West Ada

Public art makes a comeback in Eagle with focus on local history

Byron Schexnayder’s artwork is being displayed in a series of large-scale sketches at Eagle City Hall. The scenes depict historic events that have defined the city.
Byron Schexnayder’s artwork is being displayed in a series of large-scale sketches at Eagle City Hall. The scenes depict historic events that have defined the city. doswald@idahostatesman.com

A year of politics, hurt feelings and, finally, reconciliation lies behind the new artwork hanging in Eagle City Hall.

The artist, Byron Schexnayder, of Meridian, was only a small player in this drama: the guy who looked to be caught in the political crossfire, but who emerged with a city contract for a four-part series depicting scenes from Eagle’s history.

The first installment, a drawing of the bucket brigade that helped save the Eagle Merc from a blaze sparked by fireworks July 4, 1946, was hung in Mayor Stan Ridgeway’s office in April. The second drawing, which shows the digging of canals to irrigate fields in what is now Eagle, went up in the City Council’s chambers May 26. Schexnayder said the remaining two pieces — depictions of the 1924 Bank of Eagle robbery and of city pioneer Thomas Aikens campaigning at the tail end of the 19th century for a bridge over the Boise River — should be done by midsummer.

Eagle — except for the historic Downtown area — it’s basically a facelift out here. Everything’s changing.

Mayor Stan Ridgeway

The project fits Ridgeway’s philosophy. He believes public art has a role to play in preserving memory of Eagle’s past — a memory he’s worried will disappear without a sustained effort to keep it alive.

“With the growth, we’re losing our farmland. A lot of that land is being converted to subdivisions. And Eagle as a small town has a really rich history,” Ridgeway said. “To capture our history before it gets away, I think, is very important. And that’s one of my focuses: to bring all of this together and make sure Eagle remains what people moved here for.”

That’s music to the ears of Eagle’s art community, particularly Meg Glasgow, a former chairwoman of the Eagle Arts Commission who’s in charge of framing Schexnayder’s project at her business The Gallery at Finer Frames.

“Eagle has the potential to be one of the best small art towns in America,” Glasgow said. “And it’s encouraging to see city government step up and take a leadership role in bringing public art back to the community.”

COMMISSION FRICTION

The song of unity coming from Ridgeway and Glasgow would have shocked anyone who watched them interact last spring.

At the Eagle City Council’s April 28, 2015, meeting, council members and then-Mayor Jim Reynolds squabbled for almost an hour about the process behind a recommendation for a mural to decorate a bike path underpass at Eagle Road.

Ridgeway, then a councilman, was particularly vocal. He said Glasgow and the rest of the Arts Commission never should have accepted one submission, which came in a couple of minutes after the deadline. The city’s attorney agreed.

Ultimately, the council stripped the Arts Commission of its role in the underpass project.

Glasgow, who presented the commission’s recommendations to the council, felt like she was under attack.

“It was rather upsetting and insulting,” Glasgow said. “I felt like my volunteer work and expertise were contrary to what the political forces at the time wanted. So I opted to spend my positive energy in more productive ways.”

Councilwoman Mary McFarland also thought Glasgow took too much punishment.

“Every time Meg comes here, it’s like she gets slapped by this council and it’s getting embarrassing,” McFarland, who didn’t run for re-election last year, said during the April 2015 meeting.

Glasgow resigned two days after the meeting.

“I see no point in continuing to serve the city when for the last two years every initiative I’ve brought to council becomes a battle and is met with intense criticism by Councilmen Ridgeway and (Jeff) Kunz,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

Soon, the rest of the Arts Commission quit, too.

HISTORIC TOUCHSTONE

Schexnayder’s concept was one of 11 submitted for the Eagle Road underpass art project, and it received glowing praise from both Glasgow and the City Council.

Instead of generic landscape and waterway scenes, he offered a connection to the town’s history.

“I wanted to touch on what made the community what it is,” Schexnayder said.

This is a sign of the change of leadership within the city and the commitment to public art and preserving history at the same time.

Meg Glasgow, on the installment of Byron Schexnayder’s history-inspired, four-part series of drawings for City Hall

That clearly resonated with the council. In fact, Schexnayder’s concept might have been a little too good for the underpass project. The Arts Commission and council agreed it should be in a different place, somewhere more people would see it and where graffiti or other vandalism were less likely. Maybe Downtown.

The Eagle Road Underpass project fizzled in the wake of the Arts Commission’s mass resignation. The council couldn’t agree on what they should do — only what they should not do.

But Ridgeway never forgot Schexnayder’s proposal.

BYGONES

Six months after the April 2015 meeting, Ridgeway was elected mayor.

Old wounds seem to have healed. Both Glasgow and Ridgeway told the Statesman that last year’s spat was a byproduct of a generally toxic atmosphere at City Hall, where sharp words were the norm.

“It was really a weird time,” Ridgeway said.

Glasgow had a similar recollection: “I think they would fight over anything.”

Ridgeway and Glasgow said they’ve been able to put their differences aside for the sake of pushing Eagle’s art and historic preservation culture forward.

“I’ve just recently reinvested and expanded my business here in Eagle, so obviously, I see the value of the arts in Eagle,” Glasgow said. “And I’m hoping now that there’s a renewed energy with the council under this new mayor. I see some really, really positive things happening. So I’m much more encouraged than I was a year ago.”

After taking office in January, Ridgeway and the City Council formed a new Arts Commission. The city awarded Schexnayder a $12,500 contract to decorate City Hall — instead of the Eagle Road underpass — with his four iconic scenes.

And in a poetic twist, Glasgow has a role in his project. This time, she’s not giving away her effort and expertise. She said Schexnayder reached out to her a few months ago for ideas about protecting his drawings. She had a few, and now she’s getting city money to frame the artwork.

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