Coeur d'Alene Public Art Tour
A Sunny Day Public Art Tour of Downtown Coeur d’Alene
It’s a splendid spring sunshiny day in Coeur d’Alene and you have the whole day off. Instead of your usual routine of lounging around on the sofa all afternoon watching “Three Company” re-runs, I’d like to suggest that you venture out and experience some art. Certainly there are many fine art galleries in this town to visit, but you certainly don’t have the kind of cash it takes to make any of the pieces they offer your own. However, you are fortunate enough to live in a place where there is art and sculpture that belongs to you, me, and everyone. Public art can be found tucked away in many different locations, serving to subtly enhance our lives and add a visually pleasing element to the personality of Coeur d’Alene. I’ve put together a loose tour of some of the main public art pieces in the greater downtown area, so get on your bikes or put on your walking shoes and let’s go.
Starting at the western entry to town on Northwest Boulevard, we have the controversial big metal feathers. The official title of these two behemoth bird plumes, one eagle and one osprey, is “Guardians of the Lake.” They were commissioned in 2002 through city-mandated arts funding and created by David Govedare and Keith Powell. At the time, not everyone was thrilled by the finished project, but I actually think they serve as majestic and memorable landmarks, improving an area of town that had been run down for years. Similarly, the large rock and water fountains a block down at the Lakewood entrance to the Riverstone development might not be considered high art, but surely they’ve helped improve the aesthetic of the area.
Travel the centennial trail southward next to the river and you will see some interesting graffiti painted underneath the US 95 bridge. Some might not consider graffiti to be art either, but in a way, it is public art in its rawest form, and it’s always changing as more people add their gang tags and love messages to the random visual mix. I wouldn’t want to see our fair town taken over by graffiti artists, but I see no harm in them having their way with such an obscure slab of cement.
Continuing south, you will see one of the oldest examples of public art on our list, and perhaps the most folky as well. Standing proudly on Northwest Boulevard for over 50 years is the giant Paul Bunyan sign in front of the landmark hamburger joint of the same name. He gazes proudly out at the lake, surveying the city park and beckoning is in for a greasy try of those legendary onion rings and a real vanilla coke. Constructed of industrial-strength 1950’s steel, I seem to recall Mr. Bunyan receiving a much-needed facelift when they rebuilt the drive-in in the early 90’s.
Head down the centennial trail to the campus of North Idaho College. The college has public art everywhere, especially Boswell Hall, where student art is displayed in every lobby and up and down every hall. There’s too much to cover here in detail, but worth mentioning is the giant chair with realistic ceramic food glued all over it, titled “No Food Beyond This Point”, the giant paper monsters that live under the stairs, and the aliens that hover aver above the east entrance. Across the street, in the lobby of the Molstead Library is the magnificent historical panel sculpture by NIC art legend Jo Jonas. Also sculpted by Jonas are the giant abstract metal athletes that gracefully dance across the front of the gymnasium building.
Spokane artist Harold Balasz has placed two sculptures on the NIC campus over the years. Near Seiter Hall is an untitled piece - a tall grey box constructed of cement squiggles and carved-in amoeba shapes. It’s classic Balasz, but sadly, thirty years of Idaho weather has not treated it well, and its top portion is beginning to crumble.
A half-block east, near the Hedlund building is a smaller Balazs abstract sculpture from 1983 made of black marble, whimsically titled “I Must Go Down To The Sea Again” and dedicated in memory of Charlie aka “Jack Steve” by his friends. I can only imagine the interesting story that lies behind the statue.
From the college, swing down West Lakeshore drive to the city park and check out the amazingly intricate woodcarvings that are scattered amongst the shady trees. The “stump art” here includes critters such as a bald eagle with a fish in his talons, a family of raccoons, and a black mama bear and her cub. Also near the park is the Human Rights Center – go see its unique entry arch which is topped by an intriguing metal piece created in 2005 by welding student Betty Gardner.
Moving downtown, you will see an enormously bright wall mural at 2nd and Sherman with sailboats and flowers done in an excessively harsh psychedelic color palette. More successful is the gorgeous “Running Horses” mural two blocks up at 2nd and Coeur d’Alene, which was painted by local tattooist and mural painter Robert McNeill a few years back when the building held an art gallery. This giant lush green scene is probably my favorite example of how public art can serve to brighten a formerly ugly dark urban corner.
Another delightful mural that is perhaps a bit off the path of our tour but worth venturing up 4th St to see is the big rock-n-roll mural painted on the side of the Idaho Youth Ranch Store. It’s a colorful swirl of musical instruments and rock icons, including Elvis and The Beatles, Ray Charles, the Supremes, and Madonna. It’s become the centerpiece of Midtown Coeur d’Alene, sitting well amidst the funky thrift stores, tattoo shops, and eateries that make up the neighborhood. Maybe you should stop for a bite before heading back down to Sherman Ave for the last leg of our tour.
A bit north of 4th St on Sherman, next to the Art Spirit gallery, sits a giant rusty metal sculpture of a grizzly bear snacking on a fish, which was created in 2006 by Bill Ohrmann, a former cattle rancher who decided to take up an art career at age 80. Residing just next to the bear is a light-grey carved granite piece with a partial figure of a woman emerging from a seashell-type structure, her smooth feminine curves providing a unique juxtaposition with the masculinity of the bear.
Also downtown, you will likely notice several wildly painted life-size moose, leftovers from the 2005 CDA Arts Council public art project “No Moose Left Behind.” After spending a summer decorating Sherman Ave. the moose were auctioned off to private owners, but fortunately they can still be spotted at various locations around town.
Head east to 15th street and turn north to the Harding Family Center – here sits what we could call the public art Mecca of Coeur d’Alene. Some years ago, the playground of this former elementary school was handed over to a bunch of local artists to have their way with. The idea was hatched about a decade ago by local art patrons Sue Flammia and Doug Fagerness, and includes a mosaic archway by Harold Balazs and Kim Emerson along with at least a dozen other functional art works to create a surreal, evolving play land that’s intriguing to children and adults alike.
Finally, slightly out of the realm of our tour, but certainly worth venturing out for is the whimsical statue by David Clemons that sits out at the end of Lake Coeur d’Alene Drive at Higgins Point on the Centennial Trail. It’s an old time photographer nicknamed “Leopold”, his camera poised to capture the beauty of the lake all year round.