That Was Just Surel

Oct 12, 2011

After more than three decades at the forefront of Boise’s art scene, artist Surel Mitchel has died at the age of 67.

Barbara Robinson takes a six inch sculpture from her shelf.  Surel Mitchel gave it to her. It’s a nude female torso and was one of Mitchell’s many experiments.

Barbara Robinson “ And it had to be cooked in her oven and it let off all these fumes, it had some kind of toxic resin so she decided maybe that wasn’t something she wanted to make more of.”

Robinson works with artists at the Idaho Commission on the Arts. She worked closely with Surel Mitchell for two decades. Robinson says this sculpture and its short lived experiment with a new material reminds her of Mitchel’s long career.

Barbara Robinson “She might be doing a small piece that was copper with religious icons. The next time it was a big umbrella that had been shellacked. And the next time it was a big water color and the next time it was seeds. She was always exploring something different.”

In an interview last year with Boise State Public Radio Surel Mitchell put it this way.

Surel Mitchell  “I do what I want, when I want to do it, with materials I want to use.”

Barbara Robinson says that even extended to large scale projects that were physically taxing. Mitchel struggled with her health for years. She had Lupus and Multiple sclerosis and the cancer that eventually took her life. Robinson says Mitchel never wanted to be known as the artist with disabilities.

Barbara Robinson “She did this whole series back in 2000 and they were a manipulated copper series and she equated that with the human body and all the frailties that the body has. When we wrote the catalog article about it she did not want any mention of the fact that she had those issues herself.”

Robinson says a few years ago Surel Mitchell went to Burning Man, the arts and culture festival even though she couldn’t tolerate heat or bright sunlight. Nothing was going to keep Mitchel from going. Robinson pauses and says that was just Surel.