Why An Old Mining Town In Idaho Is The Perfect Place To Study Art

Jul 1, 2016

Off a long dirt road about three-and-a-half hours northeast of Boise, the old mining town of Atlanta, Idaho rests on the edge of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Next week, a group of artists of all skill levels will head to Atlanta to unplug from digital life and get inspired. The Atlanta School is a week-long set of workshops, founded by Boiseans Amy O'Brien and Rachel Reichert.

To O’Brien, the remoteness of it all is what makes The Atlanta School so special.

“I think it’s so rare," says O'Brien. "We want to provide that for students; they can completely just disconnect and immerse themselves in whatever art form they choose.”

Reichert and O'Brien started the school to liven up the town, which was founded in 1864. The year-round population is 19.

O'Brien is a curious mix of scrappy-historic-preservationist and classically-trained-artist. She was drawn to the town years ago, when she was still a dancer in New York City. She’s restored four buildings since then, including a 150-year-old cabin which she moved to Atlanta from Boise in 2008.

Photography teacher Jonathan Sadler and Atlanta School co-founder Amy O'Brien sit on the porch of a pioneer's cabin. Porch sitting is taken seriously in the town of 19.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

“This part of American history is important," O'Brien says. "It’s not like the Taj Mahal or somewhere where Abraham Lincoln slept. But these little mining buildings -- they’re really modest -- but I think they’re worth saving as well.”

One of the cabins at the Atlanta School is occupied by Boise-based photographer Jonathan Sadler. Sadler will teach a photography workshop about applying landscape techniques for small subjects, think Ansel Adams does portraiture. Sitting on the cabin porch, Sadler looks out on Greylock Mountain, a craggy 9,000 foot peak. It's a breathtaking backdrop.

Staying in Atlanta is a truly rustic experience, with no running water, electricity, cell service or internet.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Sadler says his Atlanta School students won’t have a dark room or electricity, but that’s a good thing.

“I like that you’re limited," he says, "and I think having limitations is one of the greatest things for creativity.”

But Sadler says there’s no limit to the things he wants to photograph in town. His students will get to experience just how photogenic Atlanta, Idaho really is during his workshop next week.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio