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Art in the Heart of the City

Art in the Heart of the City

In the City of Coeur d’Alene, citizens and commerce alike are blessed to be part of a thriving, vibrant art community. One doesn’t need to travel far to experience a lively art event or witness an intriguing public art sculpture lining the streets of this amazing city by the lake. Numerous individuals—too many to count—can be thanked for promoting and building the arts and cultural community.

Four local artists are highlighted, both for their contributions to the visual landscape and for their humble devotion to the arts in the area.

Allen and Mary Dee Dodge

Those who wander through Coeur d’Alene can’t help but be influenced by artists Allen and Mary Dee Dodge.

In 1974, a Honda Civic and crazy winter storm delivered the Kansas City Art Institute graduates to the small town of Coeur d’Alene. “There wasn’t much of an art scene in Coeur d’Alene at the time,” Allen reminisces. “If there was any type of art event, attendance was pretty lean.”

The ambitious couple established a goal to raise consciousness and awareness of the arts in the area. Immediately, they became immersed in Citizens’ Council for the Arts, a nonprofit organization responsible for Art on the Green, and have dedicated more than 40 years of volunteer service, including sewing the first tarp for the juried art show, organizing entertainment and teaching workshops. “It grew into this fabulous little culture. It has been a way to connect to the community—in our way.”

Over the years, quality craftsmanship and diverse artistic talent have earned them various local commissions. The children’s area in both the Coeur d’Alene and Hayden libraries reflect Mary Dee’s colorful, whimsical talent and Allen’s woodworking skills. Allen’s animated series of welded metal sculpture patterned after micro-organisms in sewage welcome visitors to the Coeur d’Alene Wastewater Treatment Facility. Other public art sculpture decorate the North Idaho College campus, midtown and the education corridor.

The couple attributes a turning point in their artistic career to the iconic regional artist Harold Balazs. While collaborating on a sculpture for North Idaho College to honor the late artist Pat Flammia, Harold taught Allen his technical secrets in metal fabrication and enameling. “His influence was a gift to me—better than art school,” admits Allen.

The couple credits Balazs with the inspiration for their current work, which includes brightly patterned enamels by Mary Dee, welded steel sculpture by Allen and their newest collaborative pieces they call “wall jewelry,” playful enamel assemblages that resemble animal and human forms.

The artists have shown their work at The Art Spirit Gallery since 2010. Their annual exhibition is scheduled for June 2018.

Teresa McHugh

As one of four winners of the 2017 Mayor’s Awards in the Arts, Coeur d’Alene-native Teresa McHugh is worth celebrating.

Growing up in the jewelry business, Teresa gained a deep affection for metal. In 1995, as a mother of three young children, she stepped into the then male-dominated field of construction welding at Boise State University. “Not only was I the only female in the program, I was the only female in the entire Voc Tech building. Thirty-five-year-old mother with waist-length hair meets 80-year-old crusty male instructor,” states the artist. “On the first day of class, my instructor told the men they needed to up their game as women make better welders. I was encouraged by his comment and took it as support rather than intimidation.”

Fortunately for the residents of Coeur d’Alene, Teresa brought her art form back to share with her home town. Her metal sculptures are part of various public, private and corporate collections. The most majestic of her public work, a 20-foot tall steel ponderosa pine commissioned by the City of Coeur d’Alene in 2009, welcomes visitors to the east side of the downtown corridor. According to the artist, Take Time gives a noble nod to the logging industry and the enduring strength of the local people. “It invites spectators to take time to look back with gratitude at all the blessings that come with this beautiful area.”

Teresa’s other gifts to the community include The Coeur d’Alene Studio Tour, which she and artist Kathy Gale started in 2013 and handed over to Coeur d’Alene Arts and Culture Alliance. And through classes at Gizmo, Teresa empowers women to weld and girls to experiment with plasma cutting.

As a girl, she spent each day at the base of Tubbs Hill in her childhood home, surrounded by natural beauty. Today, her greatest inspiration continues to be found in nature. Her most recent body of work, “The Seed Pod Series,” includes small sculpture utilizing copper and luscious fresh water pearls that resemble actual seed pods in her personal collection. The pieces will be part of the SmallArtworks Invitational at The Art Spirit Gallery in December.

Mary Frances Dondelinger

“Coeur d’Alene formed my early art,” claims local conceptual artist Mary Frances Dondelinger. And in return, Mary Frances gives back to the art community.

At the age of 17, Mary Frances moved with her family to Coeur d’Alene and engaged herself in the local art scene. “I was lucky enough to join Mary Dee and Allen Dodge in Pat Flammia’s studio for life-drawing sessions once a week. I studied art at North Idaho College with Allie Vogt and other fantastic professors.” Mary Frances credits Coeur d’Alene as a supportive community for artists, a place where she gained confidence and was encouraged to experiment and explore ideas and media.

Today, Mary Frances’ egg tempera painting Holy Darkness helps bring peace in the Wassmuth Meditation Room of Hospice House of North Idaho, a room dedicated to the artist’s late husband who was responsible for bringing Hospice to Coeur d’Alene. According to the artist, the subject, a night-blooming flower called Cereus that only blooms for one evening a year, “focuses on the fleeting nature of life and how, even in our darkest hour, we can find light, beauty and perhaps, if we are lucky, we can get a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves.”

Mary Frances’ current body of work thoughtfully focuses on gender equality by redefining social roles and gender norms. Ceramic female figures run, jump, throw and box while the male figures nurture the young. “In society we are not either/or; we can all do a variety of things. An entire paradigm shift can change the way we view ourselves.” Her solo exhibition at the South Pasadena Art Council Gallery opens in November. Other pieces from her collection are on display at The Art Spirit Gallery.

Mary Frances is working closely with The Art Spirit Education Collaboratory to develop spring programs and artist residencies.

The Dodges express the sentiment beautifully: “We are fortunate to be surrounded by good people who care about art—not about the money, but about the love for art in the community.”

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