Dana Oland: Surel's Place auction reflects artist's sensibility

Two years after her death, Surel Mitchell still influences culture

doland@idahostatesman.comMay 9, 2014 

  • When and where

    Surel's Place Art Auction: 6 p.m., May 10, Visual Arts Collective, 3638 Osage St., Garden City. $35 at SurelsPlace.org or 863-9400.

Being in Surel's Place feels a little like it did during artist Surel Mitchell's lifetime - a little magical. Her savvy design for her Garden City home lets creativity flow along its hardwood floors and smooth walls. It's as if inspiration was one of its building blocks.

Now, the rooms where Mitchell lived and created during the last 13 years of her life have been transformed into a residency where artists of all disciplines can find time and space in which to create in meaningful ways, says Mitchell's daughter Rebecca, who set up and runs Surel's Place in Garden City.

"We want to offer a level of support for artists that is commensurate to the value they add to our lives," Mitchell says.

Surel Mitchell died of cancer in 2012. During her life the house she helped design was a lively cultural touchstone for many.

The parties she threw were legendary; she opened it up for performances and held informal drawing nights and salons. She would often invite someone she met who might not understand art in a personal way to come over to watch her work and talk.

Now, that energy will carry over into a new annual event: Surel's Place Art Auction.

"We thought an art auction would be a natural," says Karen Bubb, an artist, longtime friend of Surel's and Boise City public art manager. Bubb helped create Surel's Place and serves as its board president.

Growing up the daughter of an artist impressed upon Rebecca the important role artists serve in our culture.

"I wanted to create something that would be genuine and would honor my mom," she says. "If she were still alive she would be making art, encouraging others to make art and inviting people into her home to enjoy life and art. Now, all that can continue."

Residents give talks, performances and readings, and create exhibits. Then they leave something behind.

Some of that art will be in the auction. Surel's Place fellows Jenny Wu, Stefanie Dykes, Melissa Osgood and others donated pieces.

The rest of the art comes from an impressive list of artists, many of whom knew and admired Surel and whose work is not often seen at these kinds of auction events. These include painters Charles Gill, Edith Hope, Garth Claassen, Karen Woods, David Airhart, Judith Lombardi, Geoff Krueger and Bill Lewis.

You can view the art online at SurelsPlace.org and on the walls of VaC. The art will remain on display through May.

You'll also find auctions of art experiences such as a Brazilian-themed dinner party with novelist and poet Judy Steele and folklorist Maria Carmen Gambliel, and a private house concert by Belinda Bowler.

The experiences will be a silent auction; the art portion will be a live auction.

The funds will go to help Surel's Place keep its doors open and support artists in all disciplines - printmaking, metal smithing, literature, dance, digital and new media - who spend one to two months living cost-free at Surel's Place.

"It's important for me to extend the niceties that other professions receive when they travel," Rebecca says. "So we provide for everything while they're here and give a small stipend."

Melissa Osgood was the first resident in January 2013. She spent two months at Surel's Place while she transitioned from Seattle back to her hometown of Boise and changed her medium from graphic design to jewelry and metalsmithing.

"It was interesting to follow in her footsteps each morning, getting up in the morning, using her dishes and transitioning into that workspace - it's just a brilliant layout. When I crossed that threshold into the studio, everything changed."

Years before, Osgood and Mitchell studied at Boise State University at the same time. Mitchell, a mostly self-taught artist, had gone back to earn her degree.

"(Surel) had such a strong presence that you could feel," Osgood says. "She always had some wisdom to share. Knowing her like that enhanced the experience of living in her space."

Salt Lake City printmaker Stefanie Dykes says while working in Surel's Place in the fall of 2013 she felt a strong connection to Surel, even though they never met.

"It was really powerful for me," she says. "I found a lot of the symbols, metaphors and visual language I was working with in the house. I would turn around and find a book I needed on a shelf. We were thinking on the same pathways. It gave me goose bumps."

Dykes didn't have a printing press at the residence, so she spent her time drawing and making elements for future projects.

Eventually, she was inspired by one of Mitchell's umbrella series paintings done on paper with shellac. It hangs near a bathroom that is painted bright red and filled with art.

"I'd been avoiding it," she says. "Then one day I just gave in and went with it."

The piece she gave to the auction, "Calling, Creating, Forming & Making," is done in ink and shellac on paper.

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