When printmaker Lynn Webster* settled in on the couch at Surel's Place to talk about her work, she was fresh off of her latest project: a folded paper mobile covered in black-and-white monoprint raptors, with paper birds exploding from its peaked roof. It hung just a few feet away.
"I'd been thinking about things hanging and I saw these hooks, and I noticed the reflection and shadows off one of the [fabricated printmaking] plates that I was holding up and I thought, 'Hmm, this could be kind of interesting,'" she said.
Creating three-dimensional art is a challenge for Webster as she's blind in one eye, meaning she only sees in two dimensions. But she said her month-long residency at Surel's Place has given her time and space to explore new facets of her craft. On Saturday, April 27, when the house will open to guests for an exhibition, she plans to hang the mobile even higher so that people can stand under it and peer up into the colorful landscape hidden inside.
The mobile looks a bit like a birdhouse, a shape that is no coincidence considering its pattern. Birds and houses—both human and avian—are themes that run through Webster's work, and it was "outsider" birds like crows and birds of prey that brought her back to Idaho from retirement in Florida. She has spent time with raptors at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, and has gotten up close and personal with peregrine falcons, a species that fascinates her because of its place in the culture of the Mississippians, Native Americans who lived in the American mid- and southwest 10,000 years ago.
"The peregrine falcon to the ancient Mississippian people was very sacred," said Webster, who used to teach Native American art history at the College of Idaho. "...They would hammer falcon iconography out of copper."
Webster sees a connection between birds of prey and Native Americans, both of whom have been driven off of their lands by development and in some cases into cordoned-off spaces. Those populations have also discovered new ways to live in a changed landscape; peregrine falcons, for example, often nest in skyscrapers.
"I see birds as kind of an icon for me to stand in opposition to our inclination to overbuild things and take their habitat, as well as all of these questions about home and how we make our homes. We're very interested in that and we forget sometimes about all of these creatures that it's their home, too," she said.
The destruction of one home to make way for another is a concept that has fueled her art, and many of the prints hanging at Surel's Place feature the silhouettes of birds and houses set against natural backdrops. She creates them using a combination of techniques, including marbling paper in India ink baths, rolling ink over cut-out plastic shapes and adding color with oil pastels.
As a former teacher, Webster was also selected to spend a portion of her residency teaching through the PARTNER Schools Program, an honor that goes to only two Surel's Place artists-in-residence annually. During her month in Garden City, she made multiple stops at the Morley Nelson Elementary School to teach fifth- and sixth-graders about the importance of birds of prey to indigenous people. In her first two weeks on the job she brought vulture feathers to class (which two bold boys promptly attempted to carry off) and taught the kids how to make simple origami raptor heads from colored paper.
That work isn't the only way Webster's residence will intersect with the local community. On April 27, when an exhibition of her work opens at the house, Surel's Place will also host its first ever artHome tour from 2-4:30 p.m. Attendees will meet at Surel's Place to view Webster's work, then break into groups to walk through the homes of three art lovers in the Surel Mitchell Live-Work-Create District and check out their private collections.
Jodi Eichelberger, the programming director of Surel's Place, said the tour was inspired by the concepts of home explored in Webster's residency.
"The homeowner will guide us through their own personal art collection and tell us about how that art came to be part of their home. In some cases it will be art that they themselves created, in some cases it's art they've collected while they traveled, and there are a lot of local artists featured," said Eichelberger, who will open his own home for the tour.
Tickets cost $25, and are available now on eventbrite.com.
"I'm excited about it," said Webster. "It's always interesting to hear what draws people to a work that they want so much that they want to buy it. They want to take it home and put it on a wall."
*Webster's residency is funded in part by Boise Weekly's Cover Art Auction grant program.