures, some 25-feet-high, can be spotted not only up and down the Wood River Valley, but in 38 major cities throughout the U.S.