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This uncommon Idaho space dips artists into ‘The Common Well’

The site of The Uncommon Well was once a Culligan water plant.
The Common Well

William D. Lewis, one of the most-respected and much-loved artists in the region, has seen his work showcased from Manhattan to the Deep South to the Midwest and, of course, to the Mountain West, where his visual wonders are part of countless public and private collections. And while some art may be a singular effort, he pushes back against the idea of working absolutely solo.

“I think there's a cliche about artists … you know, kind of working in isolation and individually. And I think that's a complete myth,” said Lewis. “I think art is always a community effort.”

Which is why he says he’s particularly thrilled that his latest exhibition is at The Common Well in Garden City, which is a confluence of showplaces, workshops, and studios.

“I think we, here in Idaho, really need to build that kind of community,” said Lewis. “And I think that's what they're trying to do here.”

Surrounded by his latest work, Lewis sat down with Common Well co-founders Amber Lawless and Katherine Shaughnessy to chat with George Prentice who brought Morning Edition microphones to the unique space.

Read the full transcript below:

AMBER LAWLESS: My name is Amber Lawless and I am co-founder and creative director of The Common Well.

KATHERINE SHAUGHNESSY: My name is katherine Shaughnessy and I am an artist and co-founder of The Commonweal.

GEORGE PRENTICE: I know it sounds so corny, but did this space find you and find your vision?

SHAUGHNESSY: Yeah, I think it was more that the space drove the vision. I think once I saw the space, it reminded me there was so much potential; and I'd seen so many different spaces over the last 30 years around the country. And I thought we could have one here. So that's basically what it is. Different spaces I've been in around that had artists, had galleries, had different classrooms and people working together. So, it's kind of a mix of a bunch of many years of sort of watching and traveling.

PRENTICE: And, you know, a thing or two about space.


PRENTICE: ... and creativity.

LAWLESS: I've worked in construction and interior design for a long time, almost 30 years, and I have always been kind of obsessed with thinking that if you lay out a space well enough, and if you decorate a space well enough, you can make people feel comfortable there.

PRENTICE: Any space?

LAWLESS: Any space, I believe. Absolutely. And post pandemic, it really felt like people needed a space. So, the places that we had had spent time in, the places we had gone to kind of disappeared. And so, we were all forced to find new places to gather. And it just felt like... this felt like the time.

WILLIAM LEWIS: My name is Bill Lewis, and I'm a painter and an educator.

PRENTICE:  Your work has been in more than a few spaces. Talk to me about being in this space... And what's so different for you.

LEWIS: Oh, well, that's a great question. When I first started talking to Katherine about doing a show here, and we came over and looked at the space, I was immediately intrigued. You know, we were just kind of kicking around the idea of doing a show. And, you know, once I came into the space and saw… oh, this is real…she's really making this happen. I got pretty excited about it because…. Boise, Garden City, Treasure Valley… generally, there just aren't that many spaces where the goal is to present art that's maybe challenging, not necessarily commercially oriented as the first consideration, but really, I could tell that they Katherine was following kind of a vision that she had of bringing challenging work to the community. I love that idea. And I was just, um, you know, flattered that she considered me as a possible artist to show.

PRENTICE: for our listeners, The name of the show is...

LEWIS: Yeah, the name of the show is a bit of a mouthful, intentionally. The name of the show is "20 Blue Paintings and Two Heads of Silver."

SHAUGHNESSY: Well, I can say that on the opening night, we had hundreds of people show up, and it was so much fun. And I think there was so much joy in the room that I was stunned. And it felt like a reunion. The people that were in the room had known each other for 30 years and were friends and fans of Bill Lewis; and so they were all coming together in a way that multiple people told me…that this was a moment that they hadn't all been in the same room in this joyful way in a while. And it was just a lot of fun. And I just thought it was the beginning of something really special. So, I think that people loved the work, and it is a stunning show, and I hope that more people come to see it, but it's definitely the beginning of something. It felt like that anyway.

LAWLESS: I feel like I want to share something that happened earlier this week. A couple came who were looking at the building, thinking about having their wedding reception here, and they walked through the building. They looked at everything and in the end they said, “Can we just sit here in the gallery for a little while? We just love it, and we just want to talk about our wedding and think about it and see how we can imagine it being here.” And I think that was a testament to the work, and how upbeat and beautiful and comfortable it is to be around the work.

PRENTICE: When the history of The Common Well is written, you will be closer to the beginning of it. My sense is maybe more than a few artists or artists-in-the-making might be listening. Talk to them about this space.

LEWIS: Sure. One of the reasons I was initially interested in what their vision was here is that I felt it's something we really need. I think there's a cliche about artists, you know, kind of working in isolation and individually. And I think that's a complete myth. I think art is always a community effort. There are people who, within that community context, make things that surprise us. But it wouldn't have happened without being part of a community. Nothing's made in isolation. And I think we, here in Idaho, really need to build that kind of community. And I think that's what they're trying to do here.

LEWIS: I think that I heard this from a friend of mine, and I use it often that we say we're in our legacy years. And I think we really just want to try and create as many opportunities for people that we wish we had had when we were younger. And the planets have aligned. We have a little bit of excess capacity in our lives...a little extra time. And I think we're just, every day trying to just do cool things and kind of open the door, open some of the doors that have been closed to people in the past... To young people, and encourage people to do really crazy creative things.

SHAUGHNESSY: I have to pinch myself sometimes and think, yeah, this is really happening because we did have this idea; and then it's all happening... And it's hard. It's very hard, but it's full of joy. I mean, it's just been a fun time and it's exciting to see people walk in the door and be surprised and understand right away. There's so many people that walk in and they get it. And I think the idea for the gallery...the story about the couple sitting in there really warms my heart, because I was thinking all along that that space is sacred. And so the idea is that it will change every quarter. It'll change. We'll do very challenging work, like Bill said, and from near and from far. And I hope that there are shows that I cannot even imagine right now that come to us... that people have ideas, whether they're group shows or they're solo shows or they're duos or whatever. And in all types of art; so I kind of feel that it's happening. And I want to protect that space.

Find reporter George Prentice@georgepren

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

Disclosure: The Common Well co-founder Katherine Shaughnessy is the spouse of Tom Michael, general manager of Boise State Public Radio.

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