150 Boise Icons: 'Alley History'

awebb@idahostatesman.comFebruary 24, 2013 

Despite its secluded location, tucked into the alley off 9th Street between Bannock and Idaho streets on the north side of the McCarty Building, Kerry Moosman's ceramic mural "Alley History" has become an admired Boise image. It consistently earns nods as one of the town's favorite pieces of public art.

Moosman, born and raised in Boise, installed the stoneware piece in 1992 after getting a grant from the city. The mural's imagery - Chinese calligraphy, advertising text, word fragments - is hyper-local, gleaned from Moosman's wanderings through his hometown, especially its back alleys. He made the piece as "a memorial of all that was lost," he said recently.

The Chinese text in "Alley History" is a nod to the writing that once adorned the turret of the Adelmann Building north of City Hall, not far from Boise's lost Chinatown. The mural's central spud king is an amalgam of Mr. Potato Head and the retro potato king decals that adorned many an Idaho kid's bike. Some say the fractured face resembles magnate J.R. Simplot.

"I never had that intention," Moosman said.

He wanted "Alley History" to be in harmony with its urban site.

"When I was looking at the wall, I saw a pool of swirling cigarette butts under it. I knew that whatever image I put up would be reflected in that pool," said Moosman. "And there are still cigarette butts swirling there."

Twenty years ago, Moosman was surprised that the mural became a reality, considering its provocative mix of imagery, including a pair of shapely legs that reference 1950s and '60s bombshell Jayne Mansfield.

"This was Boise, Idaho," he said. "I figured that if it didn't have a mallard duck flying through it, it wouldn't get built."

It took time for the city to embrace the piece. A Dumpster once stood in front of it. Vandals defaced it twice - once with whitewash, once with smeared body putty.

But "Alley History" survived. It even set a visual tone for its part of the city. Freak Alley, the free-form outdoor art gallery celebrating street style, grew up around it.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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