Molly Hill, 65, died of carbon monoxide poisoning after her house caught fire about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens said.
Boise fire investigators said the fire was accidental, caused by “smoking materials” found in Hill’s mattress. The home in the 900 block of East Congress Street didn’t have working smoke detectors.
Hill, a well-known Boise artist, showed her work at galleries in the Treasure Valley, Southern California and Seattle. She also has two pieces in the Boise Art Museum’s permanent collection and one in the Boise City Visual Chronicle, an art collection managed by the City of Boise’s Department of Arts and History.
Her former gallerist Jacque Crist described her as one of the state’s most respected artists.
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“She followed her own path and created her own iconography and style. This is a great loss for the arts community,” Crist said. “It’s such a shock.”
Funny and quirky, Hill dipped into and connected with different segments of Boise’s arts community while keeping her own clear aesthetic. She was known for richly colored, acrylic paintings that featured quirky characters and imaginative narrative scenes that are influenced by Asian style and her affinity for China.
Each one of Hill’s paintings explored ideas and bits of her inner world on canvas. Collectively, they offer a kind of self-portrait, said Hill’s daughter, Amy Atkins, who is an arts writer and the associate editor for the Boise Weekly.
“I was always so proud to be her daughter, though it was hard for me to be objective about her work” Atkins said. “I knew she was really, really good. I loved the expression people would get when they realized she was my mom. ‘You’re Molly Hill’s daughter! She’s so good. I love her work.’ It was really like being the daughter of a famous person.”
In an artist’s statement provided by the Boise Art Museum, Hill said, “Painting is about obsession, dedication, determination, honesty, plain hard work and a willingness to stand naked in front of strangers ... My paintings are raw and unapologetic questions about life and human beings ... I try to speak simply and still say something.”
She came to art in her 40s, after a career as a sales executive. She received her bachelor’s in art in 1997 at Boise State and went on to study for her master’s at the University of Washington. Hill traveled extensively and had an affinity for China. She finally was able to visit that country about five years ago, her friend Karen Bubb said.
“It was almost a spiritual journey for her,” Bubb said. “I’m glad she got to go.”
Hill had a seizure disorder for many years, Atkins said. Hill suffered a stroke in 2012, and though it took her out of circulation for a while, she came back strong, largely because of her connection to her art.
“She was really able to express her inner turmoil through her art,” Atkins said. “Not everyone has that outlet. After the stroke I think she took more risks with her work. She moved into more three-dimensional pieces. There was a piece she did for a Boise Weekly cover that she put sequins on. I think we all have moments when we recognize our mortality and it gives us a different perspective. It made her more brave.”
Reporter Erin Fennder contributed.