BONNERS FERRY — For some people, Labor Day means a day of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, or watching a football game, or even a road trip — but for some members of the Boundary County Artist Association, which is growing close to being established for 60 years, Labor Day meant a day of drawing and painting in the dappled shade of the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge.
“We normally try to come out and draw in the summertime,” said Boundary County Artist Association President, Vicki Bleile. “It just so happened that our meeting day is the first Monday of the month, and it is a holiday.”
The group normally meets the first Monday of every month at Panhandle Health District at 10:30 a.m., but it was closed for Labor Day.
“It was either change the meeting date, or go out and paint or draw... which seemed like a good idea,” said Bleile.
Bleile chose a stump, offering deep textures to be captured in graphite, with live trees and a stream providing a backdrop. She reflected on what art meant to her, and the journey it has taken her on over the years.
“I remember when I first started selling my artwork — probably 30 years ago, maybe more — at the Farmer’s Market in Bonners Ferry,” said Bleile. “I actually grew strawberries, but I would set out little drawings I had done.”
A well known local artist, Jean Mace happened by and admired Bleile’s drawing, remarking that not many people took time to hone the skill of drawing, often jumping ahead into painting, bypassing the basic foundation that drawing offers.
“I was young, but over time realized that it was true,” said Bleile. “You really have to work at seeing.”
Over the years, Bleile has become a well known wildlife artist, working mostly in acrylics, and depicting rich, realistic scenes. She has a love of details that is evident in her paintings that she displays at many local events.
Not far from Bleile, Debbie Aaron and Wendy McClintock were set up at a picnic bench. McClintock was surrounded by palates of watercolor paints.
“I like to paint outside and I started a painting here. I thought it was a nice chance to come and work on it,” said McClintock. “I am working on the scenery here — the ponderosa pines.”
Aaron started painting in 1991, becoming a member of the Artist Association a few years later.
“I love nature, I love art, and I love these ladies,” she said about why she chose to spend the holiday at the wildlife refuge.
She travels often and takes her art tools with her, including a small sketchbook filled with images from a recent trip to Africa. She chose to spend the day working with her favorite travel medium, watercolor pencils.
Currently, Aaron’s work is on display at the Boundary County Community Restorium, including mixed media pieces that incorporate recycled items such as floppy disks, but her main media is watercolor.
The club picks an artist of the month from among the members, and that person hangs their work in Mountain West Bank for a month, then it takes a tour, rotating each month, 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.
For those that are used to admiring the artwork displayed by the Artist Association members at Mountain West Bank, there has been a break as the bank is putting up a new art wall with panels, making it much more versatile. The panels were recently recycled, cleaned and delivered by Bleile, so the regular rotation should continue soon.
The Artist Association is not just a place for artists to mingle and share their work, but it also encourages young artists through scholarship programs. Membership costs $20 a year, although anyone interested is welcome to attend the meetings without officially joining.
Joining the Artist Association gives a member benefits, such as the ability to take part in events, like the upcoming Artist Association show that is tentative planned for this November. It also allows them to enjoy a quiet day, out in nature, drawing, painting, or creating in their medium of choice — like the artists did on Labor Day at the wildlife refuge.
“It’s beautiful here. There are so many things to draw and paint,” said Bleile, sketchpad and pencil in hand. “We have so many different kinds of people that go in different directions with their art, yet everybody can find something here, whether it is botanical, landscape, or a tree.”
The next Boundary County Artist Association meeting will take place on Oct. 7, at 10:30 a.m. at the Panhandle Health District. For more information, contact Vicki Bleile at 208-620-5615.