Thursday, July 2, 2020
Carl Rowe Hopes Paintings Illustrate the Specialness of Idaho
The cliffs towering over the Snake River near Twin Falls certainly caught Carl Rowe’s attention.
Thursday, November 14, 2019


Carl Rowe assumed it would be easy to paint the Snake River since it runs through one of the most populous stretches of Idaho.

But time after time he would zigzag along county roads only to end up in a farm field, a gravel pit or a residential area boasting homes perched along the canyon rim with “No Trespassing” signs blocking his view of the river below.

The setbacks only cemented the former Ketchum artist’s mission: To paint Idaho’s vulnerable landscapes as the 2019 Artist-in-Residence for the Idaho Conservation League.

Idaho has a number of handsome bridges in scenic settings, including the Perrine Bridge, which serves as the gateway to Twin Falls.

“The Snake River is not the people’s river,” he said. “Most of it is agricultural. It’s a working river—dammed, pumped, drained and sometimes beat up.  Any many of its stretches are off limits.”

Despite his frustrations with painting parts of the Snake, Rowe was able to produce a rich treasure trove of Idaho’s landscapes during a 3,500-mile journey around the state this past year. And he will show some of his favorites during a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum.

Rowe will be on hand to discuss his journey through Idaho’s landscapes and the paintings that were inspired by them as part of a nine-city tour that includes a meet-and-greet from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at MadDog Gallery in Challis.

A flatlander from an Illinois dairy farm, Rowe was immediately mesmerized by the mysterious beauty of the Wood River Valley when he came to Sun Valley to dance in the 1980s.

The folds in the foothills of mountains around Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve lend themselves to Carl Rowe’s style of painting.

He began painting rather minimalist landscapes in bold colors, the contours of the land highlighted by Idaho’s natural light. Ketchum’s Kneeland Gallery took note, offering to represent him. So did galleries in in Coeur d’Alene, Camas, Wash., and Santa Monica, Calif.

“I didn’t mean for to have a career in painting. It just happened,” said Rowe, who is self-taught.

Rowe’s appreciation of the land’s beauty quickly made him realize its vulnerability. He began contributing paintings for conservation posters and he was only too happy to serve as ICL’s artist-in-residence as one more way to get the public’s attention about Idaho’s public lands.

Rowe started his journey around the state at the Palisades Dam on the Idaho-Wyoming border—an acknowledgement of the ICL’s focus on restoring salmon runs and cleaning up polluted sections of the Snake.

Given the difficulty of finding access to the river in places, he reveled every time he found himself standing on the rim looking down at a spectacular basalt crevice where the water was tumbling over rocks.

He painted the Perrine Bridge near Twin Falls and he dawdled at the Murtaugh section of the Snake,  where a torrent of deadly rapids in spring dwindles to a creek-like river by fall.

He marveled at towering walls bursting with waterfalls in the Thousand Springs area, only to cringe when he found a feed lot dairy just above one of the springs.

“The Snake River is the lifeblood of southern Idaho. Without the Snake, farmers would have to rely on what comes from the sky in a desert that gets 12 inches of moisture a year,” he said. “But traveling along the Snake is like listening to Caruso on old 78s. You can catch glimpses of the magnificent river it most certainly was before we plugged it up, built along it, closed it off and dumped stuff into it. The grand river is still there, in sections. But it’s not like hearing Caruso belting out an aria in the same room with you. It’s more a scratchy, thin voice impression of Caruso’s once-commanding voice.”

From southern Idaho, Rowe journeyed to Bonner’s Ferry on the Canadian border. He endured a hailstorm in the Palouse area

“The rolling wheat fields near Moscow don’t qualify as natural since they’re heavily farmed. But they have a remarkable feel and beauty. When I was there this summer, all the different fields seemed so perfect I wondered if they had designed them on purpose. For an unnatural environment, it’s pretty incredible.”

Along the way, Rowe looked for scenes that anyone could access without having to shoulder a backpack and hike 50 miles.

“I discovered that Idaho is a big state—you can’t live long enough to see it all. It’s also extremely diverse--the north is entirely different from the south and eastern Idaho is different from western Idaho. I don’t think there is an ugly place in the state—it’s wonderfully scenic wherever you go.”

That is especially true for the stretch of highway 93 that followed the Salmon River from Salmon through  Challis, he said.

“That’s got to be one of the most spectacular roads in the country. And, unlike the Snake, it’s so  accessible, so visible to motorists driving along it.’


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