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Pieta and Yellow Bird Boy Take Place Among the Daffodils
Karen Morrison and Claudia McCain stand in front of Aaron Curry’s Yellow Bird Boy.
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Sunday, May 14, 2023


Some 30,000 daffodils were the main attraction.

But those who turned out for the second annual Daffodil Festival at the Sawtooth Botanical Gardens Saturday got the additional bonus of being the first to see five amazing sculptures recently donated to the garden.

“The sculptures add a million dollars in assets to the garden—all insured. And we are thrilled to have them,” said the garden’s executive director Jen Smith.

Matt Johnson’s Pieta sits near the sand box.

Art consultant Kristin Poole said it’s remarkable to have these sculptures in Sun Valley: “These are very important sculptures for the 21st century. And I think they will attract a new audience to the garden.”

Four of the five sculptors were born in 1972. Many of them worked together in graduate school, and they came into their own as important sculptors in the 21st century, said Poole, former artistic director for the Sun Valley Museum of Art.

The sculptures were donated to the garden by Sun Valley resident Ruth Bloom, who long had an art gallery in Los Angeles with Sun Valley resident Jeanne Myers. She became acquainted with the Sawtooth Botanical Garden while attending a shabbat service there and decided it was the perfect place to place a few of her beloved sculptures.

“Ruth is one of the most adventurous collectors in the nation,” said Poole. “She was, way, way, way ahead of her time. She never restricted herself to someone’s approval. She bought from the East, as well as the West, from women as well as men. She was interested in supporting up-and-coming artists.”

National Builder seemed to capture the fancy of many of the visitors to the Sawtooth Botanical Garden Saturday.

  • Of all of the sculptures, it’s Aaron Curry’s Yellow Bird Boy that will leap out at garden-goers the most. While the others reflect the colors and materials of the natural world, Yellow Bird Boy is big, bold and bright in-your-face yellow green.

Curry, who hails from San Antonio, Texas, is known for his vividly colored sculptures. He was heavily influenced by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. Hence, his biomorphic shapes and surrealistic pop art.

This particular sculpture is a response to Alexander Calder’s abstract mobile sculptures, said Poole, and it’s designed for someone to walk around to look at all the angles.

“You’re supposed to walk around and see the long droopy dog ears, the jowls, what could be fish fins…” she said. “Curry was into ‘Scooby-doo’ and other cartoons as a youngster, and so it’s  fun and wonderful and I think kids will have a lot of fun trying to figure out what it looks like from  various angles.”

Garden-goers scrutinize Sterling Ruby’s Big Grid, which sits in the COVID Memorial Garden.

  • “Nation Builder” a figurative statue by California artist Matthew Monahan, stands in front of the Sawtooth Botanical Garden visitor center.

    The bronze statue, assembled by hand, resembles a soldier carrying what could be construed as a bazooka built out of remnants that gives it the feel of a futuristic movie like “Mad Max.” The weapon is way bigger than the man’s head and the hands are huge, too.

    The statue feels very apropos right now as Americans watch the passion and heart of Ukrainians defending their country, said Claudia McCain, a longtime member of the Ketchum Arts Council. “These guys are so powerful. They get shot at and they want to get back on battlefield to defend their country, which is something we have not had to do here.

    Diana Al-Hadid’s Blind Bust III uses an unusual combination of paint and glue for a deteriorating drip effect.

    “In contrast with Yellow Bird Boy, the Nation Builder takes a piece made from clay, showing how it’s made. It’s earth, honest, down to the core.”

  • Pieta was created by Matt Johnson, a Los Angeles artist who creates humorous works out of surprising, sometimes unorthodox. materials. In this case, he’s used mufflers to evoke thoughts of Michelangelo’s marble La Pieta sculpture of Mary holding Jesus in her arms after he was brought down from the cross. One muffler part is tilted down looking at the body just as Mary’s, noted Poole.
  • “Blind Bust III” was created by Diana Al-Hadid, a woman who was born in Aleppo, Syria, raised in Ohio, schooled at Kent State and who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. She mines ancient histories to process today’s most pressing issues, such as immigration and women’s empowerment, showing that history is not always as fixed as one might think.

    She uses classical, biblical and mythological stories as a jumping off point for her sculptures, said Poole.  For this cast bronze piece, she mixed paint with glue and let it drip down giving the sculpture an appearance of deteriorating.

    “It’s an interesting use of paint to make sculpture. This is a commentary on how busts are almost always of men and often about power. The deteriorating look suggests that these guys are supposed to be heroes, but heroes fade. It also offers the notion that our heroes don’t always see clearly,” said Poole.”

  • Big Grid was created by Sterling Ruby. Born on an Air Force base in Germany to an American father and a Dutch mother, he grew up on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania where he was inspired to try Amish quilt-making and Pennsylvania redware pottery.

He now lives in Los Angeles where he creates a wide variety of works ranging from a ready-to-wear clothing line to sculptures.

This block placed in the COVID Memorial Garden at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden was designed as a response to minimalism and boasts two windows that give the black sculpture a facial quality. In fact, a tear runs down the side next to one window.

These five sculptures join other sculptures curated by Gail Severn, including Will Robinson’s fountain in front of the visitor center and his bench in the Serenity Garden, which was created with the help of Kim Nalen and her father Skip in honor of loved ones.

A Mark Stacz piece donated by Steve and Elaine Wynn while they were still a couple sits on the south end of the garden.

“The caliber of these new pieces is enormous,” said Severn.

While Ruth Bloom can be credited with donating the sculptures, Adam Elias deserves credit for installing them, said McCain: “He’s an unsung hero of town. Installing sculptures like these is a huge job and he knows how to do that.”


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